Replay Replayed

Replay Expo time is fast approaching again, which is why Barbara Kelly and Lady Isobel Barnett are pictured below modelling an original piece of my artwork:

Sadly, Doris Speed wasn’t free.

Replay Expo is an Arcade, Video Game and Retro show that takes place every autumn at the Norcalympia Exhibition Centre in Blackpool. Last year’s event attracted 3,200 visitors over two days and the organizers are hoping to attract 5,000 this time. The show is timed to coincide with the last weekend of Blackpool Illuminations.

Last year I was involved in designing fliers, banners, advertisements and the website for the show and the organisers very kindly asked me if I would like to continue doing so this year.

r3play 2010

The first thing I needed to do was devise a “Replay” logo for this year’s event. The brief was “the same, but different”. The previous logo was originally designed by “Greyfox”, also known as the talented Irish graphic designer Darren Doyle. It was a beautiful logo and worked fantastically well so I wanted to keep as close to it as possible.

I had two main ideas. Firstly, I wanted make the logo a little more colourful, as the show will be a little more colourful this year. Secondly, I wanted to include a cartoony black outline around the lettering to increase the contrast from a distance and also to evoke the black outlines around cartoony video game characters.

In addition the logo had to be vector illustration, as I would need to export it at some very large sizes indeed. This meant I created it entirely in Inkscape.

This is what I came up with:

replay 2011 – click to enlarge

It was one of the only occasions I’ve ever got it right first time! You’ll notice I had to reverse the “E” because last year people insisted on calling the previous event “are three play” which rather upset the organizers!

B790 – I’m sure this face has a real name!

Next was the question of typography. Last year was easy – I was using lots and lots of lovely Microgramma. This year it was again “the same, but different”, so I settled on a Hermann Berthold art deco typeface called B790. This was similar enough to Microgramma that I could use it in the same sort of ways, whilst at the same time looking very different.

The one thing I was disappointed about this year was the design of the 2011 lettering. I spent day after day producing draft after draft:

My favourite – I spent hours on this!

Another massive fail

Obviously massive fails come in threes

However, in the end nothing I produced seem to grab the client – something that was entirely my fault. In the end, with half an hour or so to spare before stuff went needed to go off to the printers I gave up and produced something quick I’m really ashamed of.

At least the client liked it.

As you can see, the B790 ended up with a bit of a starring role as I used it for the word “EXPO”.

Producing the fliers and roll up banners for Replay Expo was rather interesting this year as the printers decided that only CMYK PDF files were acceptable. In previous years, they had accepted RGB TIFF files exported at 300dpi (dots per inch), which I could export from either The GIMP or Inkscape. But neither Inkscape nor The GIMP can currently produce CMYK PDF files. Therefore, after meaning to do so for nearly three years now, I finally had a good reason to grips with Scribus, a free software desktop publishing package.

The first thing I had to do was a lot of reading. The Scribus documentation is excellent and very thorough, so it was a pleasure to go through it all. Then I went through the tutorial. I had to do that when the children were at school as the first couple of hours featured a statue of a rather forgetful Indian lady who had absentmindedly neglected to put on her undergarments.

She’ll catch her death of cold…

Fortunately, I had colour management set up on my computer, so soft-proofing worked perfectly. This meant that whatever I saw on screen was very close to how my finished artwork would appear in print.

I produced my Replay logo artwork in Inkscape, and exported the logo as a 300dpi RGB PNG file for import into Scribus. Usually I could import my Inkscape files directly into Scribus, but in this instance I was using Inkscape layer effects (i.e. SVG image filters) that Scribus is currently unable to cope with.

Flier created in Scribus

I then created the text and frames directly in Scribus, and imported the photographs into them. It’s actually a very nice way of working as you are using each tool for what it does best.

Once finished, I could export my Scribus file as a CMYK PDF, send it off to be printed and hope for the best.

This was all completely new to me, and I was really nervous as to whether my exported PDF files would even be accepted by the printers, let alone print properly. What was worse was the fact that the Gadget Show Live event was two days away and there wasn’t time to do anything if my files were no good!

Anne Ladbury and Mary Morris

However, as you can see, they turned out quite well. Scribus is an excellent piece of software and I would recommend it to anyone.

Replay Expo takes place at the Norcalympia Exhibition Centre, Norbreck Castle, Blackpool on the 5/6 November 2011. Tickets for the event are available from

Fedora 15 Beta, GNOME 3

Recently, a rather nasty crash caused by the gftp FTP client locked me out of all my files and shut me out of my Desktop. The program is rather ropey and has done odd things to my computer before so I really shouldn’t have been using it.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining and since then I’ve moved to Filezilla as an FTP client (which is a lot better anyway) and become rather less blasé about making backups.

GNOME 3 Desktop – Click to enlarge

As I needed an OS reinstall I also decided to take the plunge and install Fedora 15 Beta. I’d been reading about GNOME 3 for years so I thought it was high time I tried it for myself.

Here are my thoughts so far:


  • I was delighted to find my Trust 5300 graphics tablet works out of the box. No compiling and installing Wizardpen and playing around with settings. This is very important to me as I’m fond of using MyPaint to paint pictures when I’m listening to podcasts. It’s also very useful in conjuction with The GIMP.
  • I was disappointed at first to find that Colour Management was missing, but once added using Add/Remove Software it’s better than ever. Work has been done to make it easier to use and it has had some bug fixes too. Colour Management would be enough to justify my using GNOME3 on my production machine.
  • Firefox 4 is fantastic – I love being able to play HTML5 videos at long last without needing a Flash plug-in.
  • I was surprised that I couldn’t just press Delete in the Nautilus File Manager to remove files. You have to press Ctrl+Delete together. However, I like this better as it makes it much harder to delete things by accident.
  • It only took me about 30 seconds to work out how to use it.
  • It gets out the way most of the time and lets you get on with your work.


  • The most serious problem is what happens when you switch off the computer. For some reason the Shut Down option is missing unless you hold down the Alt key. By default, you can only Suspend, rather than Shut Down your computer. This would be no problem at all if it were not for the fact that Suspend only works about one time out of four for me; Suspend is simply not stable enough to replace Shut Down.
  • You cannot alter how fonts are hinted on screen. This is very irritating as the default settings make text look, frankly, revolting.
  • The weather widget is missing – it showed the current weather, temperature and windspeed. I find that hugely irksome – I don’t mind it not being on the desktop but you should be able to see it when you click on the time at the top of the screen.
  • The title bars on the windows are too tall for no good reason. The whole of the rest of the interface seems to be about conserving vertical space, yet this throws away everything gained by losing the bottom panel.
  • Some dialog boxes are missing close buttons.

The whole system feels very stable indeed and I’m using it on my production machine quite happily even though, really, I shouldn’t be!

It’s just not Flash…

I’ve finally worked out I can put YouTube videos in my blog that can be viewed without having the Flash plug-in installed. Which is handy for me, as I don’t have the Flash plug-in installed. And presumably it’s also a boon for anyone using one of those ingenious new Apple etch-a-sketch things.

So, now I can watch stupid rubbish without using my daughters’ computer, here’s some that I (and Rory) made earlier…

Notable Use

I was looking at the excellent Chris’s Acorns site the other day, when I found another archetypal use of Christine Lord’s Oxford typeface on a BBC Micro peripheral:

Judging by the LEDs, it also doubles as a light show

This is precisely the sort of application for the Oxford face I remember seeing all over the place as a child. Whatever would the UK electronics industry have done without it?

Gotta Dash

One of the most interesting aspects of working on Repton: The Lost Realms was having my sleeve artwork and inserts proof-read by Michael S. Repton. Michael is a professional proof reader, a linguist and someone who really knows his stuff.

Michael S. Repton playing Galaforce
Photo Courtesy Joel Rowbottom

One of the things that Michael disliked about my copy was my use a minus sign to indicate a pause. I had to replace every single one with something called a spaced en-dash.

Of course, I’m not really to blame for this – computer keyboards are rather deficient in the punctuation department. As a rule, they don’t have a real apostrophe or proper opening and closing quotation marks. But whilst your keyboard doesn’t have these symbols, your computer almost certainly does. If you have a look at the Character Map application you can find them all.

Character Map on Fedora 14 – Click to enlarge

The problem is that using the Character Map application every time you wanted an apostrophe or quotation marks would be too slow on a large document. Fortunately there is another way of entering these punctuation marks in GNU/Linux. You hold down Ctrl and Shift, press the u key, type the four digit Unicode value for the symbol you want and press ENTER.

So, an en-dash is Ctrl+Shift+u 2013 ENTER. After a while, you find you remember the most common symbols. An apostrophe is u2019, quotation marks are u201c and u201d and so on.

Characters of Gnote

To help me remember the less common symbols I put a list on a pinned Gnote, which I can call up easily whenever I need it.

All The Hues That’s Fit To Print

Whenever I’m using a complicated piece of software, I find it’s invariably the things that I ignore that turn out to be the most important.

The Blob

When a strange, grey blob-shape appeared between my scrollbars in Inkscape about 18 months ago I completely ignored it and carried on drawing and colouring in. Not only was it vitally important, but if I had only been curious enough to find out what it was sooner I would have discovered a whole new and fascinating world: colour management.

I’ve never had enough money to own a colour printer; I only have a monochrome laser printer which I use very sparingly as a toner cartridge is almost third of my wife’s monthly salary. So I’d never really thought about colour printing until I started designing covers for Retro Software. Dave Moore would sometimes ask me to change this colour or that colour as “it looked awful when printed out”, I’d grumble and change the colour and that would be as far as my interest in printed colour would go.

If I kept myself up to date a little more dilligently I would have realised that that little blob-shape would have allowed me to see what my designs would look like when printed right there in Inkscape.

Colour management seems like too much faff to bother with at first, but is actually pretty simple. When you’re designing on screen, you’re working with light. Light is “additive” – every time you mix colours together you get a lighter colour.  This is usually illustrated using the famous “light spots” you may remember from school (or college):

Avez Vous Le Tempo?

So, for instance, cyan looks lighter than the green and blue you mix together to make it.

When you print you’re working with inks, which get darker as you mix them together. So, for instance, the colour blue is much darker than the cyan and magenta inks you mix together to make it.

The upshot of all this is that there are (quite a lot of!) colours you can show on your monitor that you simply can’t reproduce in print. Pure blues and pure greens that look vivid and exciting on screen look like faded socks and mouldy cheese when printed out.

The precise range of colours you can use on a printer depends on the type of printer you are using. A colour newspaper press can print a far narrower range of colours than the one used to produce a colour magazine.

Conversely, a printer can produce darker colours than you can reproduce on a screen. And each model of scanner, monitor and digital camera has its own quirks as to the range, or gamut, of colours they can deal with.

A horseshoe, apparently

Hence the blob – the blob-shaped icon was based upon the standard horse-shoe shaped graph used to illustrate colour spaces.

The solution to the problem of differing colour gamuts was the creation of a file format called an .icm file. Each .icm file contains an ICC profile which describes the colour gamut of a monitor, printer, camera or scanner. This means that provided you have an .icm file for your monitor and a .icm file for the printer you want to use, your graphics program should be able to use them to show you on screen what your output will look like when it’s printed.

Getting hold an .icm file for your monitor is a pain. Professionals have hardware  calibration devices that they use in conjunction with a program like ArgyllCMS in order to calibrate their monitors. Windows users with Adobe software can use Adobe Gamma. The rest of us can make-do by using a tool called lprof and create a profile by eye. You may find you need to adjust the colour temperature of your monitor to 6500K before you calibrate your screen.

If you are using Fedora, Colour Management is very, very easy to set up in Inkscape. First, you have to get a program called lcms using the “Add/Remove Software” tool. Once you have installed it, you simply have to click the mouse a few times in an Inkscape dialog box and that’s really all there is to it.

Settings to see the effect of Colour Management

Here, I’ve just checked the “Simulate proofing on screen” and chosen a printer .icm in the “Device Profile” box. The display profile should be the profile of your monitor – I haven’t generated one yet so I’m using sRGB.

The Blob In Colour

The blob-shaped icon now springs to life. It is not only in glorious colour but it has also become a button; pressing it has interesting results. Here is my drawing without pressing the blob-shaped button:

Living Colour on screen…

And here is my drawing with it pressed in:

…but the blue and green won’t look as good printed!

This is a huge help when designing, as I can now see what my RGB designs will look like when printed out in CMYK.

There is a lot more to the subject of colour management, even in Inkscape. You’ll have to do a bit of research on the web to get to know which .icm profiles to use and the best workflows for CMYK output. But hopefully I’ve encouraged you to at least have a play!