Archive for March, 2009

How Much Does Experience Count?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

What’s more important, state-of-the-art equipment or skilled operators? That was the subject of a discussion I had with a very successful printer over lunch. I’ve always maintained that quality products are produced by quality employees. Inexperienced press operators make mistakes that they are often unable to fix.

For example, my brother Dan Ruesch, a top graphic designer, told me a story of a press check he attended where the PMS color was dingy. It just didn’t pop they way it should. After the pressmen tried everything they could think of to fix it, Dan remembered encountering a similar problem once before. He recalled that the solution was to change the paper wrap on a water roller.  So, of course, he made the suggestion to check it. The pressmen were surprised. Most customers don’t even know that there are two basic sets of rollers in a press, water and ink, and here was a graphic designer recommending a mechanical solution to their problem. Wow.

They took the suggestion, checked the roller, and found out that the paper wrap did need to be changed.  It worked, and they were able to go on and happily complete the job producing a printed product that both the company and the designer were proud to show.

Why did I tell this story? I told it to show what experience can do. Dan couldn’t run a press if his life depended on it, neither could I for that matter, but Dan carried with him years of experience from attending press checks. He had encountered a similar problem before, and remembered how it was solved. The press operator, had not come up against this particular difficulty before and was stumped. Experience vs. inexperience? I vote for experience myself.

This is my slant on the experience issue, the printer, eating his salad, disagreed. He believed if you bought state-of-the-art equipment with as many fully-automated features as you could get, you wouldn’t have to pay the wages of journeymen press operators. So, he hired less-experienced operators, and supervised them with a journeyman. His thinking was that they could call the guy over with the experience when they got in a jam, otherwise smart presses would take care of most of the problems.

Did this approach work for him? You bet it did. He was able to grow his printing company into one of the most prosperous firms in the area. Before he reached the age of fifty he sold it off, and retired. Boy, am I jealous.

What was my experience printing with his  company, you might ask? I’ll tell you. Despite all the awards he had hanging on his walls, and their sales literature that claimed they were the finest craftsmen in town, whenever I took a job there, it seemed to have problems. Not necessarily huge problems. There were difficulties getting the color right and holding it. Sometimes the trim or folding was off. The proof provided by the pre-press department couldn’t be matched on press. They came up short on the quantity. Things like this that could be worked around, but if he had paid higher wages for more experienced employees, would he still have this many problems? I don’t think so.

So, why was his business so successful? I believe that most customers don’t know the difference between excellent quality and good quality. If you don’t know the difference you won’t be able to see it even when right in front of you. The best work comes from people who know they are trying to please an expert. When I attend a press check, I carry with me a lifetime of press experience. They know it and will always strive to do their very best. If an inexperienced customer comes to a press check, assuming that they even know to come, their lack of knowledge becomes quickly apparent and they can be jargoned into approving anything. Remember a press operator has a vested interest in getting through the press check and running the job, otherwise they might be called on the carpet for lack of productivity. The number of press impressions per hour is important and if their numbers are down they will hear about it. If down often enough they could even lose their jobs over it.

My point? If you want to get quality printing, but you are not experienced enough to get it, don’t go into the print shop alone. Take someone with you who is experienced, but is not connected to the printer in any way. Someone working for the printer, and that includes their sales reps, has to protect the company’s profits. Unprofitable employees are invited to hit the bricks.  An independant print broker like myself is looking for a win-win, and that win includes getting you the product you need and paid for.  Since I am not paid by the printer, except through discounts, I stand by your side, like a free attorney. Isn’t that comforting?

If You Ask, Paper Info. Comes, & Comes, & Comes . . .

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

When I first began selling sheet-fed printing in the early 1980’s, my company Progressive Printing, printed an announcement flier for me. Before then I didn’t have much experience with paper other than commodity sheets used on web-offset presses. Think of magazines, catalogs, and newspapers. In the sheet-fed business a whole new world of paper opened up. I was so ignorant of paper that I didn’t understand that the paper my announcement was printed on was an expensive sheet. I didn’t know it until the office manager looked at it and said, “Wow, they must really like you because this is Cranes Crest.”

“Huh,” I said, “What is Cranes Crest?”

It turns out that Cranes Crest is made from 100% cotton fibers and is most often used on upper end letterheads and such.

Nothing more was said about my flier paper, but I realized that I had a whole lot to learn. Luckily for me a paper specifier from Zellerbach Paper Company conducted a mini-seminar in our offices. He covered paper fundamentals. His name was Mark Lander and even though he is no longer in the business I can still recall almost word-for-word some of what he taught us that day. Some of the lessons I’ve adapted and use as 60 second sermons when a customer needs to understand one aspect of paper or another.

I learned about paper because I felt I had to learn to do my job. Most people, including graphic designers find paper stocks they like and pretty much stick with them. There is nothing wrong with that approach. After all we can only hold so much information in our heads at one time. Because I took mastering of paper seriously, I found that my customers trusted my opinions and sought my advice.

If you are one who would like to know more about paper and don’t know where to go to get educated, let me give you some ideas.

  • Check the yellow pages, or call a printer to find out who your local  local paper merchant’s are.
  • Ask the paper merchant if they hold educational classes and attend if you can.
  • Be sure to get swatch books and begin building a library of paper options. If you are a frequent user of printing papers they may be willing to furnish you with a whole paper cabinet, at no charge. Ask.
  • Find out how they treat new paper introductions. Do they hold paper parties or bring mill reps around to the various buyers. Ask if you can get on the invitation list.
  • Research paper on the Internet, some specialty papers may not be carried by your local sources.
  • Many of the paper mills have websites that allow you to sign on to their news-feeds. Sign up, this will keep you ahead of the pack.

One service provided by most paper merchants that I’ve found to be particularly helpful is their willingness to create paper dummies. If you have a project with multiple pages there may be weight issues to consider. Your choice of paper could cost or save you a ton of money in postage expense. I’ve often had dummies made and taken them to the business services department of the post office to have it weighed so we would know for sure if we would pay a higher or lesser price. Often postage on a direct mail campaign will cost more than the printing and design of the pieces.

In a future blog I’ll get into paper weights and finishes, so hold on more is coming.

Black Paper & Artistic Dreams

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

First, I want to thank all of you who read my blog about the challenges of offset printing on black paper. I especially want to than those who have responded with additional  suggestions and recommendations.  Whenever there is a challenge you can expect the cleaver production people in the printing universe to find a way over, through, or around the problem. Kudos to you.

Mr. Carlo Toscano of Global Printing in California pointed out that the digital printing industry has solved the problem by laying down a base of white and then printing on top of it. I have not personally seen this done digitally, so I’ll have to take his word for it. My concern is founded on what I have experienced, and that is that opaque white inks aren’t opaque enough. The black paper is tamed some, but still allows the paper color to influence the image and makes it gray. Digital is so new on the scene and uses different technologies than offset printing, that they probably have found a way to make it work better. I’d like to see samples if anyone has them.

The downside? Digital printing is most cost effective in very small runs. They generally top out at 500 – 1,000 imprints. If you need a larger quantity digital may not be for you.

Mr. Harvey Halperin (no company name) wrote, “Lay down a double hit of opaque white then dry trap process colors onto it. This will require two print runs, to allow the opaque white time to dry. We often do this with foils, or foil stamp and print on the foils there are a few new press that do this in line.”

Mr. Halperin is quite correct. A dry trap is a technique used by printers wherein they lay down a color and allow it to dry thoroughly before printing on top of it. A single pass of opaque white, as I said before, hasn’t proven to my satisfaction to be sufficient. A double bump, or a double hit, would certainly form a better base. If the white ink is allowed to dry, you avoid the problems associated with co-mingling wet inks. Contaminated inks will turn your normal process colors to pastels, but maybe pastel is what you are trying to achieve.

The downside? Every pass through the press requires additional make-readies, and plates. This technique will give you a good result, but you’ll pay for it. His other suggestion of printing on top of a white foil stamp will also work, but again you have additional costs that come into play. The double-bump, dry-trap technique probably work out to be the most cost effective way to achieve it.

There was also a suggestion to screen print the sheet. Silk screen inks are more like paint than they are offset inks. Because by nature they are more opaque, you may not have to lay down a base of white at all. It is a suggestion worth considering depending on the quantity you want to print and how the printed piece is to be used.

My point? With very few exceptions, the mid-night brainstorms graphic designers have, are by-and-large achieveable. If the budget is sufficient,  we can find a way to make their artistic dreams come true.

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