The inspiration for this Steampunk Wacom stylus (and soon to be completed tablet, Part 2) was born out of two events that coincided a few years ago. One was the fact that every so often I need to upgrade my equipment to support new software and features. The other was a chance find of an antique lap desk at the local swap shop (technically, the dump) around the time my Intuos 2 became a dust gatherer. I hate getting rid of graphics stuff like this so “What to do with it?” was top of mind.
A lap desk is a throwback to a Victorian era travel necessity for any well connected globe trotter that needs to keep up with correspondence. Perhaps a lap desk could be considered the laptop of the 1800’s. It certainly makes sense based on name and function. The surface layout of a Wacom tablet (especially an Intuos 2) is remarkably similar to the divide between the richly veneered wood and felt on the business surface of a lap desk. There are also cool compartments that come along with a lap desk design that can serve as storage space for a stylus and those tiny tips that I keep losing. Although in disrepair, I didn’t want to cannibalize the lap desk for parts since it was nearly intact and a little on the small side. Instead I began a slow and methodical process of selectively collecting objects and materials I could use and re-manufacture into like components, all from recycled parts of course!
Original Intuos 2 Stylus
I worked first on the stylus (unmodified original shown on the left) knowing that this would be the most intricate work. Must-have materials in any good Steampunk creation are always brass, wood, and leather. This led me to work out a design for the stylus based off of airbrush, fountain pen, and clock parts which I had lying around. The stylus has three controls other than the tip. The rocking button in the middle of the stylus looks like a single slim button, but once one gets into the guts of the stylus it is clear that the button design triggers two independent toggles on the internal circuit board. The third control is the digital eraser on the back end of the stylus.
A rocking motion is an ideal movement for dual trigger mechanisms found on most airbrushes which is why I chose to modifiy the rocking button assembly by mounting a trigger from an old Passche airbrush on top of it. See my Custom AB post for comparison with the image above. This actually works better for me since the trigger puts my finger in a more relaxed position above the stylus, and I don’t have to move my finger to opposite ends of a button bar to toggle the two controls. Instead I just use the trigger’s rocking motion the same way I would control paint flow on an airbrush. Coincidentally I also happen to own an airbrush version of the Wacom stylus which is even more awkward to use than a traditional button stylus. I was always baffled by Wacom’s choice of a hybrid mouse wheel over a traditional airbrush trigger on that device. Wacom built pressure sensitivity into the stylus tip. Why not do the same for virtual paint flow on a trigger?
I chose 1/2 inch brass tubing for the stylus body and discovered early on that any type of metal at the front of the stylus interferes with the signal reception at the tip. I changed my design as a result of this, and decided to modify and cover the existing stylus body with non metallic materials. In this case, I used a strip of leather from an old wallet interior applied with a strong cyanoacrylate adhesive, and behind that, permanent black ink from an overhead projection marker to mask the original color of the light gray body. I was able to get away with a gilding process at the tip using 24 carat gold leaf probably because its such a thin metal. The important thing is that it works! The assembly required precise cutting of the stylus body, leather, and brass tubing, plus the manufacture of a small brass strip to cover the rocking button.
At the opposite end of the stylus I sacrificed the eraser functionality for a bit of decorative metallic flair. I never got used to flipping my stylus around like a pencil when I could instantly toggle the eraser by moving the function to the back toggle on the trigger. The finial at the end of the stylus is a decorative gold plated band from an old 1930’s fountain pen and a finial from a Schatz German table clock. Those parts were merged together with a few threaded brass parts I had laying around (not sure where they came from) and some foil tape typically used for masking photo slides. The foil tape was used to help non-threaded parts like the pen ring fit snugly over the other brass parts. This one detail makes the design LOOK Victorian.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where I will discuss the process I went through in finding and assembling recycled parts for the tablet’s body.
Where is the watermark?
Digital watermarking is often seen as a light but visible mark within an image, and can include a logo or URL to show copyright ownership. It is there for everyone to see (and remove). Invisible watermarks take this concept a step further and make the watermark less obvious and harder to remove. Digimarc is an invisible watermarking filter for Photoshop and is automatically included as a default. It is supported by a third party, Digimarc, and requires a subscription to take full advantage of it’s features. Its purpose is to embed an invisible watermark into an image to protect against copyright infringement and track the use of the image on the web. Digimarc works on two fronts. It embeds an invisible (strong) watermark into an image by encoding information (Author name and creation date) into a noise tolerant image’s least significant bits. That information is also stored in a database and can be cross-referenced against other copies of the same image all over the web. If an unauthorized use is discovered, the original author can prove who they are beyond any reasonable doubt and call out the infringing party.
I had a problem with copyright infringement of my own and thought Digimarc might be a perfect solution, but discovered that Digimarc’s service would not access the virtual world server where my texture images were stored. This roadblock inspired me to come up with my own type of invisible watermark using Photoshop to regain control over both the stored data, storage method, and file format. It is also important to note that the Digimarc filter can still be used to embed a second watermark into the same image if needed for distribution on the web.
Here are the steps I use for invisible digital watermarking in Photoshop:
- Give the original image a New Channel for encoding information. This converts it to a carrier file.
- Generate a second black and white image of the same dimensions and place multiple copies of a QR code in it. This is the information file which can carry contact information, a URL, or any message.
- Run a Gaussian Blur on the QR code to soften the edges so it will blend well with the carrier file image. Test this with a code scanner, then Copy and Paste it into the New Channel in the carrier file.
- Select part of the carrier image using the newly created Alpha Channel, Copy, then Paste it as a New Layer. This produces a second layer with only the coded portion of the image. It should be completely invisible at this point.
- To embed the code as imperceptibly as possible, run a Hue Saturation adjustment (altering the image hue by no more than five steps) and add 3% noise into the image with a noise filter. More alterations can be added if needed, but the general idea is to cover the coded layer with noise that uniformly alters the pixels slightly through all colors and shades.
- If the effect is too harsh the Opacity of the layer can be reduced to make the effects more subtle.
- Copy Merged, Paste the coded image into a New File, Flatten it and Save it to any popular file format (JPEG, PNG, Targa)
- Calculate the Difference between the original master file and the encoded file, Copy Merged, Paste into a New Layer. Run an Equalize adjustment on that layer to reveal the code again.
- To make the code readable under higher compressions, copy and compress the master file, then repeat steps 7-8.
This steganographic method may not be as sophisticated as Digimarc’s, but works for my application needs and gives a stealthy tracking mechanism for policing my work on a virtual world server hosting lossless JPEG 2000 file formats. It also survives moderate resizing, cropping, and compression. Best of all, it can be done entirely within Photoshop’s tool set without need of a third party add-on or a subscription.
Coded Cat Image
Raw extracted QR code
Extracted and enhanced QR code (scans well)
Step-By-Step Stage 1: The color comp
This comprehensive color mock-up lays out the placement and style of major elements for the cover design. The art directors notes are laid out in the margins as suggestions to follow. As the design progresses you will see adjustments made to some of the typographical elements at the bottom and top right of the design as well as some background elements. A decision to focus mainly on a customized type font for the word “Cardinal” carried off a movie poster look and feel in a cleaner fashion for a magazine sized media guide layout.
Step-By-Step Stage 2: Digital test shots
Here are two examples from several low resolution test shots produced with various poses. Ball position, stance, ambient lighting, cast shadow, facial highlights, and backdrop got adjusted at this stage to produce the best possible results in preparation for a final photo shoot.
Step-By-Step Stage 3: Final photo set
The final photo set used in the design incorporated the best qualities of all critera. Each photo had its background removed with a third-party filtering tool called Mask Pro, which greatly speeds up a time-consuming hand editing process if done with standard tools.
Step-By-Step Stage 4: Additional photo elements
Smaller photo elements provide background objects for better depth in the composition. Exploded basketballs, pulled from a previous “Towers of Power” project done for the same client, and a rusted backboard, give better depth for the cascading elements added later in the design.
Step-By-Step Stage 5: Players positioned in the foreground
This group of layers build from several hue and saturation, levels, color balance, and shadow layers linked to alpha channels. All the layers except the original player masks remain invisible in this slide to show contrast with the next slide which reveals the difference these adjustments have when turned on against a white background.
Step-By-Step Stage 6: Shadow and glow
All color, level, saturation, and glow layers are on in this slide. See how they interact differently against a cardinal red background in the next slide.
Step-By-Step Stage 7: Background & cast shadows
The cardinal red background and cast shadow layers are now all visible. The adjustment layers turned on in the previous slide are now interacting with all layers placed beneath them. The glow and cast shadows will interact naturally with sub-layered elements and change accordingly as more textural elements get introduced into the design.
Step-By-Step Stage 8: Asphalt & shadow color
The asphalt texture and shadow color begin to build up solid foreground. The asphalt, rendered from a seamless texture, repeats once across the spine. The color layer in the cast shadow has been re-applied as a color overlay from the original photo to interact with the subtle colors in the asphalt, giving it a slightly purplish hue.
Step-By-Step Stage 9: Background elements
More background elements introduce further expansion of the image depth. All of the background elements have a severe level adjustment that suggests they are partially obscured by a thick haze. Notice the mist-like texture building up at the ground level.
Step-By-Step Stage 10: Final background elements
Several layers have now been applied affecting everything from the shadow in the foreground to the mist and glowing elements in the background. New building elements have also been applied to the background. These were not in the original color comp because they were a client request midway through the design. Digital illustration makes requests like this easier to work into a design than they would otherwise with a more traditional method.
Step-By-Step Stage 11: The cascade
A familiar cascade of code, rendered against the cardinal background, adds a final touch of depth to the composition. In this case the text is not code, but the school’s name and season details. Each spell out details vertically and repeat hundreds of times across the background.
Step-By-Step Stage 12: Final copy
The last group of layers added, and the only group not flattened for delivery, was the copy. The “Matrix” font did not look good with the Cardinal title. Instead, this font was custom designed in Illustrator by converting a normal style font to outlines for the redesign of various type elements. This allowed for font designed specific to the word “Cardinal”.
Step By Step Stage 13: Final design & printed guide
All the layers and design elements (featuring the three most senior players) come together to produce a visually grabbing cover image designed to inspire potential college basketball recruits. The deliverables for this project included two high-resolution Photoshop files (one containing a separate copy layer for the printer to adjust) and an Illustrator file of the copy on the back cover for last-minute schedule changes, or for the option to produce a text knockout.