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Big Data and Color: Why it Matters with Documents

by | Oct 8, 2013

With the easy ability to capture color photos for insertion to your emails, documents, web pages and other types of written content, the world is more beautiful today. Not only do we all have access to color photos from our cell phones or digital cameras, we also add color highlights to text, border and headings.

Once you’ve made your documents graphically pleasing and compelling, I’m sure you resist mightily to the idea of converting them to black and white or even gray scale. All that effort goes to waste and why would you? Because you might be entering the realm of Big Data!

Here are a few reasons to consider the tradeoff between color and black and white documents:

  • A black and white scanned page as an image can be compressed to 40-100 KB. Nowadays, that’s a trivial amount of data for emailing, transmission, downloading or uploading. Even if you put 100 such pages together, that’s only a maximum of 10 MB – a size that can be easily emailed and doesn’t present too much of a burden on your network infrastructure.
  • Color is another story. Color text and borders usually make up a minor portion of a page, but if you want to keep those colors in your document, you need to scan in full color. Instead of 1 bit per pixel, now you are up to 24 bits per pixel. So immediately your 100 KB document becomes 2.4 MB. And if you insert photos, they’re much denser than color text and your page then becomes perhaps 10-14 MB in size.Recently, I was emailed a professional, high quality JPEG (compressed) photo from a wedding I attended. That attachment was 12.5 MB! I also recently received a color brochure recently via email and that was 3.5 MB. Although large, those documents can be handled comfortably. OK, but what if you have an insurance claim form with photos of the damage, handwritten statements from the insured, a copy of the policy, a report from the adjuster, and perhaps a police report via fax? Even if only one of those documents is in color, the entire set of pages could be scanned in color. So, for example, 20 pages can quickly balloon in size from a reasonable 20 MB to an unwieldy download of 200 MB. And if you’re in a business that groups multiple such records together, it is not unheard of to have multi-gigabyte files.
  • Gigabyte documents (Big Data) challenge your entire infrastructure. You can’t email those files (as file transfers can take a long time over the web) and they can easily exceed the ability of your Windows client to keep them stored in memory–even with 64-bit operating systems. Likewise, because print stream technology is not yet prepared to print files that big , print times can become incredibly slow.
  • Everyone needs to access files over the web today. How do you do that with a gigabyte file? Answer: very slowly!


So what should you do?

    1. Use color only when you need it. When compiling customer or patient records, if it doesn’t need to be color, use black and white. A multi-document record doesn’t all need to be black and white or all color. Each document can be stored in the format that makes the most sense.
    2. Use 64 bit software and operating systems so you can access more memory if needed. 32 bit software is limited to around 1.5 GB of memory for all programs and data.
    3. Pay attention to what you’re creating. It is very easy to create very large files without realizing it.
    4. If it is most efficient for you to use large files, use solutions that don’t force you to download the entire file. There are solutions out there (see Snowbound’s VirtualViewer) that download specific pages or groups of pages for much greater speed.
    5. Evaluate and test. Make sure the systems you acquire can handle the documents you create.
    6. Don’t forget to consider your end users. If you’re creating those large files, do you know if your users will have applications that can open those files?


Questions or comments?