Printing Stained Glass for Noises Off
by Corey Shelsta
South Dakota State University Theatre
For our recent production of Noises Off, I wanted a stained glass window on one of the walls. (For those of you who have done this show, it went on the ONLY wall that did not have a door in it!) As the picture shows, the window was on the top portion of a 16’ high wall with little to support the top half. The window itself was roughly 3’-6” x 7’-6”. Extensive bracing was not practical because of the need to rotate the set, so I wanted to keep the weight of the window to a minimum.
The typical solution would have been to paint the stained glass pattern on plexiglass. I have found though that this technique often leads to “one dimensional” looking glass. It is fine for solid blocks of color, but lacks the depth and subtle tones of real stained glass. I have also used real stained glass for small windows, transoms, sidelights, etc, but with the size of this window, weight and cost made real stained glass out of the question. I wrote a few months ago about using a large format printer to print scenic elements. The same principles can be applied to printing stained glass. I started with a 24” roll of HP Clear Film (HP 3876A). A 75’ roll costs around $75.00, so the cost works out quite easily to $1.00/foot. Having this printed at a local print shop would cost significantly more, but it would still be far quicker and more detailed than painting it by hand.
A search for images of stained glass yielded mostly ones with religious iconography on them, which I wanted to avoid. I did finally find images of some decorative glass (http://www.theageofelegance.com/) and from a very front on and straight angle, so I did not have to correct the image to make it square. I was also fortunate in that the colors of the window worked well for the color scheme of the set. While it is quite easy to adjust and even substitute colors if need be, it is an extra step that was not needed in this case.
To do the 4 vertical panels at the bottom I simply narrowed the entire image, accepting the distortion of the center circle to an oval and scaled it up to about 56” in height and 8”in width. I printed two side by side on each run for a total of 4 windows, leaving a few inches between so I could cut them apart and have some extra film around them to attach to the window frame.
For the top of the window I pulled out the center circle from the image. I painted on a black border about an inch or so wide to make sure there would not be any “clear glass” around the edges in the finished window after it was printed and installed.
For the two small triangular pieces on either side of the round window at the top, I pulled the brown colored glass from the top of the window image. I rotated it vertically and scaled it up as well as adding bit of the edging color in a small strip at the bottom where the window would be widest. Again this was done to compensate for any variations in width and make sure no “clear glass” could be seen at the bottom corner.
When dealing with large scale images taken from much smaller ones, some blurring is very common. While this is visible up close, from the distance of the audience it is virtually unnoticeable. Because we are dealing with a long viewing distance I also reduce my dpi to 72, this makes the file size more manageable and increases rendering speed when making changes and adjustments. I usually try to do any modifications to the image at its original size and then scale it up just before I print it.
Just like with printing scenic elements it is important to set you color scheme to CMYK to match the ink colors in the printer. Most image editors default to RGB, and if not changed to CMYK will give you improper colors when printed.
Another important thing to note when printing on clear film is that there is no white ink in the printer. On any color print, white tints come from the white paper being visible through the ink. On clear film there is no white to come through, so the colors appear transparent. This is can be an excellent effect and give the impression of real glass. In our case, I wanted a more translucent appearance so the backs of the prints were dusted with white spray paint. These panels were then pulled tight across the back of the frame and stapled directly in to it. They could also be mounted on clear or frosted plexiglass if a more solid window is desired – for a closer audience viewing situation for instance.
From start to finish, finding the images, editing, printing and mounting them on the set took me about 2½ hours and used about 15 feet of the plastic film for a cost of around $15.00. The final result was a very realistic looking stained glass window. Several of my friends who saw the show asked where we had gotten the stained glass from, and were rather shocked to hear it was just printed film. I take that as a sign of a successful project. [ ]
by Corey Shelsta
South Dakota State University Theatre
For those of you without access to Photoshop (http://www.photoshop.com/) or Corel PaintShop (http://www.corel.com/corel/product/index.jsp?pid=prod4130078) there is a free photo editor called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) available for download (http://www.gimp.org/).
Even though it is free, GIMP is surprisingly feature packed and in many cases actually more intuitive and easier to use then the more expensive editors. I find myself using GIMP for doing any web graphics requiring a transparent layer. Just set the transparency in the desired layer and save as a PNG or TGA file. There is no need to create and manipulate an alpha layer like in Photoshop.
The GIMP interface is also very easy to customize and uses modular docks that can be put into tabs or left in their own windows. While GIMP does not have the depth of advanced features that the others have, most “average” users will still find it meets most of their needs. I have included a couple of screenshots below. Give it a try, it’s free!