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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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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Book Printing: Printing a Book Without Art Files

I just received a sample print book in the mail from a client saying he needed to potentially reprint the book without having the plates or art files.

I told him that this is not unusual. After all, once a print run has been completed, depending on the length of the run, the plates may have degraded. Long ago, many printers used to save the negatives and discard the plates. Now, I noted, printers save the digital information for a book printing job on hard drives or removable computer media.

My client did some research and found that the prior copy of the book (last printed a number of years ago) was on a Zip disk. If it could be found, potentially a Zip drive could be located, and the file could be accessed by the book printer.

(As an aside, the Iomega Zip disk was popular in the 1990s. It held 100 MB of digital information (or up to 250MB in later years–which at that time was a lot of digital information–and graphic designers transmitted files to the printer by submitting the job on a Zip disk. Of course this is nothing compared to the multiple tens of gigabytes small USB drives now hold, and regardless, designers usually now upload files to their book printer online.)

So the gist of my client’s dilemma is that he either has no art file from which to reprint his book, or he has an antiquated file on an antiquated medium from almost a quarter of a century ago. What to do?

A Description of the Print Book

My client’s book is 8” x 10” in dimension, one color inside with a four-color cover, and is perfect bound. It is a history book, a trade paperback about flight, with text and full-page images inside the book and a sepia-toned image created out of process color that wraps around the front and back covers and the spine. It is beautiful.

My client also sent me what he called a dust jacket for the hard-bound version of the book. The first thing that struck me was that the untrimmed dust jacket looked more like a proof. In addition, the color did not match the cover of the trade paperback. It contained a lot more red in the sepia image (presumably an image of the Wright Brothers and their airplane).

So I looked closely with a loupe. I noticed that the paperback book cover image had a halftone dot pattern and that the image was also composed of rosettes (a pattern of circles from the overlaying and slight tilting of the process color plates against one another to avoid moire patterns). The unbound cover (dust jacket) had no such pattern. Given this information, I now assume that it had been produced in a limited run on a digital press (perhaps an HP Indigo, given the quality of the image and the size of the press sheet).

The Analysis of the Book and a Plan for Its Reproduction

First of all, my client’s printer is searching for the Zip disk. Obviously, this is the best choice for reproduction since he can just produce new plates for the new print run. That’s Plan A. Plan B is to reproduce the job from a hard copy of the print book using a scanner.

With this in mind, I studied the inside of the book.

The images are all very old. Therefore they are of marginal technical quality but maximum historical interest. They are spotty. Some are better than others, but this is not really a problem because their purpose is to convey information. One expects this old an image to be scratched, washed out, or otherwise compromised, and this does not detract from the value of the print book. Therefore, I have suggested that my client have his printer “copydot scan” the interior pages of the book (scan the halftones and text exactly as is, reproducing the halftone dot pattern of the black-only images without descreening and then rescreening the pages–particularly the photos).

The covers are more challenging. Since they are composed of four colors, they probably cannot be copydot scanned. Rather, the printer will need to scan the large, wrap-around image and text as a single four-color image. Then he will need to descreen it (blur it slightly to make the halftone dots and rosettes invisible), then sharpen it and separate the four halftones (C, M, Y, and K) that will constitute the single cover image and text. Fortunately the image will be forgiving. Since it is a sepia image of two figures and an airplane, it looks more like a painting than a photo. It could even be fuzzier than it already is, and the image would just be more artistic and evocative. This is a blessing, since this kind of scanning, descreening, and rescreening will reduce the quality of each successive version of the image (i.e., every generation of re-copying will degrade the original; in this case, though, it will still make a good print book cover).

On my client’s book cover, the title is hand-written and printed in a light yellow (under the loupe it is mostly yellow with a slight halftone dot of magenta). The subtitle is almost white (white with a slight black halftone dot). Therefore, both should be readable in the next generation image, once scanned and manipulated. The spine is pretty much the same (i.e., probably quite readable, even after being scanned, descreened, rescreened, and printed).

The back of the book is another matter. On the hard-cover book dust jacket proof is a description of the book surprinted across the extension of the sky (which goes from the front cover across the spine and across the back cover). On the printed paperback are quotes about the book, pricing information, and a barcode. My client has said he would like to omit two quotes and add the description of the book on the back cover.

So this is what I suggested: He should ether recreate the mottled sky as the background of the back cover or use a consistent sepia screen (a four-color build to match the front cover and spine). Then he should reset all of the copy (description of the book, two fewer quotes, the barcode, and the pricing information) and submit only this page as new copy. Basically, the cover photo of two men and an airplane would now end at the edge of the spine where it abuts the back cover.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Technology marches on. Don’t assume the medium on which you save your job will be around in twenty years. That said, printers often have an uncanny ability to keep at least some of the old technology around to accommodate the needs of their clients.
  2. If you can’t do what you want to do, there’s usually an alternative. If my client’s print book cover were not ideally suited to scanning, descreening, and rescreening, he could have just paid a graphic designer to produce a new cover and then copydot scanned the interior of the book. If the images in the text had not been as forgiving as they will be (i.e., old photos to begin with), that might have been a problem. My client may have needed to redesign the interior of the print book.
  3. Your printer will have ideas like these. Tell him what you want to do, show him the book, and ask for his advice.
  4. Assume each generation of copying will degrade a printed image. Make sure you request a high-quality proof so you can see how the final printed book will look. Then ask about any potential unwanted patterning (moire) from the screening/descreening process.

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