On Developing a Digital Collation Process for the Epigraphic Survey’s Current Digital Documentation Projects

Jul 28, 2020

Written by Ariel W. Singer, Egyptologist, PhD candidate at the University of Chicago and Epigrapher at the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Senior artist Susan Osgood, epigrapher Ariel Singer, senior artist Margaret de Jong, artist Dominique Navarro and Survey director W. Raymond Johnson with the first finished digital collation at Luxor Temple (Photo by Krisztian Vertes)

Last year digitalEPIGRAPHY presented our first digital collation project. Since that time, we have continued to develop and refine our system so that it is more functional for the artists and epigraphers and takes full advantage of the constantly changing technology. This article will take a look at the specifics of our current system and address some of the areas that we hope to continue improving as we go forward.

N.B. This walkthrough assumes the use of an Apple computer and iPad. Although any type of equipment can be used, at this time the app we use, Procreate, is only available for iPadOS. Hopefully there will be more options in the future (or if you know of an Android/Windows app that has the same features, please let us know in the comments!).


Creating a Digital Blueprint:

Once the artist has completed the digital inking of their drawing, they save a copy as a 300dpi psd (Photoshop) file (the originals are tiffs and are kept in a separate folder so that there is no confusion about which file is being edited). This file has a number of layers in it, including photographpencilingdecoration (including the inked and paint layers), miscellaneous (including a damage layer) and information (including a scale, negative number, etc.). 

A 300 dpi psd copy of TT107 F1026 drawn by S. Osgood showing all of the folders of layers that will be consolidated to create the collation packet

The epigrapher deletes any of the folders and layers that will not be needed, keeping only the photographpencil, and consistency check layers, and merging the informationdecoration, and miscellaneous layers into one single layer (which will be named information as that was the layer at the top of the list when they were merged). 

Next we duplicate the information layer and name it whole blueprint. A color overlay in a light blue is applied to this layer and the layer is rasterized to merge the effect into the layer (we use a lighter color to make corrections on because it makes the marks easier to see). 

The same 300 dpi psd as above with consolidated layers and a blue overlay applied to the information layer

This provides the epigrapher with a blueprint layer to use for making corrections, a photo layer for checking placement of those corrections, a pencil layer to be able to see the earliest thoughts of the artist, and an information layer which shows the whole drawing and the scale. 

Since some collations are quite large and need to be ‘cut-up’ into numerous sections to be manageable, the epigrapher adds a text box layer with the name of the collation and a number sign, which can be replaced with the number for each sheet as it is made (we put the text box in the upper right hand corner of the sheet by convention). 

To create the whole blueprint file:

N.B. This step may not be necessary if one is dealing with a small image that does not need to be ‘cut-up’ and instead the 300 dpi psd can simply be made into the whole blueprint, however it can be useful to keep the 300 dpi file as a back-up resource and for the sake of consistency.

  1. Select whole blueprintinformationfinal pencilphoto, and text layers, and copy them
  2. Create a new psd file using the ‘clipboard’ dimensions (or whatever size is necessary, probably about the same size as the original – and make sure it has the same dpi and color settings at the original!)
  3. Center all layers in the new space (move them together!)
  4. Change # in the text box to WBP; select the text layer and background and merge
  5. Lock all layers and save the new file as a psd

If an image is not large enough to require multiple sections, this is the basic blueprint.

The new whole blueprint psd, with the name added in the upper right hand corner of the page

If we do need to make multiple sections, there is a bit more to the process (note that in the example used here, we would not generally make multiple sheets, this is simply for the sake of demonstrating the system).

Next, we cut up the original blueprint psd file:

  1. In the original blueprint psd, click on the whole blueprint layer, choose the lasso tool, and select the area desired for the first collation sheet
  2. Right click on selected area and choose Layer via cut

The original blueprint psd file with one area selected for the first collation sheet and the menu showing the ‘Layer via cut’ tool highlighted
  1. Rename new layer Collation Sheet 1
  2. Reselect whole blueprint layer (having the new Collation Sheet layer not visible can be helpful) and select the area desired for the next collation sheet
  3. Repeat steps until the whole drawing is ‘cut-up’

The 300 dpi psd file with all of the sections ‘cut-up’ in the layers window

The final step of cutting up the blueprint is to save each collation sheet layer as a new psd: 

  1. Make a new collation sheet psd file (by convention we use legal size paper, as this gives us enough room to write comments, without being too large to manage)
  2. In the original blueprint psd, select the collation sheet 1informationfinal pencilphoto and text layers, and drag them into the new psd
  3. Center the layers, change the # in the text box to 1, select the text layer and background and merge (if any of the layers extend over the edges of the page size, crop them to fit the page since they are only there for reference and can add significantly to the size of the file if not cropped) and lock all layers
  4. Repeat for the remaining collation sheet layers

The ‘collation sheet 1’ file with the first section of the fragment and its layers and the text and background layers merged

This is our digital ‘collation packet’ and it is ready to be transferred to our iPad.

N.B. For much larger drawings it can be quite useful to create a keyplan, which can be done by creating a duplicate of the original psd file, deleting all of the layers except the collations sheets and information layers, then adding a layer (plan or something like that) and drawing on to that all of the edges of the collation sheets.

In order to do this, we use the freeform pen for the outlines, then click on the work path layer (created by the freeform tool) and select all of the paths (making sure that the brush tool is set at whatever thickness works for the image) and choose ‘stroke path’ from the menu that pops up when one right/control-clicks the highlighted path. When this is done the collation sheet layers can be deleted, and we can add numbers to each of the outlined sections. The process can be a bit time consuming initially, but is a definite time saver if one has a lot of collation sheets to keep track of!


Transferring the collations sheets to an iPad:

Transferring the collations sheets to an iPad can be done either via Airdrop or by directly connecting the iPad to the computer and transferring the psds using Files, but either way it is easiest to save them in the Procreate folder in Files. (This is also a convenient place to store historic photos, comparable examples, or any other resources one uses in the field.)

Transferring the collation sheets to Procreate:

Once the collations sheets are on the iPad, there are few ways to open them in Procreate – we have found the easiest (especially when there are a number of collations sheets) is to open Files and Procreate in split-screen viewing, select all of the collation sheets, and tap, hold, and drag the files until they appear as a stack (the ‘holding and dragging’ part of this process always takes longer than we expect to result in a stack), then move them into Procreate. 

A split screen with Files and Procreate on the iPad – the files that are to be moved to Procreate have been selected and dragged until they stack

N.B. This transfer process means that there are now two copies of these files on the iPad, one in the Procreate folder in Files, and one actually in Procreate – this can cause confusion if one is not careful, however we like to keep the ‘back-up’ copies in Files until the collation is done, just in case something happens to the Procreate version and a new copy is useful. Once the collated version is transferred back to the computer (more on this in a minute), then we delete the ‘back-up’ copies in Files. 

Setting up the Procreate files:

Now that the collations sheets are in Procreate, it is helpful to make them into a ‘stack.’ To do this, tap Select in the upper right hand corner of the app, chose the appropriate collation sheets and tap Stack (which also appears in the upper right-hand corner of the screen once multiple files have been selected).

In each Procreate file we add layers to the top, one titled comments, and one corrections (and make sure all of the other layers are locked). In the whole blueprint file we add an additional layer titled paint, which, as the name suggests, is used to record any traces of paint.  

‘Collation sheet 1’ opened in Procreate, with the layers window open and Corrections and Comments layers added

Making Comments and Corrections:

Now the fun part! Once we are in front of the ‘wall’ and ready to start, the system is actually pretty similar to our analog epigraphic process.

N.B. All corrections shown here are purely for display and do not reflect actual changes to be made.

All graphical corrections are made in the corrections layer, while all comments and arrows are made in the comments layer. 

On the right, ‘Collations sheet 1’ with the corrections layer visible, but the comments layer turned off; on the left, both the corrections and comments layers are visible

To make corrections we use a ‘pencil’ brush and to make comments we use a ‘pen’ brush. Which of these are used is really down to personal preference (and brushes can be imported from Photoshop, see https://www.digital-epigraphy.com/news/procreate-5-is-here-with-photoshop-brush-support-palette-improvements-and-much-more), but we would recommend the Narinder pencil (in sketching) and the fine tip pen (in inking).

N.B. For the fine tip pen we felt it necessary to increase the max size, which can be done by tapping on the name of the brush in the list, going to ‘properties’ towards the bottom of the menu on the left and changing maximum size. Then in the main screen the size of the brush can be adjusted with the upper slider on the left. (There are many, many more options for adjusting the brushes and eraser, and if the brush doesn’t feel ‘right’ it is well worth playing with these options!)

On the left, the brush menu is visible with the fine tip pen highlighted; on the right, the fine tip pen has been selected for modifications, and the properties option has been selected from the menu

Once the brushes and layers are set up, we can just switch back and forth to make our corrections and comments for each sheet, marking each one as it is finished with the date and name of the epigrapher, just as we would do on the paper version. 

N.B. It is totally possible to use one brush and one layer for both comments and corrections. However, we have implemented the two layer structure so that later on, when the artist is making adjustments to the original, they can turn the comments on and off. (We ran into an issue where it was difficult to actually see the comments because when imported into the original, they overlap other parts of the drawing.) Using the two sets of brushes not only adds to the visual clarity of what lines are doing what, but is also a useful way of remembering which layer one is on.

Useful tips: 

There are a few other useful tips that have been mentioned elsewhere, but are worth repeating:

One of the really important aspects of Procreate is that it is easy to draw and adjust straight lines, which are integral to our style of making corrections (squiggly comment lines can be confusing, especially if a number of comments are being made – also they don’t look tidy and that gets under our skin). 

To do this: 

  • Draw the line approximately where desired, but then instead of lifting the Apple pencil when done, keep it touching the screen for a second – the line will automatically straighten out.
  • By continuing to hold the pencil to the screen, the end of the line can be moved wherever desired.
  • Even after the line has been ‘released’, the angle and length can still be adjusted by tapping the ‘edit shape’ button at the top center of the screen (this can only be done immediately after drawing the line, the option will disappear as soon as something else is done). Two blue dots appear, one at each end of the line, by taping and dragging these the line can be manipulated (although keep in mind that if one makes the line much longer than the original, it will look dotted).

On the left, a line for the comment has been drawn and the ‘edit shape’ button can be seen at the top of the window; on the right, the ‘edit shape’ button has been selected and the two blue dots at the ends of the line that allow it to be manipulated are visible

One of the huge benefits of digital collation is that we can easily turn on and off the original photo on which the drawing was done: simply tap on the layers icon in the upper right corner of the screen, and then tap on the small box to the right of the photo layer

N.B. If the photo is too dark to see the drawing well, the opacity can be adjusted: first unlock the photo layer (swipe to the left on it and choose ‘unlock’), then tap the ‘adjustments’ button (it looks like a small magic wand), and choose opacity. With a finger or the Apple pencil, slide to the left and right to reduce or increase (respectively) the opacity – just make sure to relock this layer when done so that it cannot be accidentally modified!

Changing the opacity step-by-step: in the upper left corner the background layer is selected; in the upper right corner, the layer has been slid to the left to reveal the ‘unlock’ option; in the lower left corner the adjustment menu has been selected; in the lower right corner the opacity option has selected and the percentage of opacity (51.0% here) can be seen at the top center of the window

The ability to undo, redraw, and move corrections and comments is an invaluable feature of working digitally, and here are few of the techniques we routinely use in Procreate:

- Tap with two fingers to quickly undo an action.

- To move a comment once it is made (sometimes necessary if there are a number of corrections in a small area, etc.):

  • Choose the selection tool (the s with two lines through it, found along the top of the screen, towards the left) and then the ‘freehand’ option that appears at the bottom of the screen and draw a line around the section that needs to move (after making sure the correct layer is chosen!).

The selection tool (it is the blue highlighted circle at the top of the window) and the freehand option have been chosen
  • Tap the arrow tool (next to the selection tool) – this will put a rectangular box around the material chosen and, by tapping and dragging, it can be moved anywhere in the layer (it can also be rotated and the size can be changed, which is particularly useful if you have made a comment that is too small or large).

On the left, the area to be moved has been circled; on the right, the arrow tool has been selected, changing the circled area into a box, which allows the selected material to be manipulated
  • If the section chosen needs to be moved to another layer, complete the first step above, then tap ‘copy and paste’ at the bottom of the screen – this will cause the selected area to appear as a new layer (named From selection) under the original layer. Tap and drag this layer above the layer that you want the area to be in, then tap the From selection layer and choose ‘Merge Down’ from the menu that pops up.

On the left, the area that can been cut is seen and the layer that it has been moved to (‘From selection’) can be seen at the top of the layers window; on the right, the layer menu with the ‘Merge Down’ option (second from the bottom) is visible

Backing-up Procreate files:

There are a number of ways to back up Procreate files while working on them – but it is important to remember that Procreate does not automatically back-up to a cloud system, so if something happens to the iPad or the app, all of the associated files can be lost.

The most secure option is to make sure that the entire iPad is backing-up to the iCloud system (so if anything happens, all of the data on the iPad can be downloaded to a new iPad).

If this is not possible (or even better, in addition to the iCloud back-up), it is a good idea to regularly make copies of the Procreate files on a computer: 

  1. In Procreate, click on ‘Select’ and tap all of the collation sheets that need to be backed-up
  2. Choose ‘Share’ and choose PSD as the image format

In Procreate, all of the files to be backed-up to a computer have been selected, and the ‘Share’ option has been selected, showing the options for the image format
  1. Choose Airdrop, and send the files to the computer
  2. The files will appear in the Downloads folder and then can be moved to wherever they are being stored

Future areas of work

We have been working out kinks in our digital collation system since we first designed it, and we will undoubtedly continue to tweak it and smooth out some of the complications. 

In particular we have worked to reduce the amount of time it takes to make all of the individual collation sheets, however most of the different options we have tried out have only led to other (more challenging) problems than our current method has.

One of the options that we have discussed is keeping all of the collation sheets in one document, however for any but the smallest images, the file very quickly becomes too large for Procreate to handle. If Photoshop for the iPad added some essential features (primarily the ability to draw a straight line for making comments), this may solve our issues (including providing automatic cloud backups). 

That is the outline (and some very detailed info) on our current digital collation procedure. We have learned a great deal through the process and have been really excited about the different possibilities that it opens up both for current work and in the future!

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