Steampunk Wacom, Part 1 (The Stylus)

Steampunk Wacom, Part 1 (The Stylus)

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

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.


Trigger assembly close-up

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?


Tip assembly close

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.


Finial assembly close

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.

How to Produce Invisible Digital Watermarking in Photoshop Without a Plug-in

How to Produce Invisible Digital Watermarking in Photoshop Without a Plug-in

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:

  1. Give the original image a New Channel for encoding information. This converts it to a carrier file.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. If the effect is too harsh the Opacity of the layer can be reduced to make the effects more subtle.
  7. Copy Merged, Paste the coded image into a New File, Flatten it and Save it to any popular file format (JPEG, PNG, Targa)
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Cat image
Coded cat image
Raw extracted code
Enhanced code

Customized Paasche AB Turbo

Customized Paasche AB Turbo

An Overview of the Customized Parts on My Paasche AB:

This is an old how-to I resurrected from two previous generations of It’s been informative to people in the past, and also explains a bit how I use this device.

PeelerPatNo-256852-Pg1For those unfamiliar with turbine driven airbrushes, it all started over a century ago in 1879 with an invention by Abner Peeler called the Paint Distributor. This was a system that delivered paint into an airstream on the end of a reciprocating needle. Others developed Peeler’s original design into the lighter and smaller instrument seen here. Thanks to Jens Paasche, the modern AB made its debut in 1904, and little has changed with the version still produced today. Most airbrush designs opt for a simple linear mixing of paint and air, but a modern AB remains true to the original design of Peeler’s, and has few rivals when it comes to finely controlled paint dispersal. This is a testament to the genius of the AB’s design.


Costomized Turbo_top_In_Hand


A normal AB has better control over paint flow than most other airbrushes, so why mess with it?*

The AB’s only flaw is its temperamental behavior due to the complexity of its moving parts. This is the reason I chose to modify my own AB. The three main controls , trigger, speed regulator, and stipple adjuster all need regular fine tuning to maintain top performance. Simply put, I wanted finer tuning and better performance, and was going to do whatever it took to get it. I started by making small changes to some of these control variables to fit the AB to my illustrative technique. The first thing that I changed was the long red stock AB handle. I replaced it with a much shorter rubber insert (an eye dropper bulb) seen at #4. Holding the AB this way felt more natural to me. Other modifications followed. Hopefully this tacit knowledge will inspire other AB users with a wish to tinker.


Customization Overview*

Here is a general overview of the five areas of my AB that I have customized for comfort and better performance . (1) A Sharpened needle tip to take advantage of the trigger’s precision control. (2) A Low profile grease cup screw (not shown) for comfort. (3) Custom blast jet to narrow the air blast for better performance with a sharper needle. (4) Shortened handle for comfort and easier handling. (5) Dual trigger assemblies: The short one, shown here for comparison. The longer one allows for finer needle control.


The Trigger Assembly*

I use this extended trigger assembly for better control when moving the needle in front of the blast jet. With a longer lever the thumb/finger must travel a greater distance to move the needle. This simple change is a borrowed trigger assembly from another Paasche V airbrush. It is very easy to switch between this and the original short trigger by tightening each assembly by hand. This allows for easy loosening and doesn’t strip the delicate brass threads. I rarely use the short trigger any more, so this one stays put.


Needle & Customized Blast Jet*

The combination of a smaller blast hole and sharpened needle is key to my AB’s performance enhancement. These two changes alone will significantly enhance a factory model AB. They are examples of what I term “the Maker mindset” – a DIY way of using existing tools to make better tools. My custom blast jet produces a stream of air about half the diameter of the factory supplied blast jet. I made it from a .125″ solid brass rod using a jewelers motor, sharpening stone, and micro drill bits. A tighter spray diameter coupled with a sharper needle produces a very thin line. The airbrush needle needs perfect alignment with the front of the blast hole for this to work. Also, I run the air pressure slightly higher than the recommended 25-35 PSI, but no more than 50 PSI to compensate for the narrower blast.



Front view of the customized blast jet*

This angle shows the sharpened needle extended in front of the custom blast jet. There is a narrow window of tolerance where the needle performs best in front of the blast jet. This is all fine tuned by adjusting the needle bend & sharpness, needle bearing, and angle of the paint cup. As long as there is little impact to the airbrush or damage to the needle or walking arm, these adjustments only need setting once until the needle needs replacement.


Sharpening a needle*

The taper on an original needle lengthens by sharpening its tip. This allows for greater control of the spray diameter over a greater distance of needle travel. This graphic shows the difference in a hairline spray diameter between a standard needle and a sharpened one. The red arrows indicate the area of increased performance. The dotted black arrows indicate the effective spray area along the needle. I use a sharpening stone with a jewelers motor to sharpen my needles. However, 1500-2000 grit sand paper also works well. I use this kind of sand paper often to polish and remove dried paint from my needles. This sharpening technique is also documented in “The Complete Manual of Airbrushing” by Peter Owen & Jane Rollason (now out of print, but available through Amazon). I highly recommend getting it if you own an AB.




Document icon*DO NOT modify your Paasche AB airbrush as described above if you don’t have experience maintaining it! Always consult the official AB instruction manual and parts list before attempting any adjustment or alteration to your AB!

Step-by-Step Media Guide Cover Design

Step-by-Step Media Guide Cover Design

Step-By-Step Stage 1: The color comp

This color mock-up lays out the placement and style of major elements for the cover design. The art director’s 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. The decision to focus 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. The other team names were added into the poster version of the illustration.

Step-By-Step Stage 2: Digital test shots

Some examples from several low resolution test shots are shown here. 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 high resolution photo shoot. 

Step-By-Step Stage 3: Final photo set

The final photo set incorporated the best qualities of all criteria mentioned above. Each photo had its background removed with a third-party filtering tool which greatly sped up the time and accuracy of sampling out the background from each of the photos.

Step-By-Step Stage 4: Additional photo elements

Smaller photo elements provided background objects for better depth in the composition. Exploded basketballs, pulled from a previous “Towers of Power” project, also done for Stanford, and a rusted backboard gave 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 built up 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. The next slide will show how they interact differently against a cardinal red background.

Step-By-Step Stage 7: Background & cast shadows

The cardinal red background, glows, and cast shadow layers are now visible. The adjustment layers turned on in the previous slide interact with all layers placed beneath them. The next slide will show how glow and cast shadows interact naturally with sub-layered elements as more textural elements are layered into the design.

Step-By-Step Stage 8: Asphalt & shadow color

The asphalt texture and shadow color begin to build up solid foreground texture. 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 are applied to give further expanse to the depth of the composition. 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 been applied in this slide affecting everything from the shadow in the foreground to the mist and glowing elements in the background. New building elements have also been added to the background. These were not in the original color comp because they were a client request midway through the design phase.

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 slide. The text is not code, but the school’s name and season details spelled out vertically and repeating 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 a font designed specifically for the word “Cardinal”.

Step By Step Stage 13: Final printed guide

All layers and design elements come together to produce a visually grabbing cover designed to inspire potential college basketball recruits. The deliverable 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, if required.