December 23, 2013


What is the ideal RAW to TIF or JPG printing workflow?

I had last week with a photographer friend who wanted to know if I knew how much of a difference there was between saving a RAW file (out of Photoshop) as a JPG or a TIFF file. As I researched it, I realized it was more complicated than I thought.

In short, there are lots of "buts" and "ifs." I can tell you this: A RAW, a JPG, and a TIF can all be saved as either 8-bit or 16-bit files. This workflow seems to make the most sense: adjust the image in RAW and save it as 16-bit RGB file, edit it in Photoshop, and then convert it to CMYK and save it as and 8-bit TIFF or (some say) JPG file. The point being, if you knock a 16-bit file down to 8-bit before you edit it, you will likely remove necessary information from the original that could result in a less than optimal reproduction.

As with most color workflows, you're best off asking the commercial printer that will reproduce the finished project, the workflow they are most qualified to tell you exactly what type of files will work best within their workflow and how to configure the associated settings.



A good overview: The Benefits Of Working With 16-Bit Images In Photoshop by Steve Patterson...

A short blurb about color settings for RAW conversion from Tim Grey and

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The whole jist of RAW and 16-bit arguments is the inadequacy of computers, math, and the reproduction of light. As you know, the range of light captured by any medium is limited by the physical nature of colorants used. To take visible light, then reflections, then all the limits of how we see and what can be reproduced requires careful reductions in the amount of information in proportion to the original scene.

Photographers manipulate the capture and then reproduction. Artists render in their chosen media what their eye perceived and mind interpreted (interpolated?).

The goal with RAW is to control the manipulations and commit to the final reproduction at the last possible moment. Calculating in 16-bit allows for math rounding errors to be minimized when the final reduction to 8-bit 'something' is required. If you ever did your tax calculations in whole dollars vs dollars and cents, to gain an advantage (ooooh, a dollar less!), this is the same idea - more decimal places of accuracy reduces the error rates when calculating the value of any pixel.

More cycles of manipulation, more rounding and accumulation of errors or NOISE, This is manifested as 'clipping', a damaged, flat highlight or noisy shadow area. As in audio signals that are crunched and damaged, a/k/a not reproducing the original, visually the data (original scene) is no longer what we expect or want. Ugly, even.

Workflows like Adobe Lightroom maintain the RAW data separately from the manipulation instructions. When finally processed, only the last set of decisions (calculations) are used to produce the final file. This is the best of both worlds, and allows options to create the best possible outcome.

When Macintosh first delivered pagination with PostScript and LaserWriter output, a friend working as a designer for a big ad agency had access to one. They used it to proof their type calculations, to iterate the job text as they hand-built final boards (remember them?). Once the laser comps were approved, they sent the job out to the type shop (remember them?) The typographers then used the final numbers to photo-typeset the final pieces for the final layout boards. This reduced the errors associated with each job, i.e cutting and pasting individual letters to re-kern, etc. Soon enough, the intermediate steps were eliminated. The original/editing/errors/changes/improvements throughout the page layout process started as all raw data, but the page sent to the platesetter today are the final instructions to the rendering computer, Same as Adobe Lightroom for images. Everything preserved to the last possible moment.

[But then the client intervenes... where's the app for that?]

Same things are happening in cinema... digital capture in RAW allows for all the changes to be accumulated but only the final rendering is calculated and committed to a final digital output (or projection film, said as film fades into the sunset).

We learn the hard way,,, we are all intermediates. From RAW to cooked, but having fun during the process.

Excellent explanation Wayne, thank you.

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