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Ideal Publisher PDF Export Settings for Kindle/Amazon Printing (or for Coherent Image in General)


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Hey friends,

I would love to know if anyone has some steps in Publisher to get foolproof and coherent PDFs every time. I recently did a book cover for an Amazon KDP (Kindle) book that printed "fine" for the paperback, but visibly shows a subtle outline of things that are grouped or have certain effects applied (not exactly sure which one). I'm pretty sure it is in the paperback too, but just can't be seen.

It's basically a black box of a slightly different shade (cover is a black background, bad version attached) that reaches to the width and height of the elements it affects. You can't see it on a screen, but something in Amazon's printers detects it and messes it up...even the author easily noticed on the print when I pointed it out.

My typical export settings in the past have been PDF > Press Quality > 300dpi, include bleed. This option also has "include layers" unchecked by default in the "more" tab.

Since some of my effects are on the elements themselves and some are on larger groupings, I just want to see if I can learn anything before ungrouping everything and redoing effects (outer glow/gaussian blur also looks very degraded printed, but author requested for text if anyone has any ideas for a neater print).

Other options I am digitally playing with are:

  • exporting with every layer/group rasterized (looks pixelated digitally close up, as expected)
  • exporting without allowing JPEG compression (quality 98) on the "more" tab
  • trying PDF > Flatten > 300dpi (objects will be rasterized), include bleed, uncheck include layers...which exported in half a second, far faster than the other PDF times. Seems similar to pre-rasterizing and using press quality

It seems obvious that something is happening with individual layers and Amazon is interpreting it like magazine cutouts pasted onto black paper, but any ideas would be greatly appreciated as I don't want to have to send the author tons of versions and then buy and wait for several copies of the book, which is now live, to test what exactly will do the trick!

Thank you all.

Slit Throat Saga Hard Cover.pdf

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The main problem with the PDF you attached is that is has total ink coverage of 400% (all inks at 100%), while typically the maximum value that is tolerated is around 330% for heavily coated (glossy) papers, and typically less (around 300%) for lightly coated and matte stock, around 280% for uncoated stock, and still less (even under 200%) for newsprint.

The screenshot below shows areas where you have 400% ink coverage:

image.jpeg.7e73e8b6e1c3a2011abe8421b276632d.jpeg

The reason why you additionally get uneven black backgrounds is probably that you have unflattened transparencies in the job, and when the document is rasterized at print time, it gets the black backgrounds differently calculated for areas that have transparencies (mostly the text blocks) and areas that do not have them. The total ink coverage of the black areas is nevertheless most probably routinely reduced when the job is rasterized to avoid problems with excessive ink.

 It is difficult to say what the ideal production method for Kindle / Amazon printing could be. Their instructions are not clear, and to me it appears that their workflow is basically RGB-based so it might well be that you get best results if you create the document in (s)RGB color space (they will convert RGB 0, 0, 0 in text then to K100, which is in CMYK-based jobs what they recommend).

RGB-based project would then produce best results also for e-book versions, if they are produced from the same content, and for sceenshots of covers etc. 

For print-only jobs, exporting using PDF/X-1a:2003 is typically the safest choice, assuming that an appropriate target CMYK color profile is used (as far as I know they do not specify color profiles for their jobs, but using general purpose ISO based profiles for the kind of stock that is used should produce good results, especially when using PDF/X-1-based method that is "device-CMYK" and does not include color profiles as all final color values are already resolved at export time).

What is problematic in these kinds of production methods targeted for general public is that instructions typically mention tools  like Microsoft Word or Pages, and when not, Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress, which can produce e.g. print originals that stay in all-RGB color space, which works well in situations where the same source is used to produce both a digital and printed publication, while Affinity apps typically create PDFs that are either in pure CMYK color space (which results in slightly unsaturated colors in digital versions) or use mixed color spaces with profiles embedded, which may result in the kind of unevenly rendered color areas that show in your cover (but here for different reasons). This easily happens if the print provider simply discards embedded profiles, which I assume Amazon does.

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Hi @natecombsmedia,

Sorry to hear you're having trouble!

10 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

visibly shows a subtle outline of things that are grouped or have certain effects applied

What you're describing here sounds related to transparencies in the PDF file, which can occur when blending layers over each other etc.

10 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

My typical export settings in the past have been PDF > Press Quality > 300dpi, include bleed. This option also has "include layers" unchecked by default in the "more" tab.

Amazon recommend using a 'PDF/X-1a' format when exporting to PDF, which should address the aforementioned transparency issues. When exporting from Affinity, please open the 'More...' dialog and then set the Compatibility to PDF/X-1a, or alternatively use the PDF/X-1a preset built in.

I hope this helps :)

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A couple of notes to what @Dan C mentions above:

a) Even if the recommended PDF standard (here PDF/X-1a) is selecred to produce the print PDF, this does not correct a problem with overuse of inks, so basically this is something that needs to be attended when assigning colors to objects. So e.g. for rich black (deep black produced in all four inks), the total amount of inks should not increase the maximum that is recommeded for the stock that is used. If the printer does not recommend a specific combination of C, M, Y and K inks, it is often simplest just to use RGB 0, 0, 0 and appropriate CMYK target profile. The profile then performs at PDF export a translation that uses approximately maximum ink coverage while maintaining neutral tones. This would then produce deep pure blacks for large areas also when creating RGB exports of the job.

b) When exporting press PDFs (intended for CMYK printing), and using in export settings the document CMYK profile (which for publications in RGB mode is normally one that is determined in Preferences > Color, and for those in CMYK mode one that is explicilty selected when the document was created, or later applied by using File > Document Setup > Color), the CMYK values determined for native objects like text and shapes, will not be recalculated, which e.g. means that the kind of assignments like C100 M100 Y100 K100 will not be changed and limited according to TAC defined in the profile. The limit is applied automatically only for objects and placed images that are in RGB color space [and placed CMYK files that have deviating conflicting profiles embedded]. This is why placed images (photos) should normally always be in RGB color space (and additionally then look best also when exported for digital media). Native CMYK values are only converted if the export time color profile is changed so that it deviates from the document/implied workspace CMYK color profile, but this should typically never be done because doing so also results in translation of K100 black in text to four-color black, which is typically not wanted (or even allowed).

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Thank you both!

I have done probably 35 covers for Amazon, the first few being with Adobe stuff before Affinity had Publisher. But for the rest, all Affinity! Now, I typically do my vector-heavy covers in Designer and my Photo-based and text/typography-heavy covers in Publisher, pulling photo edits directly from Photo. None of them have had visible issues with paperbacks luckily, though they were definitely exported in this same, not-ideal way. I guess with their recent release of hardcovers, it makes the issue apparent!

I will revisit all of my settings later today to get this all set as a standard for the future. A few things would really help me to export right if you don't mind a few more clarifications:

  • I have looked into flattening with Publisher, and it doesn't seem possible like you can in Photo. Checked the forum too. When I played with flattening export types, that seemed to do the trick. So exporting with PDF/X-1a formats will act as my flattening agent, correct? This is one of the main things I wanted to get right before sending off new covers.
  • Should I also rasterize things myself before exporting or just use PDF/X-1a assuming Amazon will rasterize again?
  • I do have RGB versions for the various web formats. And yes, I find the CMYK versions always desaturate, though the digital versions look vivid and awesome. However, Amazon does request CMYK for print covers. @lacerto Are you saying that I should design everything as RGB and convert printing materials to CMYK later on myself? Or are you saying I should send them RGB set up a specific way so they can convert it? I may need some of your instructions there and on document color setup for conversions explained a little simpler.
  • I guess my black background has four all four 100% values (but nothing else does), and you are saying just to use the K value. I will adjust that. I have had issues in the past with interiors (since interior book formatting is more my main Publisher skill) having blacks jump around to different values, including with this book. I had to go through and force every section to full black, and ended up using the grayscale option since CMYK was giving so much trouble and jumping around to random low percentages on C,M, and Y. I thought maybe Publisher doesn't like a 0% values. Should I use the grayscale for blacks and then verify the other three colors didn't get added in the CMYK interpretation, which is what I ultimately ended up doing with the interior of this same book?

Thanks again.

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I have no personal experience of Amazon print services but I'll try to reply on general knowledge:

3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

I have looked into flattening with Publisher, and it doesn't seem possible like you can in Photo.

I am not sure what exactly you mean by flattening, and I am not sure what it does in Photo (possibly rasterizes and removes transparencies?). But I think that right clicking an image layer on the canvas or in the Layers panel in Publisher (Designer) and choosing Rasterize does pretty much the same. Note however that to really flatten a single image basically requires that you have all affecting adjustments grouped with the image before rasterizing, so it may be tricky to get the expected results, and rasterizing on the canvas is naturally also a destructive operation and therefore not desired. But as mentioned, rasterizing an image that is already in CMYK mode does not necessarily map the color values of an image into the range of the target profile so you typically cannot use this method to fix problems related to having too much ink coverage in images (you had 400% coverage also in the "hand" image). The easiest method to fix photos is to convert them to RGB and place them as (s)RGB files in Publisher document that has correct CMYK target profile and let the profile do its magic at export time (it will map color values to the target color space and take care of optimal ink usage). You could of course perform color conversion also in Photo and make sure that you either save without embedding any CMYK profile (in which case the Publisher document color profile will be assigned), or that you embed the same profile as you have in Publisher. This would let you see how exactly the conversion is done and make small adjustments, but normally it is enough to see that the image is ideal in RGB color space and let the profile do the conversion at export time.

3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

PDF/X-1a formats will act as my flattening agent, correct?

Basically yes: it takes care of converting everything to CMYK and flattening transparencies. But as mentioned, it does not necessarily remap CMYK color values to meet the TAC of the target CMYK profile. Therefore RGB photos and RGB color definitions also in native objects (vector shapes) is a good choice, and using CMYK definitions only for text that needs to be K100 (or that needs to have specific CMYK values in the target profile you use, but this is not common). I would create the Publisher document in CMYK mode as that makes it easier to ensure that the CMYK target profile is correct right from the start (if you create your document in RGB mode, the underlying "latent" CMYK profile will be one defined in Preferences > Color, and changing that later requires some care since if you use "Convert" mode, it will also convert possible K100 values already defined for body text). Having the Publisher document in CMYK mode is useful also because it shows the RGB color definitions simulating the target CMYK color space and works as a kind of an automatic color proof mode (while retaining the native RGB color definitions which will be used when you export to RGB). It is possible also to work in RGB color mode (where you see RGB definitions more vivid), and have e.g. body text defined in CMYK (K100), but as said, you need to be careful to have the correct "latent" CMYK color profile active.

3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

Should I also rasterize things myself before exporting or just use PDF/X-1a assuming Amazon will rasterize again?

I do not think that you need to rasterize yourself if you use PDF/X-1a, it resolves all color values (flattens transparencies) and ensures that you have all colors in CMYK color space. If your document CMYK profile is "appropriate" for the stock (e.g. a common profile used for coated or uncoated stock), and your native CMYK values do not use too much ink and the rest of the stuff is in RGB, you should have everything in order. Amazon print workflow is not well documented and it is basically confusing to request CMYK delivery without even mentioning color profiles, but if you produce print-only you should be good delivering a PDF/X-1a file (as requested) produced with "approximately" right profile. The things become trickier if an e-Book is produced from the same content since depending on the kind of a book that is produced, a pure RGB workflow might give better results. If they really require and need CMYK output for print jobs they should definitely allow separate production files for the e-Book version.

3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

I guess my black background has four all four 100% values (but nothing else does), and you are saying just to use the K value

No! If you want to have rich black (deep black produced in four inks), the easiest method is using RGB 0, 0, 0 and let the correct CMYK profile do the conversion. As mentioned, this will result in approximately max ink coverage suitable for the stock you use for the covers, and normally also keeps the tones neutral. Sometimes the printshop gives recommendations for CMYK values to produce rich black, and sometimes you might want to have the black tones warm (brownish), sometimes bluish, so the mix of inks may vary, but it is important that the total sum of percentages does not exceed the recommended limit.

Note that grayscale values in a CMYK document are basically identical R, G and B values. Grayscale definitions are useful mainly when your document is in grayscale mode (in which case you should use basically only grayscale definitions). Native grayscale definitions will be converted to four-color black in a CMYK document (so G0 is definitely not the same as K100), so G0 would be converted similarly as R0 G0 B0. When using e.g. U.S. Sheetfed Coated v2 CMYK color profile, the both would be converted to C87, M78, Y65, K93. which would give you deepest neutral black (323% ink coverage) on coated stock when using print specs suitable for that profile. In lack of a prepress software, you can open (instead of placing) a print PDF in Publisher (and let it estimate the correct color mode when opening it if you do not know if it is internally CMYK or RGB) and examine the exported color values. 

blacks.afpub

blacks.pdf

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Thank you! @lacerto I will get all this sorted out, especially since now that they are offering hardcover. I'm going to have to probably make new covers for some old projects who want to offer that option. (And yes, they do have separate uploads and image files for hardcover, paperback, e-book, and vella, hence the mix of RGB and CMYK docs).

Regarding grayscale for the interior, assuming that is safe to use since my layouts never have color. And in this particular case, I think I actually did the first couple chapters as RGB 0, 0, 0 before realizing changing the grayscale did indeed set those same RGB values. Both also kept the CMYK from freaking out and doing whatever it wanted.

Thanks again. I will let you all know if I have any more confusion.

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Ok, I found another company called One Bookshelf Publisher that has a whole walkthrough on how to actually see (and theoretically get proper) ink coverage in Affinity, intended for publishing through them. It looks like Photo can display it (only on the area your mouse hovers over). They, of course, recommend downloading their color profile and converting to eliminate all issues. Perhaps that will be a good option. I wouldn't know. They recommend fixing it all in Photo if you have any photography before doing anything in Publisher.

For where I am, I did take the C, M, and Y values down to 0 (still in Photo), not planning to keep it there (this company does recommend it for them, perhaps for "ease"). @lacerto As you showed, 100%K was kind of grayish. I then, took K down to 0 so my rectangle was white, moved to RGB, and moved the full white down to 0, 0, 0. It then gave a nice black, slightly lighter than my previous rectangle.

However, when I flip back to CMYK, the values are 72, 68, 67, 88, which gives me a 294% ink coverage. This may also be what was happening in my interior. That's slightly different values than the conversion you mentioned. This company also said if you don't like the 100%K and want a richer black, then do 60, 40, 40, 100 but to be careful with layering. The hand shadow also sticks out, so I will have to actually mask it properly. The reason I didn't before is because making the bottom transparent was completely desaturating instead of a nice fade.

In the meantime, I noticed it is in Web-Coated (at least since sending to Photo) since authors almost always need their digital versions first. I will see if I can convert it and learn more. This book in particular is going to be a bit of a bigger deal, along with another coming after it, so I want to make sure I am doing it pristine. Thanks again for all the help!

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On 6/16/2022 at 4:54 PM, natecombsmedia said:

They, of course, recommend downloading their color profile and converting to eliminate all issues. Perhaps that will be a good option. I wouldn't know. They recommend fixing it all in Photo if you have any photography before doing anything in Publisher.

You can do that (have the image in CMYK, and the rich black in the background at 60, 40, 40, 100 -- that sounds like uncoated stock with significant dot gain with max total ink coverage around 240%, and using profiles intended to that kind of stock and print conditions give very similar values, when converting from RGB 0, 0, 0 to CMYK. If you plan to work this way, you need to use the same profile in Publisher and then export your image from Photo either without embedding a profile, or making sure that you embed that particular profile (I would personally export to CMYK TIFF if using this workflow, and never place Affinity Photo documents in Publisher, this is especially true if you use any kinds of adjustments in both Photo and Publisher documents).

I am not sure if I understood your reference to "Web-Coated" -- "web" refers in this context originally to web printing, typically used in newsprint, feeding paper continuously from a roll, the more versatile and common alternative for that being "sheet fed" printing. But I suppose that profiles for the former printing method are more commonly used (and defaults in many apps) because of their lower total ink limit (around 300% for coated stock), while profiles for sheet fed coated printing often allow up to 345% ink coverage. In European there is similar tendency for lower ink usage which saves costs and allows shorter drying times, without sacrificing print quality. 

I am sure that changing to a printer that has properly color managed workflow and that knows Affinity apps is a good choice. I am not saying that you would get poorer results with Amazon (provided that you can deliver what they ask) but at least you get more individual service and possibly also detailed step-by-step instructions.

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5 hours ago, lacerto said:

I am sure that changing to a printer that has properly color managed workflow and that knows Affinity apps is a good choice. I am not saying that you would get poorer results with Amazon (provided that you can deliver what they ask) but at least you get more individual service and possibly also detailed step-by-step instructions.

Thanks. The authors are all still with Amazon. I just found that option on the other site and didn't know if any of it would be helpful developing my own Amazon-based standard. They did say that if you use their color profile, you do need to export as a TIFF as you suggested. But because it is not specific to my case, I have been following your instructions on getting my ink coverage down. I mainly used that site to learn how to have Affinity show my ink coverage since I don't have Acrobat Pro.

I think I just discovered a little "genius" idea. Publisher has a Photo persona, and with it I can view the total ink coverage without leaving Publisher. The main thing I have to figure out now is getting the hand just right. Red is a pretty hard color to make rich in CMYK, and I did indeed use some adjustments to compensate for the orangey lack of saturation compared to the RGB files. Nothing is raterized or flattened, and using transparency in any way changes the skin to brown/gray in the parts that fade, which is why I originally painted the bottom shadows with a reduced-hardness black. The problem there I am still trying to figure out is black also fades saturation like a transparency unless I use a different blend mode. Multiply is what I had it as...but that is showing as an obvious different black over the rectangle. I can make the hand a selection and paint a new layer from the inside, but I don't know if it is possible to refine a selection so perfectly as to get exactly to the border without bleeding over to the black. I will have to play some more. The original RGB edit had no issues with transparency.

I deleted the original painted shadow, and to my surprise, none of the red is a higher percentage than the black anymore. Before, the darkest red spots were. For now, I will paint my new RGB 0,0,0 black to shadow properly fade from hand to nothing and hope it doesn't take me over any limits. And with the X-1a:2003 export, my original transparency issue will be fixed. Glad I had it though and used a lot of groups on this particular cover, or I wouldn't have learned all this!

Thanks for being patient with me. Yes, to your understanding of my reference to Web Coated. That is the document's default color profile. I never reassigned anything for the print version. Should I change to Sheetfed Coated v2? In both Photo and the Photo persona, I have the options to assign or convert color profile. And finally, being at the end of the project, would I do that after everything is finished and make adjustments (if that is a necessity), or should I stop what I'm doing and convert/assign as early on in the project as possible?

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11 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

Should I change to Sheetfed Coated v2? In both Photo and the Photo persona, I have the options to assign or convert color profile.

No, because you had a suggestion on rich black with as low ink coverage as 240% and they mentioned a color profile, it is a good idea to ask for the color profile file (ICC profile) they recommend and use that. Personally I would work with an RGB file, in which case the placed RGB files are converted to CMYK only at the time the Publisher document is exported to print PDF. On the other hand, if you work directly in CMYK color mode, the color values can be converted to have them mapped according to the final profile, but CMYK conversions are less ideal. 

See below an example where the TAC problem is fixed simply by converting the two CMYK bitmaps with 400% black to RGB (so that the black is RGB 0, 0, 0), updating the linked bitmaps, converting the rectangle with 400% black to RGB (0, 0, 0) to make sure that both background blacks convert identically, then changing the document CMYK to a new profile that has TAC limit of 238%, using the "Convert" mode to take care of conversion of all native CMYK color definitions in the publication (though there are none left other than the white text, which is not affected by the switch; note that if your document had had K100 text color definitions, they would have been converted to four-color black in this stage and would need to be changed manually back to K100).

EDIT: If you wonder why the CMYK bitmaps had to be converted separately, the reason is that as they do not have profiles embedded, a simple switch to new CMYK color profile (disregarding whether you use "Convert" or "Assign" mode) will not have effect on these files: only RGB color values, and CMYK color values that are in conflict with the new profile, are affected. If the CMYK images had embedded profiles conflicting with the document CMYK target, then their values would be converted. When they have no profiles, the current document CMYK profile is simply just assigned to them, whatever it is, and the native color values or placed files are simply just passed through unmodified.

I borrow the TAC indicator of the Info panel of Photo to demonstrate calculated CMYK total area coverage percentages before and after the CMYK target profile switch, showing how the rich black changes from 294% governed by the original target (U.S. Web Coated) to 236% governed by the new target (Lightning Source Cover). At this point the background colors are still in RGB mode (0, 0, 0), but everything will be converted to CMYK and transparencies flattened when exporting finally to PDF/X-1a, and in Adobe Acrobat Pro the ink coverage is shown to be max 238%. The fixed PDF has now rich black that can be printed without problems according to 240% ink limit required by the printshop, and there are no uneven black areas.

 

The profile used in the video can be found in another thread (dealing with 240% ink limit set by IngramSpark for their cover art) in a post made by another forum member @MikeW

The profile I mention in the referred thread (ISONewspaper26v4) could have been used equally well (its link is in my post), but if the printshop has a recommended profile, it is best to use that.

 

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Interesting, thank you @lacerto.

On Thursday, I did end up redoing the hand and blend mode to leave no black paint beyond its border. In the RGB version, it was so easy to just fade it to black and retain natural lighting as requested (though the full hand without bottom shading looks lively and nice too).

I had also done some of those steps in the video and got as far as where you had the black at 294%. Since I didn't have the video yet, I was unsure of what conversion methods might be best. It was great to be able to see your steps for achieving 238%.

I have two and a half questions.

  1. I have the RGB files, and though they are formatted for digital heights and widths, it's a matter of saving another version with the paperback and hardcover dimensions and pasting over some additional text. When you say your preference for Publisher is working with RGB and letting the PDF export convert, does that mean a PDF X-1a:2003 export will do it all for me? That would save tremendous amounts of time and effort. I want to make sure I'm not missing any steps of manual conversion first.
  2. I noticed that the conversions in the video greatly reduced the saturation of the hand and even left it skin-tone color and washed out in the shadows (the huge issue I kept running into with shadows in CMYK). Since the character has deep red skin, I needed to avoid any altering of colors. Would working in RGB and converting at the PDF retain it at least to the level it was where I uploaded it (which is slightly less saturated than the RGB version)?

Finally, my half question-comment is looking at my proofs, both hardcover and paperback, the red is actually nice and rich (about where I aimed for with the RGB version despite the PDF looking a little less saturated on screens), and the blacks other than where I needed to flatten to fix transparency on the hardcover still printed. Since I originally gave the author the same files I uploaded here, what sort of conversion, etc. do you think they did to my files? I know Amazon has way more locations printing now than they did before, so that may be through their own branches or through outsourcing to printers in big cities (final page has which city each book prints in). The files I gave the author Thursday night were exported X-1a:2003 and 294% black, trying to stay below the extreme 323% you mentioned in another reply. I'm wondering if I should do it again and get it down to 238% or just know for the next cover, which I'm already working on (no black, luckily, but dark purples that show up wildly different on different screens and brightnesses and through the Kindle apps).

Thanks yet again!

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3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

When you say your preference for Publisher is working with RGB and letting the PDF export convert, does that mean a PDF X-1a:2003 export will do it all for me?

Yes. I think that this is also the method recommended by Amazon. PDF/X-1a:2003 converts everything to CMYK and flattens transparencies.

 

3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

Would working in RGB and converting at the PDF retain it at least to the level it was where I uploaded it (which is slightly less saturated than the RGB version)?

If you work in RGB, your blacks and reds retain their original depth (saturation). If you have CMYK target that requires as low TAC as 240%, the red and black of the RGB will be significantly desaturated (but retain some of the depth due to dot gain on paper). So when you export to e.g. "Digital (high quality)" from the RGB sources, you would get much more saturated colors (matching your original post), like this:

Slit Throat Saga Hard Cover_fixed_rgb.pdf

...while the CMYK PDF from the same source would be like this:

Slit Throat Saga Hard Cover_fixed_cmyk.pdf

If this is a problem (and you would rather have your RGB cover to match the desaturated colors of the CMYK version), then the best method to achieve this (if RGB conversions is really needed) is to open the CMYK PDF version in Publisher and tell it at open time that it is in RGB color mode (even if it is not) and then just export to a digital RGB, and you would get something like this:

Slit Throat Saga Hard Cover_fixed_rgb_from_cmyk.pdf

3 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

The files I gave the author Thursday night were exported X-1a:2003 and 294% black, trying to stay below the extreme 323% you mentioned in another reply. I'm wondering if I should do it again and get it down to 238% or just know for the next cover, which I'm already working on

Assuming that their advise on using 240% rich black was reflecting their preferred TAC ink limit, 294% total ink usage would be too much, but I am not sure what they would do to a job that has too much ink. If they just pass through the color values and print, and the paper really needs lower ink coverage, there is a risk that high ink coverage results in smudged overly dark tones. They might also apply a conversion routine that reduces the ink amount in which case the black would be at the level of 240% but the red might also get reduced (linearly) to become still more desaturated than it is in the max 236% of the CMYK version attached above, where the most of the red of the hand has around 200% ink coverage. To be able to have maximum control (and the best possible quality), it would be necessary to know the exact print specs.

EDIT: One more thing: it is possible that the printed cover is post-processed, e.g. that it has varnish (UV coating) applied to make the colors look deeper so therefore printed values can be as low as 240% but the final outlook because of post-processing be clearly less desaturated.

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@lacerto Yeah, printing and print specs are a beast. Thanks for all the help! I'll definitely be looking at working with print in RGB in the future and perhaps test what they actually do to get it to have richer results. (I did look back at the hardcover and paperback proofs, and the hardcover is a bit richer, perhaps the reason why the transparencies stood out).

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On 6/21/2022 at 12:40 AM, lacerto said:

If this is a problem (and you would rather have your RGB cover to match the desaturated colors of the CMYK version), then the best method to achieve this (if RGB conversions is really needed) is to open the CMYK PDF version in Publisher and tell it at open time that it is in RGB color mode (even if it is not) and then just export to a digital RGB, and you would get something like this:

Ok, yes. This is actually a problem but in reverse. So basically, from the same author, I have another cover for a book that isn't releasing print and Kindle editions until the end of the year on Amazon.

  • The whole issue that arose with the Slit Throat Saga cover is that I wanted the CMYK to be more rich like the RGB, not the RGB matching the more desaturated version. That's why I was surprised they printed so saturated.
  • In order to do that, I originally sent the RGB files to the CMYK doc, which desaturated them, and I added a bit more red through adjustment layers to bring back most of what it desaturated, getting everything to appear on screen as close as possible to the RGB covers. This is the file you have from me.

On this new cover, I had originally begun in CMYK and developed a fairly desaturated version to start with.

  • Text was a bit dull, but I had plenty of room to liven up the purple background since it had a lot of gray in it.
  • I tested deeper purple levels to have options for a more rich look, which she ended up preferring.

Today, I converted the desaturated one we had initially moved forward with to RGB

  • Instantly, the blues got to where I needed them, and the purple jumped to where the author liked on the second pass.
  • Of course, it exports great as RGB
  • When I export as PDF X-1a:2003, it coverts nearly exactly back to the original desaturated version, which I expected from your example above.

I think the reason it printed so deep for Slit Throat Saga was because I made two versions. I was thinking doing everything from one RGB "standard" of colors could save a bit of time when creating each edition (interior not done yet, so no defined spine width for print covers). There's no way to reverse engineer what you did is there and create a single RGB standard and convert to a richer CMYK? It seems as if I may have to make two versions after all, matching them the best I can.

Also, it looks like the purples locked in hard at 291% TAC within Affinity. Here are the three references if you want to see the differences. I slightly adjusted purples in the RGB one differences, so the CMYKs won't match quite as much. As you can see, I had to up the opacity of the background texturing, which sticks out terribly on the RGB to CMYK version. It also seems after exporting, the TAC went up. I don't have Acrobat Pro but tested in Photo.

Test RGB.jpg

Test CMYK.pdf Test RGB to CMYK.pdf

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10 hours ago, natecombsmedia said:

There's no way to reverse engineer what you did is there and create a single RGB standard and convert to a richer CMYK?

Basically no, since CMYK gamut is for most parts narrower (so converting "back" to RGB would just end up having toned-down RGB values). By converting to a different CMYK profile (e.g. one that allows more ink) and letting the app do the mapping, the color values would just be mapped to keep the visual appearance of the original. it is possible to "resaturate" dullness of colors of an image intentionally, though, by using "assignment", and simply use the existing color values with another profile, but results can be strange so generally turning back the richness of original colors from an image already converted to CMYK would be done by converting to RGB, then adjusting (e.g. using HSL controls), and use the manipulated image with a new target profile.

So as a rule the best results can be achieved if you have the exact target profile and let the profile do the conversion. There are different rendering intents, though, and in this case, instead of using "Relative Colorimetric" (the one that is typically used when converting at export time) and using export-time automatic conversion, you could make the final CMYK conversion in Photo using the correct CMYK target and  the "Saturation" rendering intent (typically not used in automatic conversions, since results can be very "odd", but which can work well in certain specific situations and with certain profiles). It would result in nearly identical black, but the hand would have a little more M and Y ink, and less C and K, and while the appearance is hardly visible on screen, it could make a difference on paper (in this scenario, you would check the black conversion value of the background and then change the black background in Publisher to these exact CMYK values; the CMYK values of the native objects like text and shapes, and the  CMYK values of placed bitmaps without a profile, or using the same profile that you have in Publisher, will not change at export time).

Sometimes manual fiddling can be the best option, e.g. to bring back highlights of some key color (within the TAC of the target) dullened and lost the distinctive nature that the color had in RGB mode.

But in lack of exact CMYK profile (and basically using non-color managed workflows), sending the RGB version and let the printshop do the conversion, if that is an option, would probably give the best results: one common color space, no technical hassle when producing. For cover art this should normally be possible since there are typically no requirements for K100 text, so the black parts whatever they are can well be converted to rich four-color black.

UPDATE: I am not completely sure what you meant by "reverse engineering", but having an RGB source is flexible because you can easily convert to different kinds of CMYK spaces, so here from the same RGB source covers for US Web Coated v2 (TAC around 300%), and PSO Coated V3 (TAC around 345%):

 Slit Throat Saga Hard Cover_fixed_cmyk_uswebcoated.pdf

Slit Throat Saga Hard Cover_fixed_cmyk_psocoated3.pdf

But if the process was destructive and the RGB source is no longer available, the best method to try to revert original more saturated colors would probably be applying manual adjustments. 

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  • 2 months later...

So time finally came for this other cover to be due, and the proof is terribly different from any appearance on any screen. Luckily, the author was able to show me what the cover looks like uploaded to Amazon before printing happens, and that seems to be where the change happens because it prints very close to the Amazon preview, which is wayyyy off from my design.

This led to some investigating, and it looks like Amazon has a list of requests to keep your covers looking as close as possible to what you want. One of those requests is to use no ICC color profile as they will remove it. However, Affinity doesn't seem to have a way to design with no color profile assigned. And assigning or using the soft proof adjustment to see other profile previews does not get me close to what they are doing to these purples, which come out nearly black even after making it much lighter.

Is there a way to see/edit what it would look like without a profile? Or is there a profile that would help me get closer to whatever they are doing to it?

Another option I will try today is exporting a jpeg and having her use their color creator tool to make it. Theoretically, if it is perfect as a jpeg, which is required to use their cover creator, they will do all the assigning, unassigning, and whatever other converting they do there and perhaps keep it looking good.

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It seems the RGB method is indeed the way to go. Eliminates a lot of issues and matching along the way. She said it uploads and approves still looking like the original design through the cover creator. Whatever conversion they do must not affect jpegs. Gonna have a proof sent and hopefully with it, a much better process for the future!

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