DISC Solves Problems for Magazine Publishers
The DISC specification from IDEAlliance aims to get photographers and magazine publishers on the same page.
While digital photography quickly found favor among consumers as cameras dropped below the $1,000 price point, professional photographers weren't as quick to abandon their trusted 35mm SLRs.
But that's changing, and fast. In all key areas—speed, lenses, resolution, clarity, color, light sensitivity, and contrast—images produced by professional photographers shooting with pro digital gear can now rival images from the very best film cameras.
Managing editors and production managers at popular magazines say professional photographers are ditching film in droves, with over half the images submitted today as digital. At some leading publications, managers predict that 100% of all images will be submitted digitally by next year.
"This explosion in the use of digital photographs for magazine reproduction is not without problems," says David Steinhardt, president and CEO of IDEAlliance, an industry association that promotes interoperability in print and digital media. "Digital photography issues that hamper production workflow are a hot topic among our magazine publisher members. The need to come up with an industry-wide solution was obvious."
That solution is DISC, the Digital Image Submission Criteria specification guidelines, developed by an IDEAlliance working group comprised of its member magazine publishers, printers, and vendors of digital imaging solutions.
The DISC Working Group is co-chaired by Kin Wah Lam, director of digital development at Time Inc., and Michael McNamara, technology editor of Hachette Filipacchi Media's Popular Photography & Imaging. Under their stewardship, the DISC Working Group reviewed, analyzed, created, and tested metrics that enable reliable submission of digital images suitable for magazine printing.
DISC is the first industry-supported specification for minimum-level-quality digital image submissions. Without minimum specifications, photographers are free to submit images that vary wildly in terms of size, resolution, and file type. Lack of a specification means that submitted digital images are often not suitable for publication.
Every day, editors, art directors, production managers, prepress operators, and printers reject digital photos because they are too small, unreadable, improperly color-corrected, or otherwise unsuitable for color magazine reproduction.
The DISC Working Group surveyed 32 publishers, and used the results to develop a hotlist of high-priority issues to be resolved in the near term. It was determined that a single specification for resolution (i.e., pixel count) will not adequately cover the diverse needs of all magazines.
Some magazines need higher resolution to support their particular reproduction process, while others prefer smaller files to make transmission faster and storage less costly. So, the DISC Working Group developed three resolution categories: 'A', 'B', and 'C'.
Each category is based on the type of print reproduction, known as 'line screen reproduction'. The line screen translates to a pixel count for a certain use; such as a spread or a quarter page.
Category A is 150 line screen at 300 dpi. Category B is 125 line screen at 250 dpi. Category C is 100 line screen at 200 dpi. Magazines using DISC guidelines for digital submission should stipulate which resolution category they require.
For each category, the DISC specifications identify four key settings. These settings have been determined by the DISC Working Group to provide the highest quality reproduction from digital images. They are:
• Image size (a-k-a resolution, size, or pixel count): This is the size of a digital photo in pixel resolution, relative to publisher's production requirements.
• Color space: To ensure accurate translation of the image to the printed page, a color-managed workflow is essential. The DISC Working Group is recommending the Adobe RGB 1998 color space, because it's large enough to encompass most digital capture, display, and output devices. Camera parameters should be adjusted so that the 'COLORSPACE' (or 'ColorMode' or 'ColorMatrix') is set for 'Adobe RGB 1998'. Publications adhering to the DISC standard will likely not accept sRGB or CMYK files. DISC also advises photographers and publishers to leave all color management to the prepress professionals, as they do this job best.
• File formats: JPEG is preferred, but JPEG compression should be used in such a way as to optimize quality and file size. Digital images should be set to 'JPEG High Quality 8', a numerical value featured in Adobe Photoshop version 7 and later editions. Most digital cameras refer this as 'JPEG FINE'.
• Metadata. The DISC specification calls for the use of IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) metadata. The IPTC header information is filled out to describe the digital images (such as 'photo credit'). DISC is also creating its own controlled vocabulary to describe submission criteria as PRISM (Publishing Requirements for Industry Standard Metadata) metadata. Due to the high level of interest in adoption of DISC guidelines by advertising agencies, the DISC Working Group might add an additional resolution category developed specifically to meet the requirements of ad agencies.
The IDEAlliance DISC Working Group has won broad representation and support across the magazine publishing industry, and anticipates its specifications for digital image submissions will become generally accepted best practices.
Magazine publishers supporting the DISC Working Group's work include BusinessWeek, CMP Media, Condé Nast Publications, Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing, Hachette Filipacchi Media US, Hearst Magazines, Newsweek, Primedia, Parade Magazine, and Time Inc.
Industry digital imaging solutions vendors supporting the DISC include Creo, Fuji Film USA, Kodak Polychrome Graphics, NEC, Quebecor World, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Quad/Photo, and Integrity Graphics.
The complete DISC specification guidelines are available for download at DISC-Info.org. They're presented in an easy-to-read and understand format for photographers, publishers, production houses, and printers. There's also a handy pocket-sized guide for handy reference, available from IDEAlliance. Click on the 'publication' tab at www.IDEAlliance.org.
- David Kennedy