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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘Proofing’ Category

Online Printing Services: Book Printing Options for Proofing- Hard-Copy vs. Remote Virtual Proof

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

A client recently contacted me regarding a book printing job, a perfect-bound textbook for high school students. The 312-page book has black-only ink for the text, while the cover is 4-color plus one PMS ink. The online printing company manufacturing this book for my client has recently installed a new virtual proofing system called Rampage Remote.

I personally have used this technology before (and another vendor’s remote proofing technology called InSite). In both cases, the business printing service provides a virtual link on the computer to a proof of the preflighted, imposed, press-ready files from which the final plates will be burned. The actual product the designer or print buyer will see is a PDF of each individual page on his or her computer monitor.

Which to choose?

My client wanted advice on what to do: request a virtual proof or a hard-copy proof from the custom printing service.

First of all, I noted that the virtual proof would be produced from the actual, final files from which plates would be burned. This all but assured my client that no errors could creep into the process. Since the file used to produce an inkjet proof and the file used to produce a press-ready plate are usually slightly different, an error not visible on the proof occasionally will show up on press. By using a Rampage Remote proofing workflow, the online printing vendor would eliminate this chance.

I also noted that the price would be the same either way, for hard-proof or soft-proof, and the schedule would be the same as well. That said, it was possible that not needing to send the proof both ways by courier or UPS would save a little time.

I encouraged my client to ask the book printer for a hard-copy inkjet contract proof for the textbook cover and a Rampage Remote virtual proof for the text.

Why did I offer this advice?

Color on an LCD, CRT, or TFT display is composed of the additive primaries: red, green, and blue. In contrast, color on a digital inkjet proof is composed of the same subtractive primary colors used on an offset printing press: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Granted, algorithms have been devised to coordinate these two color spaces, but they do not always exactly match. Color presented on a monitor may be slightly different from the same color on an inkjet proof. In addition, even if the digital information driving the color monitor is accurate, an improperly calibrated monitor will display inaccurate color. I felt that since my client had the time for an inkjet proof of the 4-color cover, it would be prudent for her to request one.

The text of the book printing job was another matter. Since the book was to be all black ink inside, there would be no potential color shift to address, so there was no reason not to request a Rampage Remote proof. My client would get the soft proof a day earlier than a hard-copy proof (i.e., no courier), and she could print out a copy of the text on her laser printer to facilitate proof review prior to the book printing.

Avoiding moire patterns

One thing that bears repeating here, however, is that the color inkjet hard-copy proof of the cover would not show the actual halftone dot structure of the final press job produced by the book printer. For that matter, neither would the hard-copy laser proofs she could have received for the text. Both inkjet proofs and laser proofs have their own halftone screening algorithms. If you look at a laser print under a high-powered loupe, you will see a dot pattern (but it won’t be the same as a PostScript halftone pattern on a platesetter). If you look at an inkjet proof under a loupe, it will appear to be almost continuous tone (actually, it’s made up of “dithered” color, also known as FM screening–minuscule spots of ink distributed randomly rather than in a regular AM screening pattern). The halftone screening patterns visible in an enlarged view of your digital printing service’s Rampage Remote PDF might actually approximate the dot pattern of the final printed piece more accurately.

Why is this “technospeak” relevant to you? In some cases, if the halftone grids conflict with regular patterns in the images themselves (for instance, with a checkerboard pattern or a Scottish tartan), undesirable moire patterns may be visible in the business printing vendor’s final book printing run. The only way to catch this prior to printing is with a true PostScript halftone dot proof, such as the Kodak Approval, which is rare and expensive these days. If you think this may happen to your job, point out the potential patterns and screen conflicts to your custom printing supplier, and ask for his advice.

Custom Book Printing Case Study: Deciding Which Printing Errors to Fix

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Custom book printing is a process, not a commodity. It involves many people, many skills, and many steps. To some extent, things go wrong in every press run. The challenge is to determine what constitutes an actual printing error and to work with the business printing service to correct it.

Identifying the Printing Problems

Upon reviewing F&G’s for a case-bound book project, a client contacted me and said she had found some printing errors. Based on my client’s descriptions, it appeared that all errors were smudges, ink streaks, scratches, or faint white text images within the black solids. The printing problems affected six pages within four press signatures.

To begin with, here’s a useful definition: F&G’s are the printed, folded, and gathered (but untrimmed and unbound) signatures of a perfect-bound or case-bound book. A book printing error caught at this point is expensive to fix, but it is easier and cheaper to reprint one signature or a few signatures and then bind the entire press run than it is to find the error after the books have been bound. At that point, a complete reprint by the book printing company might be necessary (or at least tearing off the covers, reprinting one or more signatures, and then rebinding and retrimming the books).

What Is Reasonable, and What Is Not?

The first step is to define the problem and determine if it is unacceptable or merely an annoyance. For my client, the scratches and smudges, as well as the light white type in the black solid areas, were unacceptable errors. They didn’t impede readability, but they made the workmanship of the custom book printer look shoddy. The misting (faint trails of ink on a block of text on one page, like fringes on the letterforms) was noticeable and irritating but not as bad.

The next step is to determine the number of pages affected by the problem or problems. For my client, the problems were confined to six pages within a 600-page book.

The final step, with the custom book printer’s help, is to determine the extent of the problem (how many copies of your book have been affected).

In my client’s case, the problems fell into three categories: press blanket issues, misting, and plate scratches. The light type caused by press blanket problems may have affected only some of the books (probably more rather than fewer, since the printer would have needed to see the error in the sample review sheets pulled from the press and then change the press blanket). Nevertheless, these pages were very unattractive, regardless of the number of copies affected, and therefore the book printer was willing to reprint the press signature.

The misting problems were less noticeable and probably did not extend throughout the entire press run. They reflected difficulties with the ink consistency and composition. The book printer probably saw the errors and made adjustments rather quickly.

Finally, the scratched plates probably affected every copy of the book, since plates are usually not changed during the press run. Because the error was so visible, and because it probably occurred in every book, a reprint of the signature was in order. Fortunately the book printer agreed.

It is common industry practice for the custom book printer to pull press sheets periodically throughout the run to check for all manner of errors, make appropriate changes to correct them, and remove problematic press sheets from the stack. Sometimes the printer doesn’t catch every error. That is why you need to look carefully at the F&G’s and work with the book printing vendor to determine the extent of any problems you catch. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, it is easier and cheaper to do this now than wait until the book has been bound.

Why Is Reaching a Compromise with Printing Companies Often a Wise Move?

This was a true compromise between the custom book printer and my client. The printing vendor reprinted the most egregious errors, and my client forgave one of the less noticeable problems. This compromise has allowed both the book printer and the client to feel comfortable about working together again on future projects.

Custom Book Printers Provide One Final Chance to Proof the Hardcover Case

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Of all the different printing services you will purchase as a print buyer, hardcover books will cost more than most business printing jobs. It therefore pays to get everything right with these projects. Print companies that specialize in custom book printing will often send you a sample case upon request so you can review the part of the book the reader will see first, one last time before the book has been bound.

The Problem: The Book Printer’s Sample Case Saves Lives (or at Least Jobs)

A client called me today with a problem. She had found a typo in the foil stamped text on the sample case she had just received. It was an additional digit in the ISBN number, so it had to be deleted. Period.

The good news: 1) She caught the error (that’s the purpose of a proof). 2) The digit was an extra “9” at the beginning of the ISBN number. The book printer was able to hone off the number on the foil stamping die so it would not print (although the extra space where the printer removed the digit would remain).

Things could have been much worse. If the printer had not been able to hone off the extra digit, or if the digit had been wrong, rather than superfluous, my client would have provided a new text file for the hardcover case. The book printer would have commissioned a new die, and repeated the proofing process by sending out a new sample case. The new die alone would have cost upwards of $450. And time would have been lost, possibly compromising the book production schedule.

Sample Case: What’s Included?

The sample case of a custom book printing might seem irrelevant when it arrives with the other proofs, but it is unwise to ignore such an important proofing opportunity. Essentially an actual one-off copy of the book cover that will encase the text signatures of your job, the sample case allows you to see:

1. the exact thickness of binder boards used for the casing
2. what fabric will cover the boards (color, thickness, and weave)
3. the quality of the turned edges (how the fabric will adhere to the outside of the boards and how it will look turned over the edges and glued onto the inside of the case)
4. how the foil stamping will adhere to the fabric covering the boards (crispness of the type, consistency of the foil application, and even whether the text will be centered on the spine)

What will be missing?

1. Your sample case will not include the endsheets and flyleaves (the paper covering the inside surface of the binder boards).
2. It will not include the headbands and footbands (small fabric pieces that hide the bind edge of the text signatures).
3. The sample case won’t include the “crash” or “mull” (a mixture of thick mesh and glue attached to the spine of the text signatures to stiffen and reinforce the binding edge of the book).
4. And, of course, the text signatures will be missing.

Check it carefully. Once the book printing company sets the text blocks into the covers, there are no remedies for errors other than tearing off the covers and reprinting. It is wise to review and approve the sample case within 24 hours of receiving it so as not to impede book production.

Printing Companies Offer Three Levels of Proofs

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The terms “Level 1, 2, and 3 proofs” are distinctions made by offset printing companies to qualify certain proofs as being of a higher color accuracy than others. Level 1, 2, and 3 are inkjet (not laser) digital proofs. This is a particularly useful designation for multi-page print jobs produced by paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, and magazine printers, since the proofs vary widely in cost, and over the course of a multi-page job, the price difference can really add up.

Level 3 Proofs

Level 3 proofs are not meant for color fidelity, just for position. Also referred to as D4 proofs by some printers, these proofs show placement of all elements, distance of type from trim margin, and general color. They are analogous to the film-based bluelines that used to be provided prior to the direct-to-plate workflow.

Good for: the overall look of your job and completeness of the job (to confirm that no elements are missing or too close to the trim margin)

Level 1 Proofs

Level 1 proofs reflect true color fidelity. They are “fingerprinted” to the press (calibrated to show exactly how the job will print on press) and are considered “contract proofs.” The Spectrum is an example of such a proof. Epson also makes high-quality inkjet proofing devices.

Some high quality Level 1 proofers show the halftone dot structure (rosettes). These include the Spectrum and the Kodak Approval. They also use a colored ink set that is congruent with traditional process C, M, Y, K inks. Other proofers are continuous tone printers that do not display a visible halftone dot pattern. These printers can be calibrated to be color faithful, but their ink sets only simulate traditional process colors, and accuracy and repeatability over time are not as good as for halftone dot proofing devices.

Some people prefer the dot proofs, saying that potential (problematic) moire patterns can be more easily predicted before the printing process. Others believe the continuous tone proofs are fine. In both cases, the accuracy of color, the actual percentages of halftone screens, fine type serifs, etc., are visible. What you see on the Level 1 proof is exactly what you should see on the final printed job.

Good for: accuracy of color, confirming that the screen percentages you specified are not too light or dark, showing accurate contrast between area screens and any type surprinted over them

Some printing companies will offer a mid-range proofing option between the Level 1 and Level 3 proofs. Many of these vendors regard only those proofs showing the actual dot structure as being Level 1 proofs, and consider the mid-range Level 2 proofs to include the high-quality continuous tone inkjet output. Level 3 would be the position-only lower quality proofs.

How to Proceed

If you are producing a case-bound book, for instance, with black-only text and a two-color dust jacket, the best plan would be to start with a Level 3 proof of your entire book. Then request Level 1 proofs for any color work, including the book cover, dust jacket, and the like.

Level 1 proofs are more expensive, so you would not want to pay for an entire set for a black-ink-only book. It would be of no benefit to you.

That said, if you see problems in the Level 3 proofs (perhaps type on a screen looks too light or too dark), you can request a Level 1 proof for a sample page, and then make a more informed decision as to whether to change anything.

Knowing how and when to request the various levels of proofs, whether from paperback book printers, hardcover book printers, catalog printers, magazine printers, even vendors that print newsletters or provide brochure printing, can help you see a more accurate representation of the final printed product.


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