Why Monochrome Bitmap is Bad

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By The Luigiian and An Angry Lesbian


A few people have wondered why I mentioned that Sabrina Online's Eric W. Schwartz puts his comics up in monochrome bitmap format, and more importantly, why I say it's bad. Now, let's get one thing straight from the get-go: Black-and-white can be very good, and if Schwartz did black-and-white correctly, the comic he makes would look much better than it does. The fact that Schwartz is fairly talented at doing Looney Tunes fanart comes across even in the comic's current form, but if one tries zooming in on the rather tiny images Schwartz has used, they get pixellated and jagged. Here's why.

Part 1: Translating from Drawing Board to Computer Screen

Consider your computer screen. Don't just look at it, think about it. The photons of light hitting your eyes are coming off the screen in a very specific way. They are forming small, square, geometrically-consistent dots of light and dark, known as pixels.

Because a computer screen uses pixels to transmit information in the form of light, it's great at forming straight, perfect lines. But what if you need a circle? If you try to draw a curved line on a computer screen, the computer spits out a series of jagged-edged squares approximating the curved shape of a circle.

Part 2: Adjusting for Pixellation via Grayscale

The computer usually has an aid in making this look convincingly circular, though. That aid is known as grayscale. Grayscale allows pixels to fade out, more closely approximating circular and irregular lines. In other words, a grayscale circle looks more realistically circular than a simple monochrome one. At least on a computer screen.

Because of pixellation, it is artistic suicide to attempt to draw curved lines in monochrome bitmap style. At best, it looks like something done on Paint. At worst, it can leave small black dots in wonky places, look unprofessional, and look extremely ugly.

Part 3: Shrinking the Image to Achieve Grayscale Effect

To summarize: When I say Schwartz uses monochrome bitmap, I don't just mean he draws in black and white. I mean he doesn't know how to do black and white. More importantly, he uses a lazy and unsophisticated method to attempt to make his drawings look smooth. That method is the old shrink-wrap method.

Shrinking an image to look grayscale is stupid. First off, it doesn't save much memory, and more importantly, it doesn't always work like you want it to. Most importantly of all, though, is that it makes your viewers squint to read text balloons and dialogue. In Schwartz' case, the comics are shrunk 50% using your web browser. Rather than giving you a full-size grayscale image, he takes a full-size monochrome image and shrinks it so it looks like a half-size grayscale image.

For all those who aren't Schwartz, I ask you nicely: Please don't use monochrome bitmap on your comic. Just make it in grayscale. Thanks in advance.

Part 4: The Technical, and the Solution: a Guide to scanning Grayscale Images

The difference between two adjacent pixels is what tells what's what on the screen. For example, if they are both gray, things are seamless and invisible, like a polar bear in a snowstorm. B&W monochrome bitmaps are the extreme opposite of this, but look incredibly gaudy. There's either a black line.. A black fill.. Or pure white dead space. It hurts the eyes because there's no soft transitions. Back in the archaic days of floppies to hard boot our steam powered PC's to life, it was understandable to save as much space as we could, and it was practical since the screens we had back then were small and monochrome anyways.

But now we are in a day and age when even the cheapest children's toy has a full color lcd. Skimping on scanning, especially for drawn art, is no excuse. You are not even doing pixel art (which has it's own rewards), you are drawing on paper with millions of shades of black. Why ruin it by flattening it all to two simple tones? Worries of small smudges that get burned out of existence when you chose the monochrome option? Nuh-uh, that won't ever do.

Here's a small walk through to scanning in something Grayscale.

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