Images and Transparency

One of the great parts of self-publishing is that you can easily integrate images within a book. Images can work well both for ebooks and for print books. For both, two of the key topics to understand are the idea of having margins around an image and the image’s transparency.

First, let’s talk about an image and margins. For our example I’ll use an image from a friend Tom H’s cartoon book. When you have an image in a book, you want that image to have as little margin as possible “built into” the image. You want just the image and nothing else extraneous. So, for example, this spider image below. The black border is just so you can see the edges of the image against the background.

Tom Hollyday Spider

In this above example the image is cleanly cropped. That way when you center it, the image centers properly.

Imagine instead that you have the image with extra white space built into the image, like this:

Tom Hollyday Spider

When you tell a program like Word to center this, it centers the whole image. It centers that rectangle. Since part of the rectangle is plain white, the result is that the spiders look off-center. So the image *is* centered. But what the user sees looks lopsided.

That’s why it’s important that every image is cropped so that there isn’t random white space on any of the four sides.

A separate issue involves transparency. That is, in the above two images the image is made up of white and black. There is black for the spider bodies and then white for the other areas. The white area isn’t “empty” – it is solid white. The color white.

Therefore if you put this image on a green background, you see the white and black of the image.

Tom Hollyday Spider

You also see, again, how the image itself has a white empty space on the left side and so the spiders aren’t centered.

If you don’t want to see that white box, you have to make your black drawings on a TRANSPARENT background. Transparent, clear, invisible. You draw the black lines on a clear sheet of glass, in essence. That way when you put your spider image onto a green background, the green background shows through the transparent places –

Tom Hollyday Spider

Again, though, see how they are offset to the right? That is because the base image of the spiders had that “dead space” as part of it, on the left. In an ideal world you’d have the image like the very top one – cropped right around the spiders so all other operations of formatting and centering work properly.

So, to summarize, if you are doing line drawings in a drawing program, do them on a transparent background. Then crop them so the final image has no extraneous space on any of the sides, so that dead space does not impact any formatting you wish to do.

If you are doing line drawings on paper, do it on the cleanest, whitest paper you can find. Scan that in. Erase out any and all specks you can find. Select the white background. Then "inverse" the selection so it only selects the black drawing. Copy and paste that onto a transparent background. You should then be able to erase out any stray bits that are mistakenly created.

Let me know if you have any questions!

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