Incorporating Arabic text hacks & workarounds. A logo repair project for Shell Oil step-by-step case study.

Nobody at the shop speaks or writes a lick of Arabic (some might suggest I barely have a grasp of English) but still, our shop has worked on a few Arabic logos over the years. The client either supplies the text to us in an appropriate font set-up or in the case of logo cleanup projects, we’re able to convert the bitmap version of the text to vector by hand-tracing. For this logo repair project, a logo for an Iraq division of Shell Oil, hot type wasn’t available and the source image we were working with was far too pixelated to accurately render any text at all. What the original sent to us by Shell looked like:Not much to work with. The image is kinda low resolution so converting it to a vector is going to be a manual affair. We’re going to have to try and figure out what things are supposed to be, render them by hand and reverse engineer them back into the logo. The real stumbling block is the Arabic type at the top. Not reading or speaking Arabic, we have no idea what it’s supposed to say and as the type is arced around a path, we’re going to need a live version to walk around the circle. We do know that Arabic reads right to left so we’re going to have to factor that if we’re going to work with blind translations.

Logo repair.

We sometimes catch grief for the opinion, but converting bitmap logos to vector is almost an art form of its own. We have to remain true to the original design, while still fixing minor imperfections. Lining things up that have gone off kilter, tightening elements up that have become sloppy after numerous generations of resaves and resizes. The idea is not to change the logo too dramatically, but to tidy things up so that it’s tighter and technically sound while still keeping the essence of the original, warts and all. Sometimes rendering logos from bitmaps can be fairly straight forward. That’s when we know what everything is supposed to look like and where it’s supposed to go. In other cases, the image may be low fidelity and we’ll have to make educated guesses about what we don’t. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the step-by-step of this particular repair and design, a project for Shell that involves a map, some refinery structures and some Arabic text that we have no idea what it’s supposed to look like.

What we do know.

We know that the green splotch in the background is supposed to be a map of Iraq, so recreating that isn’t a major issue. There’s some inaccuracies in the original that we kept while fixing some of the others. Once we’ve created a vectorized object, we can slide it into the double circles and use the original for positioning. Like so.
We are able to sample colors from the supplied bitmap to use throughout the design (as the original image is RGB, you have to be careful when matching colors this way.)

What we don’t know.

As source images for this gig were a bit messy (okay, a lot messy,) we’ll have to “best guess” figure out what some elements are supposed to look like. In this context we can be sure that the featured structures are supposed to be part of an oil refinery. There’s some weird perspective issues going on – some of the structures are seen from an angle and others are straight on. We’ll have to decide how much we want to correct this inconsistency while still remaining true to the original. A quick trip to Google image search gave us an approximate idea of what the pipes, storage containers and stacks are supposed to look like. We can assume the squiggles on the side the storage bins are supposed to be stairs. The smudge at the top left is a burn off pipe. We start off with simple linear renderings like so.As these are now in vector format, we can add sampled colors from the original quite easily. Looks like it had a gradient blend at some point – dulled down over years of this image being resized up and down – so we can bump up the contrast and add some highlights for emphasis.As we’re assuming the dull smudge coming out of the stack structure was intended to be a flame, and as we’re working in full color, we can beef that up too. More “flamey” if you will. Once the various bits and pieces are colorized, we can assemble them together, matching the original configuration and aspect ratio as closely as possible.Not a big fan, but looks like the original logo featured a drop shadow so we’re going to have to put that back. We’ll need a sold object that’s the shape of all the various components to work with (otherwise we end up with a load of vector shapes with drop shadows over drop shadows) so we can create a object to shadow by cloning and combining the refinery elements (right.) It’s just a matter of assembling everything together to bring us one step closerTaking the combined elements as one, we can slide it over the map of Iraq we created earlier and compare it to where we started.Not bad at all. Remember the imperfections we were talking about? One is at the bottom of the map of Iraq it pokes out under the large horizontal cylinder. We had to add a sliver of green to make that look right in the new version. The original “South Gas Company” typography has a weird backwards skew in the source, we can safely assume that wasn’t supposed to be, so a quick replace with a bold condensed font that’s upright and Bob’s your Uncle. Now, the tough part.

The Arabic type workaround.

Whenever we work with Arabic in a logo repair project, we usually hand vector the typography to visual and be done with it. That ain’t gonna happen here as the source image is so bitmapped , we have no clue what the Arabic type is supposed to actually look like with anything approaching certainty. Keeping in mind that Arabic flows from right to left we could maybe assume that the Arabic is a straight translation of the English on the bottom and give Google machine translation a shot: That’s close but not a exact match – there’s some characters that don’t appear to jive with the original. Luckily I have a good buddy from Morocco – Dom Huntman – who’s fluent in various dialects so I hit him up with the original source file via Twitter private message to see if he could translate it and more importantly, supply me with live Arabic type that I could copy-and-paste into Illustrator. Turns out there’s an abbreviation in the Arabic version that throws the machine translation off, Dom typed the correct version into his iPhone Arabic keypad and sent it over via SMS. Here’s what the accurate Arabic typography looks like once pasted into a line of type in Adobe Arabic font. That’s more like it (thanks Dom!) As we now have hot type, it’s simply a matter of wrapping the Arabic script around the circle at top of the logo on a path. Like so.Finishing up, we can outline the type and now that everything’s in lovely vectors, we can do whatever we want in terms of logo versions – color, grayscale and monochromatic are the accepted standards.Well that’s about it, other than the vector tidy-up that such logos need for final art. Builds like this tend to create a lot of overlapping and overlaying polygons that can cause grief down the road (especially with overlapping drop shadows.) Not going to bore you here, but you’re welcome to take a look at how this clean up process can play out.