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Posts Tagged ‘printing’


When I was a sweet young thing I worked in a design studio with three nice men. As the New Kid, I inherited the job of picking up second lines when first lines were engaged, and functioning as Person B on big projects. One day I was working on a couple of my own projects and serving as Person B to just about everybody else. Those were the days of slow processors, and we had an extra workstation, so I had opened up projects on two computers. I’d give a command on one, and then go give a command on the other while I waited for the first computer to finish processing. In between I was returning phone calls, sending faxes, printing proofs, and building a “comp” over on the drafting table.

I didn’t think anything about it until one of my office mates started to laugh. “I can’t even answer the phone when I’m working on something,” he said. “And you’ve got every machine and the drafting table going down there.” A discussion ensued among the three men about a PBS show someone had watched about how women are better at multi-tasking than men are, but I don’t remember details; I went back to circulating through the computer, computer, phone, fax, drafting table, computer, computer.

I’m not sure that the ability to multi-task is gender-linked. I know it’s something I do well, and I know that when I’m doing it I tend to focus more intently on the jobs in sequence than I do on a single job, done separately. There’s something about bouncing between different types of tasks that seems to keep my gain more closely engaged for longer periods of time.

Now that it’s just me in the doghouse, I find myself using multi-tasking not only as a tool to get client work done, but to advance my own writing and design projects. I can only edit effectively for a couple hours at a time. Then I stop editing and go draw something. When I get a few sketches polished I put them aside and paint, or do creative writing. Each task seems to take a different sort of energy–and in some cases doing a different kind of task not only allows my batteries to recharge, but actually seems to help the process along.

For instance, in the time I devote to my own work each day I’m working on three books right now. I’m proofing Benchmarks, the memoir about single mothering that I’ve talked about here before. I’m also editing and typesetting a collection of short stories that grew out of some past-life regression exercises I did. And I’m writing on a YA book about a girl who discovers that her alter ego is all too real.

The mixture of projects not only helps me keep each of them moving ahead, but also energizes me for my “real” work–the design and illustration work I do to pay our bills. So here’s the thing: instead of waiting for time to work on the projects you love, try getting them out and working on them a few lines, a few stitches, a few paint strokes, at a time, as you’re passing by doing other things. It’s a great way to ensure that your personal goals, the ones that feed your soul, keep on track right along with the goals you meet on behalf of others.

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I won a contest. This never happens to me. The last time I won anything was my senior year in college, when I won a scholarship. I was very pleased about that. I am almost as pleased about winning this book.

It’s Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., illustrated by Sarah Ackerley, and published by Little Pickle Press. I’m delighted because it’s a great book. I’m doubly delighted because I read about the teething troubles Little Pickle Press had in getting this book out of the computer, through the presses and binders, and to the bookstore shelves.

Seems that a good part of the problem resulted from the paper choice. Your Fantastic Elastic Brain is printed on Terraskin, “a combination of large amounts of mineral powder (>75%) with a small quantity (<25%) of non-toxic resin combined to create an environmentally friendly paper,” according to the company’s website.

Writing surfaces have been made of all sorts of things, but the overwhelming favorites for paper production have been cloth and wood in various forms. It’s fair to say that paper-making has been elevated to an art form; go to a press some time and ask to see their paper samples books. In a world dominated by plant-and-fabric-based product, Terraskin is something new–a paper made from minerals and resin–stone.

The up side of Terraskin is that it can be produced without destroying trees. The down side is that creating illustrations that will print on this paper stock is a bit of a gamble, since not a lot has been written about the way this paper seems to take ink, and if Little Pickle Press’ experience is typical, the paper’s unique texture can create challenges in the binding process.

For those considering printing on Terraskin, the closest equivalent in conventional paper stocks that I’m familiar with is Sundance uncoated. The uncoated stock that CreateSpace uses for its book interiors seems to take in in a similar way, resulting in flatter, less saturated images.

The result is a book with a soft, traditional, look. Without seeing the illustrator’s original images it’s hard to know what the original colors looked like, but the overall print quality has many characteristics typical of traditional uncoated stocks–the ink seems to have been absorbed deeply into the paper, leaving a slightly mottled surface texture, and softening, flattening, and de-saturating colors. This sounds like a negative. In my opinion, it’s absolutely not. It results in a book with a rich, elegant, soft, and yet simple look–ideal for supporting the mission of a book like this, which aims to familiarize children with the wonders of their brains.

The feel of Terraskin is wonderful–soft and velvety. It seems to crease comparatively easily, which I could see making the printing and binding process a challenge, and I’m not sure how well it will stand up to the rigors of little hands, but esthetically the feel is very pleasing. I found myself running my hands over the pages, just for the pleasure of the experience.

The result is that Your Fantastic Elastic Brain has the look and feel of a classic children’s book, due, in large part, I believe to the lovely illustrations, and how they interact with the paper on which the book is printed. Now that I’ve had a chance to hold the book in my hands, I am disappointed to learn that Little Pickle Press has no plans to repeat the Terraskin experiment any time soon. Though it seems to be a tricky paper to work with, the end results are worth it, in my opinion.

So for all you designers and paper geeks out there, here’s my take on what this paper does well, what it doesn’t do well, and how it might work better.

1. It produces soft, desaturated images. The website says, “Because the paper is fiberless, it does not absorb ink like regular paper and also uses 20-30% less ink than regular paper. Images stay much crisper and cleaner because the ink doesn’t bleed.” I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on that; the look of the printed book would seem to indicate that if the paper isn’t wicking up the ink, the way it takes the ink creates a result that looks much the same–flattened, desaturated images with the softened, slightly ragged edges typical of soft, uncoated paper stocks. Observation would indicate that it’s not going to be a good choice for projects where a bright, sharp, high-contrast look is desired. Nor would I choose it for a project requiring highly detailed, tiny scale work. There are no photos in this book, so it’s impossible to evaluate how Terraskin handles those; from what I can see, it might not be a happy experience. Running a dry varnish or choosing a coated stock might help in controlling how the ink and paper interact; it would be a good question to ask, at any rate.

2. I’m going to be interested in seeing how the book holds up to handling; my initial reaction is that I’d probably choose something a little less creasable for a kids’ book. On the other hand, the site specs indicate that it’s pretty tear-resistant, and the paper does feel lovely.

3. I’d like to try Terraskin in an annual report for an appropriate client, for an illustrated book for an older audience–the illustrations in “YFEB” certainly came out lovely–or for a book where I wanted a soft, tactile, and traditional look and feel–or for a project that would benefit from vagaries that seem to characterize how this stock interacts with ink.  I’d be very interested in learning how other inks interact with this paper, as well as what other paper weights, stocks, and coating options might be available. A coated version of this paper might be significantly more flexible in terms of applications.

All in all, Terraskin is an ecologically-friendly, tree-free paper with a lovely feel. For the right projects, like this book, it seems to produce beautifully, though I can see where working with it might be challenging in some circumstances. I look forward to seeing how the paper evolves as it begins to be more widely used, and its makers fine-tune their formula.

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Here’s a little peek into a world that has now largely disappeared, one which most people didn’t even know existed–the world of printing high-end annual reports before direct-to-plate technology. It wasn’t funny at the time, but now? Well, I enjoy it. Happy Friday.
“I think you make this paper mistake,” said the soft, hesitant voice on the telephone.

“Oh?” I asked. I have a Master’s degree in English. My printer clearly was still at the apprentice level. Nevertheless, I asked. You never know.

“I see “the the.” You write two times. “The the.”

“What?” I gasped. “Where?”

“In big words.”

“I’ll be right down,” I slammed down the telephone and zoomed down to the printshop, cursing, my belly in knots. This was a four-color, full bleed, die cut job for one of the studio’s biggest clients.

“José’s got a question about my job,” I told the press receptionist. She didn’t answer, just went on polishing her nails and snapping her gum, the telephone propped between her ear and her shoulder.

I opened the door to the press room. The noise and the smell of ink hit me like a wall. The presses roared, churning out page after page of print. All except mine. José leaned against the control console, waiting. A single sheet lay on the review table. And there it was, right in the header: “The The Natural History Museum Cordially Invites You…”

I pulled the job. I repulled the film. I ate humble pie with my bosses at the studio. And I bought José lunch. José was a good pressman—he cared enough about my job to call me when he had a question. He cost the studio a little money that day, but he saved me much, much more.

I love printers. I court them. I cosset them. I pamper them like  temperamental mistresses. As a designer, I have learned that I anger printers at my peril; an angry printer can turn a perfectly ordinary print job into a hellish, expensive nightmare. They can literally destroy a designer’s business. I treat my printers like vindictive gods. I have reason.

A good printer, on the other hand, can turn a job into an art. Having a pressman with the creativity and the courage to experiment with his craft can result in pieces that move beyond the norm. A good printer allows designers like me to experiment with new ways of putting ink on paper. José and I figured out a way to use metallic inks in overprints, to integrate PMS inks into process separations, to create a “floating” effect by mis-registering a varnish plate. And he called me when he spotted typos. José was a great pressman, he was, he was…

But José is thousands of miles away, now, and I am printing an annual report for a state entity (think “jobs are awarded based on lowest bid”). The lowest bid was turned in by the worst printer in the world.

Witness my work journal for the last two weeks:

Day 1:
Mary, the writer and my state contact on the annual report I am designing, calls me to tell me that the State has finally signed off on the annual report, a mere two months behind schedule.

“We’re ready to go to press,” she says. “I’m just waiting for them to authorize me to contact the printer so we can work out the file submission protocol with them, find out what works best with their system… you know. I’m a little surprised that they haven’t given us the go-ahead yet. The guy said something about needing to get a revised bid before the project was firmly awarded, but it seems pretty definite…weird. I wish we could call them.”

I wish we could, too. Talking to the printer is a huge part of making sure a job prints right. Turning a job over to a printer without having even a single conversation about how they like to get their files and the potential rough spots in the job is carrying reckless behavior a step too far.

“Maybe tomorrow,” she sighs.

Day 2, morning:
Email from Mary:
! Printer Info

We’ve got approval to contact the printer! The guy at the State didn’t really want us to—said the printer wanted us to just drop the CD off at the Capitol Building. He said he’d pick it up from there. I said I didn’t think that was wise, that we really needed to talk a little bit about how he’d like the files, about the patch proof, and scheduling the press check. They finally agreed that it would be a good idea. Here’s the number, and his email address. I don’t have his mailing address; maybe you can get that when you talk to him. We’ll need to know where to go for the press check.

I dial the number Mary has provided.

“Hullo?” A woman’s voice.

“Hello. This is Bodie Parkhurst. I’m working with Mary Ketchum on the Annual Report for the State. May I speak to Mr. Allen, please? I believe he’s expecting my call.”

“Who are you?”

“Bodie Parkhurst. I’m the designer for the annual report you are scheduled to print for the State. Mr. Allen is my contact person. Is he available?”

“No. He’s at the other building.” She makes it sound like Siberia.

“Is there a number where I can reach him?”

“No. I have no way of contacting him there. He’s busy setting up the presses.”

“May I leave a message?” Setting up the presses?

“Now what’s this all about?” Setting up the presses?

“The State annual report—”

“I know that. Why do you want to talk to Jim?”

“To find out how I should prepare the files for submission, to work out press check scheduling…”

“Oh, Mr. Allen’s very good about that. He insists on getting a signed proof back before he’ll put anything on the press.”

“That’s good,” I say gamely. “But I need a press check, I need to see the job when it’s actually running on the press. It’s a way of protecting all of us.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that…”

“Can I leave a message for him? Or is there someone else I might talk to about this? Maybe your pre-press person?”

“You want to talk to Buffi?”

“Is she your pre-press person?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, I’d like to talk to her. Maybe she can tell me how I should prepare the files.”

“Can’t you just send them over?”

“Yes, but they can be sent in a lot of different ways…”

“I wouldn’t know about that.”

Click. I listen to a local radio host chatting with somebody about hog futures this year. It’s looking grim for the hogs. Click.

“Hello, this is Buffi. May I help you?”

I put on my warmest tone, which is very warm indeed. I want Buffi to like me. I want her for my new, temporary best friend. I want her to want my job to print well. “Hi, Buffi, how you doing today?”

“Just fine.”

“I’m Bodie Parkhurst, the designer on the state annual report you guys are going to be printing.”

“What state annual report is this?”

“The one for the state department of ———-.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

Suppressing the urge to scream, I soldier on. “What I really need to know right now is how you guys like to get files. Do you like them uploaded to an ftp site? Would you rather I posted them on mine and then emailed you the link? Should I burn a CD or DVD? Do you want film?”

“FTP?” Buffi asks faintly.

“Yes,” I say heartily, hoping to carry her along with me. “Do you have an ftp page?”

“I don’t know,” she says.

“Oh,” I say. “Well, how about if I post the file to my ftp page then, and then email you the link?”

“Email?” she says.

“Do you have email there?” I ask. I stop and swallow, trying to keep my voice from trembling.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I’ve only been here six weeks. I was FORCED to RETIRE from State University.”

“Oh,” I say. Forced to retire? “Well, can I ask Mr. Allen?”

“No, he’s out setting up the presses. Setting up the presses? We LOST our BUILDING and this one’s a long way away.”

“And you have no way of contacting him?” Lost our building? How? Did they carry it into another room, set it down, and then forget where? Did they drive away one day and forget how to get back? Did it sneak away one dark night? Did it crawl away and die?

“No.”

I think for a minute. “Well, can we talk about how I should prep the files?”

“Yes.” She sounds relieved.

“What method do you prefer? Can you handle high-resolution pdfs?”

“What?”

“Pdfs. Can you print from a high-resolution pdf? You know—an Acrobat file?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She sounds doubtful.

“Well, should I send the Quark file?”

“No, a pdf will be fine.” I hope so.

“I’d like to send a patch print with my photos on it, so I can check my color-balancing. Will that be all right?”

“You’ll have to ask Jim about that. I don’t know anything about the job.”

—“and he’s in the other building,” I finish for her.

“Yes,” she says eagerly, glad that at last I understand.

“Can I leave a message for him?” I ask.

“Yes. I’ll see that he gets it,” she says.

I leave my number.

Email to Mary from me.
! Printer info

Hey Mary—

I called the printer. At least I think I did. After this conversation I’m concerned about whether this press can handle this job. I spoke to the pre-press person (Buffi) because Mr. Allen was apparently in another building some distance away setting up the presses (!) and unreachable. Buffi told me that they lost their building and are moving shop. She doesn’t know if they have internet access, doesn’t know if they have email, doesn’t know if they can print from pdfs, and doesn’t know how to reach Mr. Allen. She’s only been on the job six weeks, but I would think she would know about internet access…

Is there anybody at State we can talk to, maybe find out a bit more about this printer’s qualifications to print this job at this time? Did the bid get awarded to a quick printer by mistake? It’s black and white, but it’s too complex for a Quickie Print type of printer.

Email from Mary to Bob, her contact at State
Attachment: Email from Bodie Parkhurst
CC: Bodie Parkhurst

Good morning, Bob—
Bodie, the designer on the annual report project, called the printer this morning (see attached email). Can we talk to Andy, who I believe was in charge of selecting the printer, and learn a bit more about this press? The things Bodie’s saying have me worried, too—this is a big job, as I don’t need to tell you. We want to be sure that the printer’s familiar with this type of work.

Day 2
Afternoon
Phone call to Mary

“Hey Mary, it’s Bodie.”

“Hi Bodie. Have you heard from Jim Allen yet?”

“No, not yet. I got a message from Andy at the State while I was out, though.”

“You got a call from Andy?”

“Yes. I wanted to ask you about it before I called back, since normally you handle all that stuff.”

“Why is Andy calling you? How did he get your number?”

“I have no idea. There was just this message…”

“Well, go ahead and return the call…find out what he wants. This is weird. I haven’t given your number to anybody this year. Maybe he got it off some of last year’s old paperwork…”

“Maybe…”

Day 2
Late afternoon
Phone call from Andy

“Hello. I’m calling about the printer. We’ve worked with him for a long time. He’s printed more than six hundred jobs for us. He’s very competent.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I’m glad to know that, but I’m mostly concerned about if he’s up to running the job right now. His office staff says that they’re moving the presses. Will he be up and running in time to print this on schedule? Also, I’m wondering if this printer is familiar with jobs this complex. It’s one color, but there’s a die-cut folder on the cover, screens, photos, bleeds. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s not the kind of thing that a quick printer can handle.”

“He’s printed over six hundred jobs for us,” Andy repeats testily.

“Well, I’m glad to know that he’s familiar with this type of job.”

“Folders and everything,” Andy adds.

“That’s good,” I say. “But—”

“So what do you want to know?”

“Well, I’m concerned because I haven’t been able to reach him. There’s apparently no telephone in their second building, which is quite some distance from the office where the phone is answered. And his staff doesn’t seem to know about the job, or about how they like to get files, or if—

“He’s printed more than six hundred jobs for us. Folders and everything,” he says again, this time getting all his lines in at once.

“Good,” I say, giving up. “Maybe you could give Mary a call. She’s the person I report to, and she handles all the State contact. She needs to know this.”

“She’s next on my list.”

Day 2
Late afternoon
Phone call to Mary as I’m skinning chicken  for supper.

“Hey Mary. I just heard from Andy. He says he’s going to call you right away.”

“Oh, good. Did he tell you about the printer?”

“Well, he said this printer has handled more than six hundred jobs for them, including folders, which makes me feel somewhat better. But I’m still worried about the pre-press person not knowing how I should send the files. I’m also worried about the presses, and if they’ll be set up in time.”

“I wonder if he did the jobs himself, or if he jobbed them out,” Mary says meditatively.

“He might well have,” I answer, yanking a piece of chicken skin loose and dropping it into the garbage.

“Have you heard from the printer yet?”

“No, but I’ve left a couple messages for him to call me. And I’ve emailed him. So far nothing.”

“Let me know when you hear from him.”

“Sure thing.”

Day 2
Evening
Phone call from Mary

“Well, I heard from the printer.”

“And?”

“He’s either the last of the three-martooni lunches, or very, very old. He’ll be calling you to arrange a time when you can drop off the proof. He’s agreed to do it for $100. Why is he charging us? The printer last year just did it as a part of the job. Is there some special process involved?”

“No—he should just be able to strip it in with the rest of his press corrections. Most presses run the corrections for the jobs they’re printing on a single sheet of film every day, or every couple of days, then slice the film up and strip the corrections into the various jobs. The printer last year just stuck our patch on with the corrections. I don’t know why this guy can’t do that.”

“Well, he says it’s a lot of work, and he’s going to charge us for it directly. I’ve agreed—we have to know what’s happening with the photos before we try to run this.”

“Yes,” I say, happy to be working with someone who understands the value of proofs, and of checking one’s work before one gets to press.

“He’ll be contacting you to arrange for delivery.”

Day 3
7:45 a.m.
Phone call from Jim Allen.

“Hello. This is Jim Allen. Sorry I wasn’t in when you called yesterday. I was out setting up the presses in our other building. It’s out of town. Mary says that you’d like to send a proof down.”

“Yes,” I say eagerly. Setting up the presses? Out of town? “I’m so glad to talk to you. I wanted to find out how you like to get files, and how I should plan on sending them. Can you handle pdf files?”

“Yes. Just be sure to include all fonts and supporting artwork.”

“But with pdfs you don’t need those things,” I protest, startled.

“You don’t?” he asks.

“Would you prefer the application files?” I ask. “I can send those if that’s better for you.”

“No, no. A pdf will be fine.”

“Good. Do you have an ftp page where I can post the file, or would you prefer that I post it to my own ftp and then email you the link?”

“Well…”

I wait, but there’s nothing more.

“I can Fed-Ex a disk, if that’s better,” I add, a bit desperately.

“Can you give me your address?”

“No. I’ll give it to you when the time is right. Just drop off the disk at our office.”

“But I don’t have the address. And you’re three hours away.”

“Oh, that’s right. Well, I’ll come up and pick up the disk, then.”

“All right.” Why won’t he give me his address? Why doesn’t he want me to overnight the file? Why doesn’t he want me to post the file and email the link? What’s up with this guy? We agree to meet at my local Starbuck’s at 10 a.m. and discuss the job. I prepare a CD with the patch proof on it, pull a hard copy, and stuff everything into an envelope.

Day 4
10 a.m.

I walk into Starbuck’s order a coffee, look around, don’t see anyone with ink under his nails, and pick a prominent table. Then I wait. And wait. And wait.

10:45 a.m.

An elderly Galaxy 500 eases slowly up into the handicapped spot outside the window. The driver’s side door creaks open. An old, old, man hauls himself to his feet. A heavy orthopedic sandal covers one foot. His hair glints snowy white in the sunshine. He limps to the door, struggles with it. A strapping type in yellow spandex opens it and the old man shuffles inside. He stops and peers around, spots me with my job envelope prominently displayed, and shuffles over to my table.

“Bodie?” he quavers.

“Yes,” I answer. “Mr. Allen?”

“Yes. Sorry I’m late. The freeways. I couldn’t find the exit. You know they don’t work from both directions.” He sounds angry. “I looked and looked, drove back and forth.” I picture the Galaxy 500 creeping along the freeway, back and forth, back and forth.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“They shouldn’t’a done’em that way. That’s just not right.” Maybe not, but they’ve been that way for fifteen years.

“No,” I agree. “It makes it complicated…About the job…”

“I looked and looked,” he says querulously, his watery blue eyes earnest. “I just couldn’t find it. And I looked and looked.”

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I’ve brought the CD with me, and a paper printout of what’s on it.”

“That’s why I’m late,” he informs me. “I just couldn’t find the exit.”

“It’s all right,” I say, giving up. “I’ve enjoyed the wait.”

“They shouldn’t’a done’em that way.”

We meditate silently on the Department of Transportation’s iniquities.

“I brought you a CD,” I finally venture.

He is silent. I am encouraged.

“It has a high-resolution pdf on it. If this works, we’ll know that this is a good way for me to prepare the final files.”

He is still silent. He is asleep.

I don’t shake him, even though I’d like to. I sip my coffee and wait.

“You’ve included all the fonts and the supporting artwork, haven’t you?” He asks suddenly, jerking awake.

“No,” I say. “I’ve made a high-resolution pdf.”

“That’s fine,” he says. “As long as you’ve included the fonts and the supporting artwork.”

“But you don’t need them with a high-resolution pdf.”

“You don’t?”

“No. Everything’s embedded in the file.”

“Oh. Well. All right, then.”

“Do you have a number where I can contact you? I’ve had some trouble getting through.”

“That’s because we lost our building.”

“Oh.” Again with the lost building.

“Yeah, they raised the rent” (I am a bit disappointed at this prosaic explanation) and we’ve had to move. Our new building’s nine miles out of town.”

Nine miles? I picture the Galaxy 500 creeping along country roads, inching its way past black and white spotted cows lowing in fields and pink pigs grunting in styes, inchworming between telephone and press. No wonder I can never reach the man.

“Is there a telephone there?”

“No.” From his tone I deduce that there isn’t likely to be, either. I wonder if there’s electricity.

“But you’ll be up and running in time to print this by our deadline, right?”

“What deadline?”

“The contract runs out at the end of the month.”

“Things are pretty much a shambles right now,” he says reflectively. “I’ve been setting up the presses.”

“Oh,” I say. A nasty little silence falls. I picture him shuffling into a dairy barn somewhere, an elderly Gutenberg press strapped to his back. I wonder if he creates woodcuts by hand instead of using photos. I jerk my mind back to the present. “When can I expect the proof?”

“Well, by the time I get back to the shop the day’ll be pretty much gone…Tomorrow we can pull the film. I should have the presses set up by the time it’s done. We can probably get it right onto the press…You’ll have it by Friday.” Suddenly he is brisk.

“Can I get your address for mailing the final file?”

“I’ll give it to you later, when the time is right,” he says.

“Great,” I say, puzzled. When the time is right? Does he determine when to release mailing information by using auguries? Possibly entrails from chickens he captures in the barn? Why does he not want me to know his address? How will I send him the disk if the chicken entrails advise against giving me his address? We shake hands and he totters out. I take a deep breath and finish my coffee. Then I go home and call Mary.

Day 4 (Wednesday)
12:30 a.m.
Phone call to Mary

“I met with the printer just now.”

“What’s he like?” she asks timidly.

“He’s very, very old,” I say. “But he says we’ll have the proof on Friday. I’ll get it, check it, over, tweak the images, and then send it out before I leave to get my car fixed.”

My budget is tight and my car is sick. The best price—the only price that makes repair feasible—is with my mother’s mechanic three and a half hours away.

“Sounds good,” says Mary. “That way you’ll be up and running for the press check. What do you think of his capabilities, now that you’ve met him?”

“Well, I’m still worried. He doesn’t know what a pdf is, but he won’t admit it, keeps saying it’ll be fine to send one, as long as I send the fonts and supporting art. He says his press is a shambles, and it’s nine miles away from a telephone.”

“Nine miles?” gasps Mary.

“I wonder if it’s in somebody’s dairy barn.” I am only half joking.

Day 6 (Thursday)
2 p.m.
Phone call to Allen Printing

“Hullo?” A man’s voice grunts.

“Hi there. This is Bodie Parkhurst. I’m working on the State annual report project. Is Jim Allen available?”

“No, he’s not.”

“Well, do you know where I might reach him?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Uh, can I speak to Buffi, then?”

“No, she’s at lunch.”

“Is there anybody there who might know the status of the proof sheet you were working on for me?”

“No. What proof sheet? Is this a call for the book keeper?”

“No, This is Bodie Parkhurst. I met Mr. Allen at Starbuck’s on Tuesday and gave him a patch print file so we could test the color imaging.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“Can I leave a message for Mr. Allen?”

“Who is this?”

“This is Bodie Parkhurst. I need to speak to Mr. Allen…”

“Bodie?”

“Yes.”

“This is Jim Allen.” It is the same man’s voice. “I lie a lot. It was really me all the time.”

I have no idea what to say.

“So what did you need?”

“I needed to check on the proof status…find out if we were still on track for Friday…tomorrow.”

“Oh yes, we’ll be fine. We’ve got the film pulled and it looks good. We’ll have it on the press tomorrow.”

“But I’m supposed to have it tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

“If it’s on the press tomorrow I won’t have it tomorrow…Fed Ex needs overnight to deliver.”

“Oh, yes.”

“So there’s no way it can run today?”

“No.” He sounds miffed. “We were busy yesterday.” I imagine him chasing curious Holsteins away from his Gutenberg, shooing white chickens away from his bins of lead type.

“So when can I expect it?”

“I can get it to you Saturday.”

“But that won’t work—I have something scheduled over the weekend. I’m going out of town.”

“Oh, well, when will you be back?”

“Monday,” I say. “If you can put it into the mail I’ll get it on Monday, and I’ll be able to deal with it right away.”

“Oh, I don’t want to put it in the mail. I’ll deliver it.”

“Well, okay, if you’re sure, but that’s quite a drive.”

“I’ll deliver it. I’ll talk to you Monday.”

I hang up, call my mother’s mechanic, and frantically rearrange my appointment so I can get the car in on Friday. With luck, it will be finished by Sunday, rather than Monday morning. Then I call Mary. “Mary,” I say. “I just had the most bizarre conversation…” While we are talking call waiting beeps. We hang up and I dial in for the message. It is Jim.

“Bodie, I’m sorry for my rudeness. I thought you were a telemarketer.” After I identified myself repeatedly by name and by job? And does he routinely send telemarketing calls to his bookkeeper?

“Please call me back.”

I call back. He is unavailable.

Day 7 (Friday)

My son and I make the drive to my mother’s house in good time and arrive shortly before noon. I check my voicemail. There are two messages.

“Bodie, this is Jim Allen. I’ve got the proof ready and I’m ready to drop it off with you. Give me a call.”

“Bodie, this is Mary. I got an urgent call from Buffi. She says she has the proof ready and wants to know where to reach you so she can deliver it. I told her that you had rearranged your schedule based on the information they provided, but if you could give her a call and arrange a time….” There is a heavy sigh. “I just don’t know about these people. Enjoy your weekend.”

I hang up, pound my fist on my knee, swear quietly, and then, when I can be professional again, I call Buffi.

“Hello, this is Bodie Parkhurst. Is Buffi available?”

“No. She’s not here.”

“Can I leave a message for her?”

“Why do you want to talk to her?”

“I was calling about the proof she has ready for me.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

I bite my lip, take a deep breath, and say, “It’s for the state annual report. I’m returning Buffi’s call.”

“Oh. Oh. Well. She’s here. Just a minute.”

“Bodie,” Buffi says quickly. “I’ve got your proof ready. I can drop it off today.”

“But I’m out of town,” I say. “I rearranged my schedule because Jim told me the proof definitely wouldn’t be available today.”

“Well, it is. He likes to err on the side of caution.”

“But—”

“I can drop it off on Saturday.”

“But I’m out of town,” I say again.

“I know. When will you be back?”

“I’ll be back on Monday.”

“How about Sunday night around five? That’ll be before I go to my comedy club.”

“Let me call you when I get back to town. That way you’re not waiting around in case I get delayed.”

“All right.”
Day 9 (Sunday)

My son and I arrive home groggy and tired. We unpack the car and I call Buffi at 4:30pm.

“Hello?”

“Buffi?”

“Yes?”

“This is Bodie. I’m back. When did you want to drop off the proof?”

“Right away.”

“All right. Just give me a call when you get in the area and I’ll meet you at Starbuck’s.”

Hours pass.

6:30pm

The phone rings.

“Hello?”

“Hi. This is Buffi. I’m not going to make it before the show. My horses got out.”Was she planning to drive them over or what? What is it with these people and livestock? “I’ll have to drop the proof off afterwards.”

I am exhausted, but good manners are golden. Besides, they are ingrained. “What time does it get out?”

“9:30.”

Cooperation has its limits. “I’m going to have to ask that you drop it by my house, then. My son goes to school tomorrow. I need to get him into bed.”

“That’s fine.”

Hours pass.

10:30pm

There is a knock at the door. Buffi has arrived. She is a bushy-haired, portly woman in an elderly, snug sleeveless sweater. She is not wearing a brassiere. I avert my eyes hastily to the thick wad of papers in her hand.

“Is that the proof?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go inside and take a quick look.”

I lay the papers on the table and flip through. There are several sheets of each of the two pages. The top sheet—the best one, presumably—is heavily smeared.

“It’s pretty dirty,” I say.

“We wanted to get it to you right away.”

But they had three days to let it dry, my inner voice shouts. Why did they have to yank it off the press and fold, spindle, and mutilate it?

A proof is a proof, dirty or not. I thank Buffi for bringing it to me, say good night, and fall into bed.

Day 10

I drop my son off at school and hurry home to review my proof in more detail. I pour a cup of coffee, open the blinds, and lay the sheet in the morning sunlight. Everyone is tan except for the African Americans. They are Stygian. Everyone is also flat. Everything above about a sixty percent tone has filled solidly.  I can’t believe it. Was I really that far off? I go to my computer, open the Photoshop files, and start rolling the mouse over the images, watching the numbers in the “info” box rise and fall. The images could be pulled a bit more, but the numbers I’m seeing in the “info” box don’t tally with the dark proof.

I call Buffi. “Hi Buffi, did you get home all right last night?”

“Oh yes, it was fine. I’m used to the drive.”

“Good. Can we talk about the proof a bit?”

“What about it?”

“Well, it’s pretty dark. And the tones are flat. We’re losing a lot of detail.”

“I was rather pleased with the way it printed.”

“Take a look at the—do you have a copy there?”

“No. Jim has them. Let me open it on my monitor.”

“But that won’t tell you what I’m seeing on the printout. A monitor doesn’t give a true image.”

“I know that. Okay, what’s the problem?”

Even though I know better, I give up. “Well, the governor has a heavy tan, for one thing.”

She laughs.

“And that woman is wearing bib overalls. You should be able to see stitching, folds, the modeling from fading. And everything’s solid black.”

“But it looks fine to me.”

“But you’re looking at it on your monitor.”

“I. Know. That,” she says, enunciating every word. “I can see every fold, every stitch. That tells me it’s in the file.”

“Exactly. But it’s not on the printout,” I say.

“But that guy in the next picture over is crystal clear. I can see every hair on his chest. The file’s fine.”

“But it’s not on the printout. Is it possible that in all the moving something got bumped on the lino settings?”

“No.”

“Could you at least check?”

“No. It’s a closed system.”

“Can’t you adjust it a bit, see if we could lighten the images a little?”

“No. All I can do is push “Print.”

“There must be something you can adjust.”

“There’s not. You sent me a pdf.” She snips off the words. “All I can do is print what’s in the file.”

“This is not acceptable. Could the ink have been run heavy on the press? Or could the plate have been burned too heavily?”

“That could be. There was a light screen on the one side and they might have burned the film too much trying to get it to hold.”

“That could well be it,” I say, relieved. “I’ll pull the images a bit more from my end if the numbers allow it and darken that screen. Could I see another proof, this time one that hasn’t been burned so heavily?”

‘You’ll have to pay for it,” she says.

“But I’m not seeing a true representation of the file,” I protest.

“I’ll ask Jim, but you’ll have to pay for it,” she repeats. “The images are dark because you sent a pdf.”

I have never heard of such a thing. Like all computer tools, pdfs went through a shaky period in the beginning, but I have been shipping them to printers all over the country for years now and no one has ever raised that issue. But I don’t challenge her. I have to work with her. I want her to like me enough to be careful with my job. If she can’t handle pdfs, I won’t send pdfs.

“Is that a problem for you? Would you rather get an application file?”

“Well…” she hedges.

“How do most of your clients send you their files?”

“As application files.”

“I can do that if that would be easier for you.  Can you handle a Mac Quark file?”

“Yes. No problem.”

“What platform do you run on?”

“IBM.”

“And you can handle a Mac file? I’m surprised. Most printers have trouble cross-platforming the fonts.”

“We do it all the time. It’s no problem.”

She hangs up.

I want to smack her.

Email to Mary:
Re: The Proof

Well, I looked at the proof, and there are some problems. The images are quite dark, and we’re losing a lot of detail, particularly in the darker areas. Buffi says that the plate may have been burned too long, that she has no way of controlling the values of the film when she pulls it, and that if we want another proof—one that hasn’t been burned too long—we’ll have to pay for it. She also says that because I sent a pdf file she had no way of controlling the tones on the film.

In light of these facts—and that we seem to be stuck with this printer—here’s what I suggest. Since the pdf seems to be a problem for her and she says most of their clients bring in application files, I’ll do that. She says they can handle a Mac Quark file, so I’ll just pre-press the hell out of the file—clean it up, collect the images, include the fonts, and so forth.

Email from Mary
Re: The Proof

Don’t bother with another proof, since we’re not going to be using that technology anyway. I think your idea’s a good one. It’s not the way we’ve been doing it, but we’ve done it before, and thank goodness Quark is reliable. Quark is our friend. Go ahead with the CD, send it off, then let them know it’s coming.

I spend the afternoon of Day 10 and the morning of Day 11 going over the files with a fine-tooth comb, checking alignments, checking color values, checking rules, printing out a laser proof, gathering everything together, and overnighting it down to the printer.

I go home, send an email, and call. Jim is unavailable. Buffi is gone for the day. I leave a message with the woman who answers the phone.

Silence.

Day 12 (The last day)

I have an email on my machine. “Allen Printing,” reads the return line. I am elated. After days of sending emails and placing telephone calls, I have at last gotten my very first email back. It is from Buffi.

And then I read it.

Good morning. The files did indeed arrive on Wednesday. I have been able to open and look at them. The fonts are there for the PowerMac but are not available for the PC. All I get is a zero K file on the PC.

We got the black and whites.

I was somewhat surprised to only get the raw files as I believe I indicated I would prefer the PDF’s with the raw files available only as back up. However, it was late and perhaps I was not as clear as I thought I was. I will be making the PDF (as that is what the film burner requires) this a.m. We will be in touch as soon as I have them in the proper form.

I stare. I am non-plussed, again. Why would she expect me to send PC fonts? She knows I am working on the Mac platform, creating a Mac file. Of course I sent Mac fonts. And of course all she gets is zero K on the PC. Few fonts convert. We talked about it.

Why is she surprised to get the application files? We talked about that, too,  in some detail. She told me that was how most of her clients provided files. She said that she had no control over values on a pdf file. We agreed that I would send the Quark file. She said they could handle it. And why the hell was she so upset about a pdf in the first place if “that is what the film burner requires?”

What is she doing to “get the files in the proper form?” And is that a snide implication that I’ve been sloppy? She says she doesn’t have the fonts. Why is she even touching the files without them? Will I be seeing a final proof set with Courier and Helvetica?

I forward the email to Mary, then call.

“Mary, I just don’t know what to do. I talk to them, I ask them what they want, I give them that, and then they tell me that they can’t work with it. She said she couldn’t manipulate the tone on the pdf, so we agreed on the application file. Now she says I sent the wrong fonts. Why would I send PC fonts? It’s a Mac file. I work on a Mac.” I can hear my voice rising. I stop and take a deep breath. “I’m afraid of this job. I’m afraid that they’ll try to print it and it’ll look terrible, and the State will reject it, and I don’t think this guy is a big enough operation to eat that kind of a loss. I think it could push them under. But the state has a right to expect a quality print job.”

“Let me call Bob,” she says. “This has got to stop. We can’t do this any more. Don’t do anything. Don’t respond to her email. Don’t call. We’ve got to resolve this.”

4:30 pm
Phone call from Mary

Allen Printing is a thing of the past! Bob, Andy, Andy’s boss, and I had a conference call. I explained what was going on. Andy’s boss strongly suggested that he contact Jim Allen and encourage them to bow out, for much the same reasons that you mentioned—if we had to reject the job it could put them under—and none of us have any confidence in them. We’re going to go back to the shop we used the first year we did this job. It was a perfect press check. I’m very happy.”

So am I. I hang up, lean back in my chair, and relax for the first time in days. But the questions still remain. How did they get awarded the job in the first place? Why was Andy at the State so defensive about them? Did they have something on him? Is he related to somebody there? Was he afraid to admit to an error in judgment? Where exactly is that press? Are cows and chickens involved? What format do they prefer for file submission? Why does Mr. Allen lie a lot? Why don’t they put a telephone in the press building? Why did the Department of Transportation only make the freeway exits only work one way? Is it really true that Buffi’s job consists solely of pushing the “Print” button on the film burner? If so, where can I sign up?

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Back when I was young and dewy-eyed and non-motherly and designing annual reports and presentation folders I found myself running into a quality-control issue. I had created a lovely folder. To make it even more lovely I had designed the folder to be a copper metallic cover. The spine was a contrasting dark green. Beautiful, right?

Well, it would have been, except that when the folder when through the scorer, the die-cutter, and assembly something slipped, just the tiniest bit, and I ended up with a spine that was mostly dark green, and a front cover that was mostly metallic copper. Because the printer was a very good printer, and this was a very big project, he reprinted the whole thing, and stood over the scorers and die-cutters and assemblers to make sure that the green showed ONLY on the spine, and the copper showed ONLY on the cover. It cost him a lot of money, but he did it, because the studio at which I worked was a very good client.

Because we were good clients, though, we didn’t want a repeat of that. So when the job was finished I sat down with the printer and we talked about how we could avoid having that happen again. He offered a simple piece of advice: Don’t have the spine art end right where the fold is supposed to happen.  When you do that you’re setting up a situation where trouble can happen. Or, if you must have a contrasting spine and it must have one side right on the fold, wrap the the color, pattern or texture around the back a little way.

His advice was good. I didn’t realize HOW good it really was until I started designing book covers for publishers. Book printing is a very different animal from annual report and presentation cover printing. Book presses make their money not from printing comparatively small numbers of beautiful, complex projects, but from printing lots and lots of books. Fast. Major book presses often don’t print anything else. They are predominantly located in what one publisher called “printing ghettos” in the Midwest, and in Florida.

Book presses have to work fast in order to turn a profit, because publishers must keep the printing cost per book low enough to allow for royalties, a publisher mark-up, a distributor mark-up, shipping, and a bookstore mark-up.

And that brings us back to book spines. When presses, scoring machines, and binders are moving as fast as they must, it’s incredibly easy for something to slip. That’s one reason for allowing reasonable margins, for running “full-bleed” images off the edges of the page at least an eighth of an inch–and for wrapping cover images and colors around the spine, rather than running them up to the fold lines and stopping. In theory, yes, the printer should be able to print a contrasting spine. But do you really want to design a potential problem into your cover?

Take a look at the samples below. And next time you’re in the bookstore start turning books over. Note how many of them wrap cover images around the spine and well onto the back of the book–or flood a single color or image over the entire cover, and inset text into it.

Option 1: Images and colors are wrapped over the entire cover:

Advantages: The printer need only be reasonably accurate to get the title and spine copy to look good.

Disadvantages: There may not be a lot of room for back copy. In this case, the image has too much detail to allow for flowing text over it, which means copy can only happen on the color bars.

Option 2: Image wraps around spine and onto the back cover.

Advantage: I use this solution or variants of it a lot, because in many ways it’s the best alternative. It minimizes printing issues, and still allows for lots of back space for copy.

Disadvantage: There really aren’t any. Just make sure you wrap the image far enough onto the back to allow for a nice texture bar–and so it doesn’t look like a printing mistake.

Option 3: Cover image wraps crown of spine, but ends at fold onto book back. (Dumb, dumb dumb dumb…)

Advantage: The printer need only align one sharp color contrast, try to center the spine copy, and try to center the cover copy. Not really much of an advantage; the poor guy still has to hit three elements, spot on. It might be fun to watch your printer’s head explode, though.

Disadvantage: The poor guy has to hit three elements spot on. And you’ve lost the visual interest of that nice texture bar on the back.

Option 4: Contrasting spine, colors shift on both folds (use only if you really want to drive your printer into bankruptcy, homicide, or suicide):

Advantage: If it’s done right, it can look lovely.

Disadvantage: Okay, start counting. How many places does the printer have to get exactly right? Now consider the fact that print plates can shift, and paper stretches as it goes through the press. And we haven’t even talked about film plate registration yet. This is just a really, really bad idea.

Wrap your images.

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