Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wisdom from Yogi Berra - the greatest Zen Master baseball has ever produced

Some Yogiisms to keep in mind as we approach Print 09:

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

"You've got to be very careful. If you don't know where you are going you might not get there."

"Take it with a grin of salt."

"We made too many wrong mistakes."

"I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?"

- Yogi Berra (Born: May 12, 1925)

Effective purchase decision-making

Effective purchase decision-making on, for example, investing in new equipment, can be helped if you start by looking at the problem as a four level hierarchy of needs. Make sure that each level of the hierarchy is addressed, understood, and agreed to, in order from one to four, before proceeding on to the next. Don’t confuse the levels.

The four levels are:

1- The desired impact on your business you wish the purchase will make. E.g. Increased profit, competitive advantage, attract new clients etc.

2- The benefits to your business the purchase will need to have in order to deliver the desired impact. E.g. Shorter makeready, less waste, faster turnaround, better print fidelity, etc.

3- The features of the proposed equipment or process that will lead to the benefits. E.g. Fewer steps, greater accuracy, automation, etc.

4- The technology behind the features. E.g. Laser technology, media technology, thermal compensation, etc.

In most cases, the features and especially the technology are only useful for helping to understand and prove how the benefits and the net impact will be achieved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Secret Shopper

Large corporations often use “secret shoppers” – employees posing as customers – as an objective way to see just how well their customer service is actually performing. Why not ask one of your customers to be your secret shopper? Create a list of print buyer processes, from sales, quotation, prepress, proofing, presswork, bindery, finishing, etc., right out to final delivery. Ask your secret shopper to evaluate your company’s performance (below average, average, above average) in each area. In particular, ask them to note how your performance compared to their expectations, as well as your competition, at each phase of the process. A gift certificate for dinner or a modest discount on their next print order might prove an effective incentive.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Way Back View - Printers rule

Printers and publishers have always looked to find ways to keep their businesses at the forefront in their customer's minds. One method was to provide them with a practical tool that would likely be used every day. In the past, giving away specialty rulers was a popular way to do this since they had markings for things like picas, points, and column widths which were of concern to print specifiers that regular rulers did not have. The rulers were usually made of wood, but not always. The Howard-Wesson Co. ruler, for example is made of brass, while the Vancouver Sun/Province ruler is plastic and the John Wilkes Press proportion wheel (yes it's not really a ruler) is solid paper.

"Click on images to enlarge."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Custom, Spot, Brand, and Pantone Colors

Custom, Spot, Brand, and Pantone colors are all examples of custom single printing ink colors other than Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, or blacK. Just like CMYK inks, they filter (subtract) light that is reflected from the substrate.On the left below is a patch of color created with 4/C process screens and on the right the same color using a single custom ink.
Custom colors are typically specified using one or more of the following:
1- a reference physical sample such as a swatchbook, color chip, or physical sample
2- a numeric value that references a swatch or color guide book
3- a formula or recipe to mix ink ingredients in order to achieve the custom color
4- a numeric value that references a color model such as CIE L*a*b*

The Pantone reference swatchbook for its proprietary custom colors, contains a numeric color reference number, sample swatches of the custom color, as well as formulae for mixing inks to achieve the selected color.
Note: There are no specific color tolerances defined by Pantone as to what constitutes an acceptable match when variation naturally occurs.

The corporate brand color reference swatchbook below, mimics Pantone's but adds acceptable "High/Low" reference samples to accommodate ink density variations that occur naturally in presswork.

The primary brands of proprietary custom color systems are:

Pantone, the dominant spot color specification system in the United States and Europe.
Toyo, a popular spot color system that is used in Japan.
DIC, Dainippon Ink & Chemicals, Inc., another common Japanese spot color system
ANPA a palette of 300 colors specified by the American Newspaper Publishers Association for spot color usage in newspapers
HKS Hostmann-Steinberg Druckfarben, Kast + Ehinger Druckfarben und H. Schmincke & Co. containing 120 spot colors and 3250 tones for coated and uncoated paper

The hues for all these proprietary colors are defined using name, ink mix formula, and (not always published) CIE L*a*b* values.

Aspects of the Pantone spot color system

Custom colors are not limited by the gamut constraints imposed by monitor displays or press gamuts that depend on CMYK primaries. About 95% of all Pantone spot colors are within monitor gamut, while only about 34% of Pantone spot colors are within the standard CMYK gamut.
This short video (click on the "play" arrow) shows 1113 Pantone colors (excluding metallics and fluorescents) plotted against the GRACoL7 CMYK gamut. Only 376 PMS colors (33.8%) are actually within gamut for four color process (at 175 lpi) printing.
The Pantone GOE color library is very similar to the original Pantone spot color library in that respect since most of the GOE colors fall between the original Pantone colors.

The Pantone spot color library was never designed, nor intended, to be used as a way to specify colors that will be printed using 4/C process CMYK. As a result, because of the gamut differences mean that 4/C process simulations of the Pantone library will, can only provide an approximation and in the majority of cases, deliver disappointing results.

At left a 4/C simulation of the Pantone spot ink color at right.
Some key notions:

1- The CMYK recipes for Pantone spot colors are generic approximations. They do not reflect regional print color standards, nor individual printshop color.

2- Approximately 66% of the library is out of gamut for 4/C process.

3- The specific colors in the library are based on ink mixing formulae - not target CIEL*a*b* color values. The CIEL*a*b* color values included with some applications, e.g. Adobe Photoshop, are only included as a courtesy to assist with conversion to CMYK – they are not the target for the color itself.

4- The Pantone Goe library is not intended to replace PMS but to supplement it (PMS library is ~1089 colors vs Pantone Goe’s 2,058). Pantone Goe spot colors are primarily “’tween” colors and about 400 colors overlap with the original Pantone spot colors.

5- There are no published specifications for acceptable variation of a Pantone spot color due to natural variation on press. Each printer/specifier/customer must determine their own color tolerance specifications.

6- The RGB values in the GOE swatchbook are actually sRGB values-I.e. not a typical printing color space.

Custom/Spot colors in the pressroom
1- CMYK inks are formulated to ISO specifications - there are no ISO Spot ink specifications. This may cause variations in the final color when the inks are prepared at different geographic locations.

2- CMYK inks are designed to overprint (wet trap) - Spot color inks designed to print isolated (dry trap). This can cause unexpected results with overprinting unless they have been specifically custom formulated to wet trap.

3- CMYK inks are transparent - Spot inks are typically semi-opaque.

4- CMYK inks have defined density (ink film thickness), dot gain and trap targets - there are none for Spot color inks.

5- Pantone spot colors are generally not formulated to be halftone screened. Some colors, as a result of the pigment grind used may appear grainy, especially with high lpi AM/XM and FM screens. If the custom spot color ink will be screened, it is best to confirm with the ink supplier that the ink formulation is suitable.

6- Pantone spot colors are often not mixed by the ink vendor, or printer, using the actual official Pantone base colors. This may cause color shifts due to the different spectral qualities of the base inks used (metamerism). To help ensure color consistency when printing at different locations, try to make sure that the base inks used to create the custom color are the same and from the same ink vendor.

7- Spot color inks are typically multi-pigment which may cause unexpected color shifts under different lighting conditions (metamerism).

8- Because of their ink composition, some custom spot colors may shift dramatically when heat is applied or when laminated. Always test before using on a live job.

9- Ink draw-downs, or pulling samples of ink on paper, tests the color of an ink mixture by spreading a thin film of ink on paper with a spatula or by using a tiny tabletop press, generically called a "Little Joe," that holds a 4×6´´ offset printing plate. By using real ink on the paper intended for the job, users get a good prediction of how that ink will look on the actual substrate, allowing adjustments in color and paper selection well before press time. However, since the tabletop press does not use water, as is used on the proper offset press, there can be subtle differences in how the spot color will actually look in the final presswork especially if the spot color will be halftone screened.

Some best practices and tips – primarily for designers and brand owners
1- Wherever possible use/insist on Pantone/Goe base inks to mix Pantone spot colors.

2- When developing custom/brand colors, it is best to use CMYK inks that conform to ISO 12647-2 as the primary base colors. Although this reduces the range of possible hues, it will allow 4/C process printing to simulate the spot brand color accurately in print applications where the spot color cannot be used.

3- When developing custom/brand colors make sure that the ink formulae contain information about the ink vendor of choice.

4- Formula-based custom/brand colors should include reference CIE L*a*b* values. The CIE L*a*b* values should be the target for color and take priority over sample swatches.

5- Custom/brand colors should include a specification for acceptable defined with either a high/low density range or a CIE L*a*b* DeltaE value. Providing a swatch guide with holes through it as in this example:allows users to place the swatch over the press sheet to more easily confirm the color match.

6- RGB values associated with custom/brand colors should specify the source (e.g. sRGB, Adobe 1998, etc)

7- Beware of the effects of optical brighteners used in paper. If proofing paper and final substrate don’t have equal level of optical brighteners then color will probably not align between them - especially in pastel spot colors.

8- The amount of optical brighteners, as can be seen in the below image taken under blacklight, that is used in the Pantone GOE guide (at left in the below image) is higher than in the standard Pantone swatch book (at right below):Because optical brightening agents can fade quickly under normal lighting conditions, this may reduce the integrity of the colors displayed in the GOE guide more quickly than the standard Pantone swatchbook. Therefore, store swatchbooks away from light.

9- The "white" ink used in pastel Pantone and other custom colors is essentially a varnish. As such it will yellow with age and cause a color shift.

10- The only proof of presswork is actual presswork - all off-press proofs share some degree of compromise - especially when proofing spot colors. Press proof whenever possible - especially when the spot colors will be halftone screened. Include any special finishing (e.g. coatings and lamination). Always clarify whether spot colors represented on proofs are valid for color or just place holders. Treat draw-downs of spot color screen tints with skepticism. Treat inkjet proofs of spot screen tints with suspicion and proofs showing spot color overprints with humor.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Wayback View – Typesetting, 1946

I began my full-time career in the graphic arts as a production artist in the early 1970s. At that time time hot metal type was in its prime. From a graphic designer's point of view, one of the qualifications of a good typesetter was their ability to pull galley type at the same text weight during the seemingly endless rounds of text changes.
In 1981, my employer, Price Printing, employed one of the last hot metal typesetters in western Canada – as a courtesy to the few clients who still requested that type of work - mostly business cards and wedding invitations. In 1983 he retired, fortunately for him, a year before the arrival of the Apple Macintosh.
Preview images from the video

Please press the play arrow to view the video. Note that it may stop for a moment while the video buffers in the background.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quality printing often goes unrecognized

The annual Premier Print Awards (a.k.a. "The Bennys") are the print industry's equivalent of "The Oscars" and will be handed out at a gala affair during Print 09 in September. Having been a judge for this award (that's me in the blue shirt top row center in the above photo) made me realize just how much good presswork is never even entered for award consideration. So, I'd like to highlight two pieces whose quality have always impressed me – especially considering that you would not expect such quality used for these applications.

First is the Behr series of paint catalogs which, in North America, may be picked up at any Home Depot hardware store. Over the past ten years or so, hundreds of thousands of these catalogs have been printed by Creative Press in California using 10 micron FM screening – a process that is extremely demanding of the entire print production process. The fineness of the halftone screening provides true photographic print fidelity even when examined under a loupe. It's a level of quality that one rarely sees in even the finest corporate brochures, let alone in such a modest application as paint catalog printing.
Cover of Behr paint brochure

At left is a paint can image as reproduced in the brochure at 100% and shown enlarged at right

Next are the newspaper flyers produced by Transcontinental Press.
Grocery store newspaper flyer insert

Here, 25 micron FM screening is used on relatively poor quality paper to provide near-photographic reproduction of their client's products. Again, even when examined with a loupe, the level of detail is astounding - especially considering, not only the paper that's being used, but the high speed web presses, and the enormous volume of flyers produced.
At left is a product image as reproduced at 100% in the flyer and shown enlarged at right

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

RE:Print - "Evolution"

"Click image to enlarge"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Using FM Screening for ink savings

The average ink savings by switching from, for example, a 175 lpi AM/XM halftone to a 20 micron FM halftone, is about 10-15% (depending on the range of tones in the original art). Since the average sheetfed printer will spend about 3-4% of their gross earnings on ink, as an example, for a $10,000,000 dollar a year printer the ink savings using FM screening will range from about $35,000 to $52,500 a year.
The reduction in ink usage for the same final presswork appearance, comes primarily from the use of a cut-back curve applied to the FM screened plate, the thinner ink film characteristic of FM screening, and the higher percentage of the tonality being created optically (optical dot gain) .

How higher dot gain saves ink

The smaller the halftone dot is, the greater its perimeter to area ratio is.
Since dot gain occurs at the perimeter of the dot this results in smaller dots having more dot gain. And since FM halftone screens are made up of very small dots they will initially have a higher dot gain compared to a conventional AM/XM halftone. That higher dot gain compared with, for example, a 175 lpi screen, must be “normalized” by using a tone reproduction curve applied to the plate to achieve the same final presswork appearance. As a result, to get the same final tone on press that a 50% dot at 175 lpi gives - you might only need a 40% dot with an FM screen. Because a 40% dot area carries less ink than a 50% dot area - the result is a reduction in ink usage.

For example, here is a 4/C image rendered at 175 lpi:Left bottom is a 50% tone, center bottom is the 50% tone on plate, right bottom is the final result: a 65% tone on the press sheet. The look of this presswork will be the target for the FM screen presswork.

Next is the same image but this time rendered with a 20 micron FM screen:Left bottom is a 50% tone, center bottom is the 50% tone on plate, right bottom is the final result: an 80% tone on the press sheet. The presswork is now too dark compared to the 175 lpi AM/XM target.

However, by applying a tone compensation curve to the plate, the extra dot gain can be factored out:Left bottom is a 50% tone, center bottom is the 50% tone mapped to 40% on the plate, right bottom is the final result: a 65% tone on the press sheet. Now the FM presswork is tonally aligned to the AM/XM target presswork. And since lighter tones on plate carry less ink area, the result is a reduction in ink consumption.

FM's thinner ink film also helps save ink

Small FM dots cannot carry as thick a film of ink as larger AM/XM dots can because there is not as much dot area to carry the ink. This characteristic also contributes to ink savings.
The below image shows the thickness of ink on a 175 lpi AM/XM halftone. Ink density has been mapped to height to show the thickness (depth exaggerated for illustrative purposes).
Here is the same 3D projection - this time with a 20 micron FM screen:
In North America, approximately 80% of telephone directory printers and 60% of newspaper flyers (as well as 90% of WalMart flyers) are printed using FM screening in order to take advantage of ink savings for cost and well as environmental impact reductions.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Believing is seeing - improving the decision-making process

Although we probably all hope to make business decisions in a clear, logical manner, unfortunately our decision making process can easily be compromised without our even being aware that it's happening. Our decision-making processes whether it's about new equipment purchases or press-check approvals is often exploited by vendor sales and marketing people - to their advantage.
Here are some of the classic effects we may fall prey to. It can be a good idea, during any decision-making process, to take a step back and review these effects to be certain that you haven't fallen prey to one of them.
Halo Effect - Something is rated highly simply because there already exists a positive impression of its source. For example, hardware from a respected or existing supplier often rates higher than hardware from an unknown vendor even though an objective analysis might prove otherwise.
Reflection Effect - Employees provide input to the decision making process, for better or worse, based on their perception of management.
Belief Effect - Personal decision making is given over to an outside trusted source because the individual does not have the skills needed to make the decision. This can happen even if the trusted source may not have the skills to make the right decision themselves. We may reject something if we have a bias against the person, organization, or group to which the person belongs – however we are usually inclined to accept a statement by someone we like.
Demand Effect – We conform to the decision making expectations that we believe others have of someone in our position.
Mob Effect – The individual's perception of a situation, or decision to be made, is altered to conform to the opinions held by the group.
Selective Effect - The individual selectively searches for facts that support certain conclusions but disregards other facts that support different conclusions. We may actively screen-out information that we do not think is important. Later, we may distort our memories of chosen and rejected options to justify the chosen options.
Expediency Effect - The individual, or group, prematurely ends the search for information, often by accepting the first alternative that looks like it might work. This action is based on the idea that making a decision is better than no decision at all or of continued protracted arguments/discissions.
Optimism Effect - We tend to want to see things in a positive light and this can distort our perception and thinking. Often referred to as wishful thinking.
Recency Effect - We tend to place more attention on more recent information and either ignore or forget more distant information.
Repetition Effect - A willingness to believe the things that we have been told most often and by the greatest number of different of sources.

"We see people and things not as they are, but as we are."
- Anthony de Mello (1931 - 1987) Jesuit Priest