Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Color MeTruant!

Press Checks Rule!

I just got word from Slippy that we might have to take another very important field trip to see Roy G. Biv at Ausmeer Inc., the printing outfit where she once worked and now hires as often as possible for projects at Slippy U. The thinly-veiled field trip we took last week might cause some to suggest I spent company time in ways that could be construed as "wasteful" or "fraudulent" but I found my lunch and field trip with Slippy and Roy to be ever so informative, giving me a rare glimpse into the world of printing presses.

We walked into Ausmeer and made our way back to Roy's office. A nice lady popped her head in and said that the checks had been bumped back an hour and a half.

"Guess it's lunch-time then," Roy said, and suggested we meet at a local bar not far from the place where the checks were going to happen. That confused me.

"I thought the press checks happened here" This kicked off the first in a typically overwhelming amount of questions I asked that afternoon. "Wait--Ausmeer outsourced this job?"

Slippy knew it was coming, and since she likes to indulge me and my millions of questions, she offered me an in-depth response that I had to go back and get in writing, because it's a complicated prospect, both technically and from a business perspective.

"Okay, Ausmeer has a digital press and traditional one and two color presses. And there are companies that have bigger 5 or 6 color presses which is for 4 color process and one or two spot colors or coatings, such as the UV that we used, that outsource only to certain printers."

"So, why don't you just go to that other printer if they have what you need?"

"If I hire Ausmeer and they source the job out, it keeps the cost down for both because the bigger presses are very expensive and most smaller companies can't afford them because of the amount of print you would need to justify owning one. It works out for both companies because it justifies one company buying the press, and it keeps it going non-stop with all of the little shops sending their business to them and the smaller shops don't have to turn down jobs or try to buy a press that they in reality don't have enough business to support."

"So, the whole little press outsourcing to the big ones sounds like those little birds that eat crap out of hippo's teeth. Symbiotic."


She discussed some press checks that sucked hours, even days from her life. She spent four years in Wisconsin one week, checking the forms around the clock.

"It was a 400 page catalog, running two presses at a time, like three times the size of the one you'll be seeing when we do today's checks. I had to be there constantly, because I had to approve every form. And it sucked because each page was tabbed with a color, so i had to make sure the tabs colors were all consistent between pages. It was brutal. I'd go back to my hotel and try to sleep for like two hours, and then come back. We were running 40,000 catalogs.. a new form every 4 hours for 4 days."

"Man, that sounds an awful lot like work to me. So, what's the worst case scenario if you go to a press check and the form is all fucked up?"

"The worse case scenario is that it doesnt turn out right at all and you have to rerun plates, remix inks, change papers to get the effect that you want. I had that happen with the magazine once and then you have to pick and choose your battles to which is the most important aspect of the print job. It's a give and take game."

We arrived at the pub and ordered some Stellas. Roy hadn't yet arrived and we looked over the menu, knowing that we couldn't get away with a pure liquid lunch. We would have to return to the office eventually.

"What, does it take that long to fix something?"

"Well, some changes can be done on the press like increasing color intensity. Some changes require running new screens which can take hours."

"Time is money."

"That is true," Slippy said. We clinked glasses and drank. "It's frustrating. Sometimes you need to move pages around so certain colors are by each other or so that there isn't heavy coverage on the edges of the paper cuz that pulls it harder and makes the inside pages not print as well."

At this time, Roy ambled up to the table. He looked harried, distressed, like a man who needed a beer at noon. He listened to Slippy learning me good on all things print, and looked at the waitress with relief when she delivered his drink. I would soon learn details that support both my need to hear other people's office dramas and my theory that the adult world is filled with middle-school children playing dress-up.

"I never in a million years thought about this stuff, ever. How many books and magazines and freaking catalogues have I looked at?" I've been reading for most of my life. Here was yet another industry that I relied upon but never considered.

"I'm telling you. There's tons of things to worry about, inks, colors...Oh, purples just love to mess the balance of all colors together. If I use purple, I use it as a spot color usually so it doesnt fuck up the CMYK balance."

"The what?"

"Ever see those little blocks of color on pages?" Roy jumped in. "The blue, pink, yellow and black blocks? They're called printers blocks. Stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. It checks the intensity of the color. The intensity of those blends create all the different colors."

"Oh, yeah. Like on TVs and monitors, the little color dots."

"Yeah," he said, "but those are RGB."

I looked up and to the left in thought.

"Red, green and blue," Slippy said.

"I knew that." I totally didn't know the lingo. When he said RGB, I though Roy G. Biv, which became Roy's alias.

Our food came out (food porn flash--I had a really good cobb salad. Juicy chicken and crispy bacon. Yum!) and we discussed some of the office drama at Ausmeer. To know me is to know that I love hearing all of the details about all of my friend's jobs. I never get bored with office gossip, and I got all, "No, he did not!" and "I can't believe it!" with Roy and Slippy. It was perfect, because she used to work there, too, and filled in much back story for me.

Anyway, after my brief primer on how printers worked, I actually got to see one. We walked into a building I'd driven past six thousand times in my life but had never noticed. We walked back into the brightly lit press room. It was filled with machinery and secretive looking men. They all glanced furtively at Slippy, Roy and myself. I beamed, waved and looked at every machine, wanting to poke around and ask them all a million annoying questions to quench my curiosity.

We walked up to a desk that had bright lights shining onto the form, a sheet bearing multiple copies of save the date postcards for Slippy U's big muckety muck ball in the spring. Slippy, Roy and the main guy from the printer stood around the form, discussing color intensity and the UV coating that made the paper so shiny. A loop, much like the ones jewelers use to scope out gems, can be used to make sure the color intensity and blending is to the press checker's satisfaction.

"So, you only used your M and B?" I asked, looking at the shiny burgundy, black and white cards. I felt cool using my new terminology incorrectly.

"No. it was originally set up as a two color job, but we ran it with four color process to ensure the detail stood out," Slippy said. "You can control the gradient better as a four color job."

"Wait, so you used four coats of two colors?" I looked closely at the paper, seeing Seurat-like points of black and wine colors blending into one another.

"It's hard to explain. I'll get you the PMS color swatches next time we go to Ausmeer for you to see how the colors are mixed."

My brief tutorial only illuminated how in-depth the whole process is, and how very mysterious this world remained to me. After Slippy gave the form the old thumbs-up, we retreated to a scuzzy biker bar for one more beer (okay, it was two beers) before going back to work. I then really drilled Roy with questions. I asked so many and without the benefit of total sobriety or a pen and a piece of paper that I shall distill the highlights of what Roy had to say about the printing industry.

It is cut-throat and demand for printers is so high that union print shops are generally too expensive to maintain. Technological advances have made the competition even more insane. His response to my question of whether the internet was sending printers by way of the dodo bird was a sharp laugh.

"No way. There will always be a market for print ads." He went into the cost-effectiveness of distributing a high number of low-cost pieces, bombarding a particular market just to attract a small percentage of people who will eventually buy whatever that ad is selling. According to Roy and Slippy, both well-versed in print media and marketing, print ads are here to stay.

And to bring it all back to why we had to visit two printers to get one press check done, Slippy reminded me, "The industry is so competitive it's in everyone's best interest to pool resources. With technology making it accessible to just about everyone, now it's all about speed and customer service."

Between my rapid-fire question assault and the fires he had to put out back at his office, Roy had to wave the white flag.

"Come on, Roy. Admit it: no one's ever asked you so many questions about what you do for a living."

"You got that right," he answered.

Dear readers, you are not yet off the hook. Tomorrow Slippy and I shall return to Ausmeer. There are many things I did not get to see and many questions I have not yet had answered. Stay tuned for another episode of "Color Me Truant!" a Take Nora to Work Day production presented to you by Shoulda Woulda Coulda.


Slippy said...

Nora, you actually make my useless information sound like something interesting and amusing. Who knew?!?

Nora said...

Slips, you are interesting. Life is fascinating if you just let it be.

Tomorrow's Thursday--Take Nora to Work Days are always fun, but they're the best when I'm getting paid!

Yes, Ratherto. I know what I just said. Enter sex worker joke here. Don't put it past me. I know people who know people.

Mitchell said...

You're lucky. the guy that crash courses me on this shit at work is a dick about it.

Anything for print is CMYK and anything for screen is RGB, and I'm a douche for not having taken classes at K-State to know that, even though I don't work directly in graphic design.

At least, that's what I've gathered.

Slippy said...

Mitchell, you are correct. We just broke it down in terms Nora could understand -- which reminds me I promised her a course on PMS color matching today.

Mitchell said...

I only know two shades of PMS: pissy and bitchy.


I kid.

We've got a Pantone color bridge book here, and I'll often take it off the designer's desk, pick a random set of colors and say "Doctor, what does it mean when it's this color?"

Never gets old.

Nora said...

Mitchell said:

Anything for print is CMYK and anything for screen is RGB, and I'm a douche for not having taken classes at K-State to know that, even though I don't work directly in graphic design.

I say, who needs to pay for courses when you have friends with tons of information just waiting to be plumbed from the depths?

I figured that out, but I need to connect new information to old information in order to make sense of anything. Can't wait to see what happens when I go to work with one of the tranny hookers on Division!

Nora said...

And you're right on another thing, Mitchell--I am lucky! I have awesome friends who will indulge my need to know everything about everything.

Jude said...

"Color Me Truant"......well this started way back in your formative school years!!! We just called it a Mental Health Day. Glad to see you haven't given up your old(but tried and true)ways

Nora said...

Never, Judelah. You taught me how to let life be fascinating.