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Quality control process

How to check the images if they are up to the standards efficiently? This is a very important process, and it doesn’t matter if you’re going to check your own work before passing it to a client, or to your senior, or you are a senior retoucher and you are going to check other retouchers’ work. We have to do it quickly, and we have to make sure all the images are up to the current standards.

magine that we have a hundred of images, and they are mostly good, but a few of them are messed up, they have incorrect size or they are not isolated well. Some objects are sticking out of their margins, and there’s probably some dirt and dust present in a few images as well. So how can we find them among the normal ones, and fast?

A typical quality control process is divided into three separate stages. First of all, we check if the images are up to the technical requirements. Then we check if the isolation is alright, and finally we go through all the images looking at them one by one to see if they are retouched properly.

Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge is another great application from Adobe that lets you handle your images with ease. It might be slow sometimes and there are better image viewers available even for free, but if you do quality control, especially if you do it not just for you own images, Adobe Bridge is a must have. Before I start explaining the quality control process, let's get familiar with the application itself. There are some useful panels and there are also panels that you won't really need.

The whole setup thing is mostly about choosing useful panels and organizing their location around your screen. To feel comfortable, you'll need these panels: Folders, Metadata, Filter, and Preview. Folders will allow you to move around folders where your images are located. Filter allows you filtering images depending on different criteria, like rating or file type. There are quite a lot of them listed here. The main window is where all the small image previews are located: you can select images, copy and paste them and do other things, just like in any file explorer program. You can change the scale of all the previews by moving this slider in the bottom right corner of the screen. Preview panel shows you a preview of a single image that is currently active, or a bunch of images if you select a few at the same time. The size of this panel can be changed by increasing its size, just like all the other panels here – just click on the edge and drag. The most important panel for those who have to check images that they or other people made is Metadata. It contains all the information on images, like their size, dimensions, color profiles, camera data and much more.

When you are in a folder that contains images, you can sort these images. You can choose the sorting method in the upper right part of the screen. The methods are as follows: Filename, File type, Date created, Date modified, File Size, Image Dimensions, Resolution, Color Profile, Label, Rating or Keyword. The default mode is by name.

Let's see how you can use Adobe Bridge to check images. When you have a bunch of images in one folder, this is easy – start by selecting them all and things like that. But what if all the images are sitting in their respective folders, each with an SKU name. Am I supposed to check them by switching from one folder to another? No, of course not. For situations like this one, Bridge has a very advanced Search system. To access it, press Ctrl-F.

This is how it works. First, you specify the source, which is the folder you're currently looking at by default. Then you select one or multiple criteria, and there's a huge list to choose from. If you want to find all the jpegs in all the folders inside of the folder you're looking at, use these settings:

As for the main criterion, pick the Document Type, as I know that all the images I'm supposed to check are jpegs. To make Bridge search for jpegs, I set it to “Document Type equals to JPEG file”. You can add another criterion, or even more criteria by clicking on the “plus” sign, and Bridge will search for images that meet all the criteria you specified or one of them. The last thing you need to do is check the two checkboxes, both are really important. The first one includes all the subfolders in the search, and the second one includes all the non-indexed files. Make sure you check both, otherwise you might miss a lot of images.

That's it, now all you have to do is just press Enter and wait. When Bridge has finished, you can select all the images it has managed to find at once. It will let you use the Metadata panel to check for the most important things according to the current technical requirements. For example, I want to know if all the images have the correct size and the sRGB color profile embedded. If not, I want to be able to find the faulty images quickly.

To do so, I'll select all the images I need (it's possible to select them all by pressing Ctrl-A) and have a look at the Metadata panel. The Dimensions row should be some particular numbers, that is if all the files I selected are the same size in pixels. If not, it will say “Multiple values”. It means that not all the selected images here are of the same size. If you get "multiple values" instead of just one value, as I did, you should look for those that stand out.

To find them quickly, sort all the images by Dimensions, and all the faulty images will go to the beginning and to the end of the list because they are either smaller or larger than the rest of them. So you don't have to cycle through all the images one by one and check each image separately. And when you find the faulty ones, you can label them by pressing Ctrl-6, which is the shortcut for one of the labels, or give them a one-star rating by pressing Ctrl-1. It doesn't matter how exactly you label the faulty images as long as you remember why you did that. If you don't have to collect any statistical information, you don't need labeling at all, just open the faulty images and correct them. But if you're going to send them back to the retoucher who made them, labels will help you gather all the faulty images after you're finished with the quality check.

Now, when we've checked the size, we can do the same thing with the sRGB profile. If some of the images don't have it embedded, the Color Profile mode in the Metadata panel will say “Multiple Values”. If everything's fine, it will say sRGB. Sometimes technical demands require some specific ppi, which is not really important, as the images that are not going to be printed can have any number as their ppi. But still, if you're producing images, why not just make them the same ppi, even if the value itself doesn't matter so much. Same as before, the Resolution row should bear the same value for all the images, not “Multiple Values”.

Well, that's it for the technical demands like the size and color profile, and it's time to proceed to a more thorough check. If there are some images that are supposed to be isolated, like these mannequins here, it's necessary to check if they were isolated properly. If there's something in common about all them, like a filename or index something like this, it's reasonable to use this property in search to separate the isolated images from the rest of them.

I'll select all the images I need to check and right-click with the mouse to bring the menu where I'll choose “Open in Camera Raw”. Camera Raw is not just a great plugin for color correction and skin smoothing and things like that – it is also a very good tool to check if the images are isolated properly. All you have to do is open them in Camera Raw and press O to switch the highlights clipping mode on if it's not on already. It will show white areas on your images as red, so if an image was not isolated at all, you'll notice that even if differs from white so slightly, that you can't see it with the naked eye. If an image is isolated on white properly, all the pixel values of the background should be 255;255;255. Otherwise, it's considered faulty isolation. If there's some trash or small pieces of background left in the image, you'll also be able to see it.

There are, of course, other kinds of isolation, not just on a white background. If you're supposed to put your images on a gray background, like 250;250;250, you won't be able to use the Camera Raw show clipping mode. But you can do this: place your cursor somewhere where the background should be on all images, and cycle through them by pressing down key on your keyboard. The values of the pixel where your cursor is placed will be shown under the histogram. Don't move the cursor and keep an eye on those values as you cycle: if there's a different background, like white or another shade of gray, you'll see it.

If you've found a faulty image, open it in Photoshop to make changes. It might be tempting to use Camera Raw features, like the Adjustment Brush, to make the background lighter if there's a darker spot there, but it's not as simple as that. All the Camera Raw changes are stored in a separate file that is saved in the same location as your image. It is usually “hidden” and you can't see it in your folders unless you set the OS to show hidden files. When images get uploaded to a website from some server, these side files are usually ignored, and that means your changes won't ever be applied to the images for real. To correct images properly, you have to open them in Photoshop to apply the changes and then save. If you have corrected them in Camera Raw, you have to open them in Photoshop and resave as well, don't forget that.

Now, on to the last stage of the image quality control, which is essentially a visual check of all the images, one by one. As a retoucher, you might be surprised why this is necessary if you've already seen all the images one by one – when you have been retouching them. But this is another story. You can't imagine how many mistakes you can miss when in the retouching mode. If the images are done properly, you won't spend much time checking them, but if there are mistakes, you'll be able to correct them without any fuss. It would be much worse if you sent faulty images to your senior, or to a client. So make sure you always find time for the final check, because it's important.

It's a good idea to have a good look at the images n the Fullscreen Preview mode, which can be accessed by pressing Space. Pay attention to the fact, that you might not be seeing the images at 100% scale, which is the only scale you should be using when checking your images. If you downscale, you won't be able to see any details and you might encounter moire that doesn't really exist. If you upscale, you won't be able to see if the images are sharp. The only proper viewing mode is 100% – that is, if you use a TN or an IPS technology screen. If you're using a high-resolution screen like a Retina or QHD, it means you're seeing all the images about two times smaller than they really are. Well, not really are, it's all relative, but smaller than most customers will see them, as not many people can afford an expensive monitor.

In product image editing, a high-resolution screen is more of a disadvantage, because what you see is not the same as most customers see. I have 3 laptops and one of them is QHD, so when I use it, I set Photoshop to scale images to 200% instead of 100% when I press Ctrl-1. Otherwise, it's not possible to see a thing. If you only work with a high-resolution screen, like that on a MacBook, you might be surprised to hear you're seeing images two times smaller, but if you compared the same image on two screens, you'd see it for yourself.

What you have to do in Bridge to see images at 100%, is click once on the image with your mouse pointer when you're in the Fullscreen Preview mode. After that, you can use right and left keys on your keyboard to switch between different images. To set it to 200%, if you're working on a high-res display, press + on your keyboard or push the mouse scrolling wheel a tad forward. When you've set a proper scale percentage, have a brief look at each image to see if it was retouched properly. If not, open the faulty images in Photoshop by pressing Ctrl-O (or label them and then filter and open all at once), correct them and don't forget to save. This quality control stage is extremely important, so make sure you do it every time. Even high-class professionals have to do it, because they make mistakes, too, no matter how few. Omitting this stage because you think you're too cool to mess things up is the worst thing you can do for your own professional growth. I know what I'm talking about because I've been doing it for almost ten years. And even now if I get to retouch anything, I can't imagine sending the work back without checking it first.

If you were working all day and the deadline is the next day, it's better to check your images first thing in the morning, when your head is clear. You'll be able to do it more efficiently than when you and your eyes are tired.

Next chapter: Changing color


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