Friday, September 26, 2008

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Five

This will probably be my last day of printing and I do not feel relieved but a bit sad. There will be a lot about this place to miss when I leave tomorrow. The batphone scaring the hell out of me as I nod off asleep. The giggles I get from the passing women as I speed walk to a press check. The smell of the inks and the headaches they induce. The lunches with Alice and Iris as we sit in uncomfortable silence trying to connect cultures.

I've learned so much in such a short time that my head is swimming with new information. I've learned to love the process even with the stress. I implore all young bookmakers to go on press when they are printing your work. I do not see how you can regret it. Anyway, the phone is ringing...

9:30 pm. Checked three of Sophie's sheets and they are looking really good. This book gave us so much trouble scanning and finding the correct screening strategy that to see a finished stack with good color balance and no problems feels more of an accomplishment than the others. Tomorrow we will be finishing the rest probably taking us into the night.

11:20 pm. We were supposed to be stopping early but now I get to approve of the dustjackets. I just approved the sheet but I think it reveals a bad decision on my part. Each jacket shows the cover of the original book and I have allowed the age and wear to those originals to be evident. I did not photoshop the images to try to make the books seem "new again" so to speak. This series is going to show some very old books that will show wear and tear so I thought 'OK, let it show to a certain degree.' Part of the charm of older books is seeing that they are effected by time and use.

Well, I am still holding to that notion but the copy of the Killip book that we used to scan the cover has some yellowing to the left edge, which at full size looks fine, but at the reduced size starts to look more like a printing mistake than a sign of age. I was thinking we could adjust the levels to minimize it but all of the color balances of the other covers would have been effected because they are all in the same adjustment line on the sheet. I had no real alternative that wouldn't have involved a lot of time and expense. I just thought 'To err is human. Perfection is divine, and, Use photoshop next time a-hole,' and I signed off on it. The first blemish. Baby's got four toes on one foot.

Meanwhile back at my guest house, I got so worked up about the Killip dustjacket because: a) It's the friggin' cover image, and b) that meant that the Special Edition tip-on is going to have the same damn problem. As I was beating myself up over being so stupid, the phone rang for the check of the tip-ons.

I made my way to the press check with my stomach full of acid imagining the litany of embarrassing complaints I would hear from people who buy the books and when I rounded the corner and saw the sheet I couldn't believe my eyes -- same color balances and levels but the difference in paper stock made the left edge aging much less apparent in the tip-on. I almost couldn't see it at first. So one minute I am upset and the next excited again.

Note: If we sell out and do a second printing of the Killip trade edition I am going to photoshop out the aging color on the jacket. That one change will be what determines the "true" first edition from the later. Ha! I can already see what will no doubt be the hilarious ABE listings.

10:56 am. I've had some sleep but now that I am allowed to, I can't. Went to bed at around 2:30 am only to wake at three hours later with no chance of getting back to sleep. Its like an addiction.

I was told we'd be printing by 9:00 am but I have now heard that the first check of the day will be at around 11:30, right before lunch. I am anxious to continue the good work on Sophie's book that we started yesterday. I am afraid of losing momentum in my ability to make judgments.

11:56 am. Just returned from the first check of the day and I realize now why I have had a headache all morning, the sample finals and "make-ready" sheets I have been gathering over the past few days have made my guest room smell like a print shop. The ink is laid on so thick on the make-ready's that they'll probably reek for months.

For those of you who will eventually do this you'll find the computer driven press communication amazing. Basically, at the workstation there is a large inclined table with a daylight balanced hood for viewing the sheets. At the front of that table is a long string of green level indicators accessible by touchpad. The sheet is put onto the table and moved left until it hits a "stop" which keeps it in place. This lines up the sheet with the keypad and the line of color bars printed on the top of your sheets. You use those color bars to measure the individual CMYK densities with a densitometer.

If you look at the 2nd photo you'll see how the sheet can be broken up into separate rows. For every green adjustment line on the control board on the front of the table, corrections can be made for that individual little strip of the sheet extending from top to bottom. My sheet size could be broken up into about twenty rows. So, if an image or part of an image in a row needs a correction then you can adjust just for that. The control is incredible. I imagined before going on press that one change effects the whole sheet. The catch is though that adjustments can only run from top to the bottom of the sheet and not horizontally and whatever you adjust effects all else in the line.

6:02 pm. I am happy to announce that the first four titles in the Books on Books series are finished being printed. I was called to the pressroom for one last check which needed NO CORRECTIONS. The pressman nailed it first attempt. I signed them and asked Alice to hold up a sheet with the printer for a quick snap. I grabbed my stuff to leave and then I realized...

I'm locked out of my guest quarters again.


Anonymous said...

I like the symbolic last photo: 'FAIT' (DONE, FINISHED).

John W. Hubbard said...

I know all too well your feeling of loss and separation now that your press check is over. I took my first press check to C&C Offset some 14 years ago, when their plant was in Tai Po, New Territories, Hong Kong. I am still friends with the people I met on that trip, despite the time, distance, and cultural separation. I read 5B4 regularly, with great enjoyment of your enthusiasm for the photography book, old and new, but this last series of posts hit much closer to home for me, having shared these experiences first-hand. It is overwhelming to go on your first press check in China yet you have expressed this eloquently and engagingly, all the while getting the work done of printing your books! Congratulations and thank you for sharing your journey, especially the naked expressions of inner doubt! Nothing feels worse than being on press and seeing something 'wrong' in that moment when there's no option other than to accept it and move on. Glad it turned out for the best (on different paper!) I look forward to seeing these books, armed with the secret knowledge of their inner 'cradle to grave' workings. (I have so many questions/comments for you that extend beyond a blog comment, feel free to drop a line when you have time.) Safe travels!

Anonymous said...

I am very glad you left the signs of a life well-lived and even the natural signs of aging on the Killip book as well.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, seriously, this printing diary is one of the most original, fascinating, best sales tools I've ever seen. Whether it was just your intention to educate or blog, I think it has transcended that to become one of the most important events in photobooks of this year, and undoubtedly one that will be copied many times. I would suggest that you include a bound insert of this diary with the limited editions, or try and get it published in one of the big photo magazines like Aperture or PDN.

I think I remember Alec Soth briefly talking about publishing his book, but not in this much detail and humor.

Thanks so much. It's definitely making me, and I'm sure many others, truly salivating over getting our hands on these books.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Jeff.

I recently went through this process myself, and I feel your joy and pain.

Your description of the Heidleberg control board is a good one. I think of it as being very similar in appearance and function to an audio mixing board.

The control board provides a great deal of control, but there is a weakness in the system that many people (including myself) don't realize until their first time "on press."

It's common to be printing multiple images on one large sheet that will later be cut down and/or folded into separate book pages. The Heidelberg control board makes fine adjustments to entire vertical strips of the sheet, often affecting more than one image. So adjusting the warmth of one image sometimes means adjusting the warmth of another.

So, it's important to note that there are limits to what can be fine-tuned on-press. This just reconfirms the importance of having great source files and great proofs. And it sure sounds like you've got all that.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,
Enjoyed today's post... and I think you made the right choice to not Photoshop the left edge toning and other flaws of the book. The specificity of this one copy, with its own history and life, as it may have passed from one owner to another, and affected people in different ways, ties in nicely to your overall idea (vs. facsimile approach). It pumps up the feeling of reproducing the book as object, and that sounds right to me. Good instinct! That said, I also look forward to seeing ABE listings for the "Second printing of the first edition of the Errata Editions non-facsimile edition of the true first hardbound edition of the original publication, thus."

Don't let the smell of inks get in the way of your instincts. I think the books twisting into a simulacrum of itself is perfect.

When I saw the first layouts, with multiple original book pages on one page, I thought you might have trouble with the vertical band printing restrictions... but sounds like it worked out perfectly. Congrats again!

Great post!

Anonymous said...

I look forward to Top Choice Books' listings on Amazon containing 15 different prices for the same book. And Modern Rare charging 5x as much as anyone else. While Vincent B. consistently offers the best price.

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading your blog for some time now.

I thank you for sharing the process of producing this series of books; a process clearly close to your heart. Your remarks have been both educational and heartwarming. I thank you.

Here's to creativty in all it's forms. Congratulations.


Anonymous said...

I like a lot the way you cope with contradictory emotions and share them with us.
It is why I like to visit your blog.
Bon voyage.

Anonymous said...

some of those 'flat proofs' would make nice posters and look great framed and hanging on a wall....


Unknown said...

Thank you for relating your time on press with so much detail. This was great reading. I have one bottom line question: besides the great experience, did you feel that your being on press improved the quality of the books significantly ? Would the books have met your standards otherwise ?

Anonymous said...


Of course it did. Considering 2/3rds of the time I made significant corrections from where the pressman had originally gotten the printing to, I would say that 2/3rds of the books look better than they would have otherwise.

If I didn't go then it would be like letting someone else print you photos without much guidance from you.

David Campany said...


Many thanks for your Errata Editions production diary. It has been illuminating and a pleasure to read.


Anonymous said...

I, too, have thoroughly enjoyed reading the "Saga of Production". I think back many years to your High School grades and wonder where this marvelous writing gift came from.
You make us very proud.
Mon & Dad

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