Archive for the ‘PMS Inks’ Category

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?

Respect the Proof

Monday, March 16th, 2009

What do you look for on a proof? That seems like an easy question and it used to be a little easier to answer than it is now. The first thing you need to understand is that your signature on the proof releases the printer, or the broker, from all responsibility for the printed piece. By that I mean, if the product is a close match to the proof, but you don’t like it after all, or you found an error, the problem is yours.  Don’t blame the printers even if they were the ones who introduced the mistake. Proofs are your chance, often your last chance, to make sure everything is right before printing. I often hear customers say they don’t need a proof, or they don’t want a press check. That, in my opinion, is a big mistake. More than once I’ve seen jobs get  all the way to the press before the customer notices a critical error like a wrong phone number, or address.

wrong + wrong = right

Printing, in general, is an imperfect process. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating, you start with the premise that oil (ink) and water (fountain solution) don’t mix and proceed to make it work. It’s a case of two wrongs making a right.

Back to the question of checking a proof. What you look for depends on the kind of proof you received. Most printers are now using direct-to-plate technology. Direct-to-plate has revolutionized the plate making process. A print shop of not too many years past used to have large rooms with big light tables throughout. The light tables were used to strip the film. Now the tables are gone and the rooms are empty, leaving lots of space for an arcade, or shuffleboard. I’m kidding, but what do they do with the extra space? Maybe shuffleboard isn’t a bad idea. In the era of the light table and hand stripping proofs they were  either bluelines (for one color printing), or color-keys (for four color printing). You aren’t likely to come across these terms anymore, but you might, so I’m telling you about them. There were other kinds of proofs too like Matchprints, or Chromalins. No matter what kind of proof was presented to the customer there was always one flaw–the color proofs were good for four color process, but if you used a PMS color from the Pantone book, you had to guess at the result. Kind of like looking at a small  paint chip vs. painting a large wall. Most printers will provide a digital hard-copy proof.

What do I look for?

Generally you want to check a hard-copy proof for:

  • Color. Does it look like the color you expected to get? Remember though, the color that appears on your computer monitor might not be the actual color. Ripped (separating the colors into dots) color is different. Your monitor’s pixels are RGB (red, green,blue) and ripped color is CYMK (cyan, yellow,magenta, black). If the color is way off, you might have to go back and fix some things or have the printer help you fix it. If the color is close, don’t make yourself crazy, let it pass.
  • Size. If your image was supposed to be 8 1/2″X11″ and it comes out as 4″X6″ there is a problem.
  • Type. Because computer design is done in layers, it is very easy to cover a portion of your type block with a window. You may not see it on your screen, so you need to watch for it on the proof.
  • Reflow. This is becoming less of a problem than it used to be, but you should still watch for it. Reflow usually happens when the font you are using doesn’t match the font in the printer’s system. If you haven’t downloaded your fonts they will default to the printer’s defaults. Small sizing or kerning (the space between letters) can throw your document off. Particularly if you are using a PC and the printer is on Mac.
  • Missing or Added elements. I think this one is self-explanatory.
  • Bleeds. If you want your piece to bleed (ink goes to the edge of the sheet) did you allow a 1/8″ overhang beyond the trims?
  • Back up. Does the front back up correctly with the back? You might need a second low-res proof to see this, but unless back up isn’t important, be sure you get a folded proof.
wait til the press check

What to ignore or save for the press check.

  • PMS or Spot color. Ripped proofs are still using four color process dots to create approximate color. It can be way off. If you are concerned about the spot color, do yourself a favor and attend a press check.
  • Small dots. The computer picks up very small dots and reproduces them on the digital proof. A 1% to 3% dot may not appear on the plate. If those dots are important to the design be aware that they could disappear. If the dots are fighting your design the same is true. To be sure, go to a press check.
  • Paper. The proof you see will be different when ink touches paper, particularly if it is an uncoated sheet. All proofs are approximations. To know for sure you have to see the ink on paper.

Respect the proof. That might sound funny, but if you attempt to glance at the proof and give it a cursory approval, you are bound to have mistakes. Stop, take a deep breath, and concentrate on the proof. You’ll have fewer errors. And maybe, fewer times called on the carpet.

Printerese is not Easy

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

The folks at Bookwise-Writewise asked me to prepare an Internet segment to teach self-publishing authors some things they will need to know when seeking printing bids. It dawned on me that these authors might never have had any experience with printing except the occasional wedding, anniversary, or birth announcement. Maybe they took a tour in elementary school to the local newspaper, but that’s about it.

the language of printing

Printing has its own language. As a buyer, if you don’t understand the language you can be as lost and desperate as a tourist in Mexico who doesn’t know the word for restroom.  And it isn’t el restroom-o. I know. I already tried that one.

Some of the terms we use everyday include, bleeds, folios, coated, halftones, PMS, CYMK, RGB, and mill order. I could go on, but to the uninitiated these few words are enough to give one a headache. They aren’t that difficult, really. A bleed, for example, occurs when the ink goes to the edge of the paper or in other words, there isn’t a border. To create a successful bleed the printed image must extend beyond the trim. When the paper is trimmed a small, probably 1/8″ of the image trims off. Why is this important? Sometimes it is critical and sometimes it is not. It all depends on the size of the sheet that’s being printed. If the bleed forces the printer into buying a larger sheet it will cost more. That’s pretty obvious wouldn’t you think? Me too, but everyday, customers will either forget to mention that there is a bleed, or how many sides bleed. This little thing can make life difficult in more ways than one. If you have a printing bid sans bleed and there is one, the printer may have to raise the price. What’s worse is if you have not specified a bleed and the paper, as it sometimes is, has to be special ordered from the mill. The printer may not be able to return the paper without a restocking charge, or worse.

two sides–one side

Another area that often causes communication confusion is pagination (page numbering). Imagine I’m holding up a 8 1/2″X11″ sheet of copy paper and I ask, “How many pages are there in my hand?’ Most would say one, but the right answer is two. It is one sheet of paper, but it has two sides. Each side is a page, if you don’t believe me pick up a book and prove it to yourself. The only time this isn’t true is if you aren’t printing both sides of the paper like for a report. If you tell the printer the wrong number of pages, and whether both sides of the sheet print, you are going to get an incorrect bid.

your goal, my goal

Here’s the rub, how is an unknowledgeable customer supposed to make intelligent decisions when they don’t know the first thing about what they are getting themselves into? The easiest and maybe safest way is to take the hand of a trusted someone to lead you through the process. That someone could be a printer, an artist, an advertising agency, or a print broker, like me. You have to do your due diligence like you would in any business transaction. You should check the credentials, reputation, and motivation of your guide. If their purpose is to lead you one way, and one way only, into their shop their advice might be suspect. Also be wary of people who assure you that they will take care of it all and you aren’t allowed to know where your work is printed. I don’t like secrecy myself. I am very open with who I’m working with and I treat each project as a team effort. It isn’t just me, it is the printer, the mailing house, and other services that might be needed. Getting each job done right, on time, and at a reasonable cost is the final goal. At least, that’s my goal, what’s yours?

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