My Restoration Process: How I Digitally Restore Each Piece and Prepare It For Sale

aesthetic behind the scenes image restoration

Last week, I showed you a YouTube video that demonstrated the process of non-digital poster restoration. This was not done using any kind of computer technology, which essentially means that it was done directly on the artifact itself.

While such a process is definitely not for the faint of heart, what I do is also highly specialized and requires an understanding of the process and software involved. Not just anyone can do this, so with that in mind, I decided to follow up by showing you how I restore the art prints that I sell here. This is a basic overview, and is not meant to be instructive in any way. Just informative. Hopefully, you'll find it interesting.

Step 1: Scanning

To begin with, I scan the artwork before I restore it. For printing, the resolution of each piece must be no less than 300 pixels per inch. (A pixel is basically a dot of color. So and so many thousands of these dots of color collectively make up the image.) Anything less than this figure will make the image look blurry when it is printed. For flexibility in sizing, I always scan my pieces at a much greater resolution. (Usually up to 1200 pixels per inch, which effectively makes it so I can enlarge the image up to four times without losing any quality.)

Step 2: Cropping

When I have my piece scanned, the edges are also included as part of the initial scan, but I usually like to trim these parts off so that the edges are nice and smooth. It also enables me to focus on the image itself without there being any extraneous material that could potentially distract or interfere with the process. (For example, the binding of a book is not actually part of the image, and it can create interference if I don't cut it away.) (The product shown in the above image is "The noise burst in billows," by Frank E. Schoonover. It is only available in the United States. For those outside the U. S., I recommend "I've asked him to tea on Friday," by F. X. Leyendecker.)

Step 3: White Balance

This is one of the most important steps in the process, as it eliminates fading and page yellowing, and it also corrects other colors that may have faded due to age. It involves selecting a color that is supposed to be black and another color that is supposed to be white. And then, it automatically throws every other color into a state of equilibrium around those black and white reference points. However, as was the case with Ethel W. Mumford's Ocean Sketches poster, no part of the image was intended to be black. In that case, after selecting the black and white reference points, I can tweak the reference points around a bit so that the darkest color (not black) is shown more accurately. Going back to Ocean Sketches as an example, the darkest color was supposed to be a dark green, so making it a black reference point would have completely thrown the rest of the colors off balance. (The print shown in the above image is The World, Good vs. Evil, by James Montgomery Flagg. It is only available in the United States. For those outside the U. S., I recommend "Carry Your Bag, Miss?" by R. M. Crosby.)

Step 4: Isolating the Image From the Paper Background

This is one of the most time consuming parts of the process, but it is necessary, as the prints would look amateurish if the original paper texture were visible. This must be done away with, so the way I like to do it is by selecting the paper texture using a technique called Mask With Color Range. This basically tells the software to separate a certain group of colors from the main image so it can be lifted off. Depending on how closely the color of the image matches the color of the paper, there is a risk of losing some of the image itself, which is why this has to be done very delicately. Fortunately, the mask can be altered using the brush tool, so I can restore certain parts of the image that were lost in the initial masking process. What I usually like to do is get rid of most of the paper, (so it doesn't get to the point where I lose any of the lighter parts of image,) and then brush away the remaining paper texture. In place of the paper texture, I add a white (or in some cases, off white) background color. This is determined by extracting the color from a small sample of the original paper texture.

Step 5: Clearing Away Scratches, Stains, and Other Blemishes

Once the colors are balanced and the image has been successfully lifted from the background, I need to go in and fix all the creases, dust, scratches, and other such imperfections. For stains, it is relatively simple, as it involves changing the color of the stain so that it matches the rest of the image and is therefore not noticeable. The hard part is selecting the stain, since it requires a very fine selection process. If the stain is not selected properly, the edges can easily be seen even after the color of the stain has been changed. For scratches, tears, and creases, I usually use the Spot Healing Brush, which detects the parts of the image that surround the blemish and then use that information to sponge it away completely. But for large areas, particularly those that include intricate patterns, I like to use the Content Aware Fill tool. It has its own workspace, so I can refine the process and basically take more control of it. This particular part of the process can sometimes take days, depending on the size and condition of the image, as it requires a sharp eye that can notice even the slightest imperfection. To make sure I don't miss any, I usually let it go for about 24 hours and then look at it again with a fresh pair of eyes. (The print shown in the above image is Sweet Cider Time When You Were Mine, by Morris Rosenbaum. It is only available in the United States. For those outside the U. S., I recommend The Merry Widow, by Joseph Hirt.)

Step 6: Checking

For as much time as I need to take, I go over it again and again, since this is such a delicate process that some parts of it might be overlooked if I'm not careful.

I hope you found this information interesting. If you'd like to watch the process in action, I have a YouTube playlist with twenty speedpaint videos that I made when Dominion Graphic Arts was still in the pre-launch phase. I hope you enjoy them.

If you have any comments, please don't hesitate to leave them in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing some of your ideas so we can chat about them.

Till next time!

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