Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Three

The palettes of printed and stacked sheets are adding up while the "typhoon" moves through the area. I've named it Typhoon Eugene Augustus in honor of our first book but sadly...he's not living up to even being called a typhoon. At least it has cooled off the area some.

The time between press checks has been shorter than expected. Robert Hennessey estimated there would be about an hour and a half between each press check due to the quantity of books we are printing, but it is more like every hour and in a few cases, as soon as half an hour. Luckily I snatched a little sleep while the pressman went to dinner last night. At 9:30 pm I went to a press check and found the only image on the sheet was of Atget staring back at me with that judgmental look that Berenice Abbott caught in her frontal portrait of the master.

11:20 pm. The pressman wanted to print the Sophie Ristelhueber book next since it is also four color but I have asked that we print that one last. Unlike the other books, that one will be a bit more demanding regarding color balance and densities and I want to be as seasoned as possible before tackling decisions on that one.

3:15 am. Hennessey has made these files so consistent that I haven't had to make even the slightest change in three straight press checks. The call comes in to my guest room from Alice telling me its time to come down, I speed walk to the press room, study the sheet, check the registration (kind of like checking the enlarger focus before each print), give a thumbs up (universal signage is truly remarkable), sign off on the sheet and return to my guest house. Still, its hard to get any meaningful rest.

6:30 am. I was just told that the next proof would happen in about a half hour so I just stayed by the press and watched the pressmen change the plates. The Heidelberg has feed guides that, with little effort on the part of the pressman, almost automatically guides the plate around the drum. The whole procedure for one color plate took about a minute.

9:28 am. The Atget book is finished as well as the last signatures of the Evans and Killip books which are in four color. The rest of Evans and Killip are being printed in Duotone and will be starting in the early afternoon. Fatigue is starting. I have been approving sheets every hour for the last 15 hours. Everything has gone so smoothly. Iris just suggested that they try to run two books at once using two presses - one duotone and one four-color. I've refused. Too much. If staggered, that would mean checks every half hour and I can't possibly do the job correctly at that pace especially dealing with Sophie's book. Advice to future press checkers: BE ASSERTIVE.

I've been given an hour or so of uninterrupted sleep so I am going to take advantage of it.

11:32 am. I got almost an hour and a half of straight sleep and I feel refreshed. What also works to fight off fatigue: cat naps, Chinese tea by the bucketful, a quick shower every three or four hours and lots of granola bars. I just ate a Chinese apple that was so good my eyes watered. Outside it is pissing rain.

2:45 pm. Just got back from lunch (spicy bean curd with broccoli and cooked cucumber) where I was called away to approve an Evans sheets. Looked really good. Backed off some of the black and we were in shape. Also Iris had me approve of the covers and foil stamping. She had samples which looked excellent. In combination with the 2/3rds dustjacket (positioned 2 inches from the bottom 1 1/2 from the top) it looks great.Designed so the foil stamping could show on the fabric it has a really nice presence and feel. Also approved of the special edition with the tip-ons and foil stamping. With the actual tip-on reproduction these are going to be really beautiful.

I don't mean to be so gushing towards my own work but the jacket and stamping was an aspect where I loved the idea but wasn't sure it would come together. I had a few very restless nights before I turned in the final design files for those not exactly knowing if it was going to work. I am very happy with the physical results of these samples.

The rest of my day is going to be spent with Evans.

Project background continued from Day 2:

The Scans and Separations

Through our friend who pitched our specs for quotes we were introduced to our future production person Robert Hennessey. For those of you who don't look for production credits in books, Robert is one of the three best scan and separations maker working for over the past two decades -- the other two being Richard Benson and Thomas Palmer. Robert learned his craft working at the legendary Meriden Gravure and has such a complex understanding of translating photographic images into ink. He's the person necessary to have in your corner.

After he agreed to take on our project, I spent a day up at Robert's studio in Middletown, CT helping him scan In Flagrante and the learning experience for me was invaluable. The center-piece of his studio among drum scanners and a huge five and a half foot tall safe (which contained Robert Frank's contact sheets from The Americans which RH was scanning for the upcoming book from the National Gallery in DC) is his copy stand which employs a 4X5 camera with a high-end digital scanning back linked to a Mac.

After scanning, Robert corrects the levels of the images and then makes separations. Separations break the image into the four colors of CMYK or into duotone so separate printing plates can be made for actual printing. Separating seems to be more an art than a science and is perhaps one of the most important parts of creating your final files. Having Robert working on our material imparted a huge amount of confidence considering our task of needing our books to celebrate and not disrespect the original. He established the various scanning and screening strategies necessary due to the unique nature of our project.

The Proofing

The first thing Robert did was send C+C Offset in China a color chart target to print out and send back so he could calibrate his system with theirs. From this chart he used a colorimeter to create a proper profile for the files.

Since we are scanning offset printed imagery that is overlaid with an original line screen we had to be very careful as to decide on a screening strategy so as to limit Moiré patterning. Moiré patterns are those annoying curvy lines that can appear when you lay one screen over another. We decided to try two different types of screening on our proofs -- one with normal 250 line screen and another utilizing "stochastic screening." Stochastic screening is supposed to help limit the chances of Moiré patterns appearing, but after seeing the results we decided on using a traditional 250 line screening as the image quality was far better. Three of the books looked fine but the Sophie Ristelhueber title -- since it has a rather coarse original screen (I think around 175 lines, maybe even less) -- the stochastic screen actually emphasized the coarseness instead of limiting it.

I created two “formes” for the proofing. Normally one chooses a few page spreads and fits them onto a document representing a 30X40 sheet of paper but since we wanted to fit as many images onto fewer formes, I filled the sheet completely instead of staying with our double spread page design. I created formes for both the four color work (Atget and Ristelhueber books) and others for the Duotone (Evans and Killip books), linked the documents with Robert’s high-res files and sent them off to China. A couple weeks later the proofs arrived at Roberts with a complete set of “progressives.” Progressives are sheets that show each color printed separately, so one shows cyan, one magenta, one yellow and one the black. This is the way to check each separation has been made properly and that there are no problems with the file.

Proofing obviously allows you to see printed results but keep in mind that the proofs usually come off a "flatbed proofing press" and not the actual press that will eventually print your book. The same inks and paper are used but the results from proof to proof can vary slightly. Our proofs looked in the ballpark with color balance but the ink densities were rather dense. Too much black ink being laid on makes the shadows block and increases the sense of contrast. Robert made our scans so they are open and reveal the subtleties of tone so it will be easy to determine our final ink densities.

One last very important thing to look out for is registration. Since the sheets of paper will pass through printing stages for each color plus a varnish layer it is important for them to be properly registered. This isn't just for reasons of appearing sharp (important enough!) but also because when printing color images, if the plates are slightly out of registration you can get color shifts. These color shifts can appear in a single image with the photo looking magenta on one side and then looking green on the other side. This is due to the dot pattern when out of registration can reveal more dots of a particular color resulting in the color shift.

More tomorrow...


M. Ensdorf said...

really looking forward to the special edition set. thanks for taking such great care, and for the play by play. very interesting seeing the process.

rr said...

I appreciate the fact that you´ve been showing us all those images and even comparing the Errata prints with the old ones.
The Steidl reports of all the work being done with Robert Frank has made me wonder about the printing process of a photobook more than ever before.
You must be very tired but keep on - you have you´re whole life ahead to sleep. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

expected the 600 line's photo book in the future. : )

The print skill for photobook had already skip into 600 line. : )

Sean said...

Go Jeff! Reading with great anticipation! I'm nervous just reading about the decisions you have had to make.....

Anonymous said...

More fascinating reading.

What's with the Robert Frank proof sheets?? Are they doing a book showing just the proof sheets from The Americans? I would love to see that.

Michael W

stochastic anarchist said...

Jeff this is great reading and it's very exciting to see how much you're adding to your base of knowledge. Thanks for sharing your experience.


Stuart Alexander said...

Very interesting Jeff. Thanks for sharing the experience. I am learning a lot from your notes.

To Michael W.,

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is opening an exhibition in January 2009 devoted to 'The Americans'. The expanded catalogue that will accompany the show will include reproductions of each contact sheet for every image in the book. It will be a massive tome with several essays and appendices and will be nearly 500 pages. There will be a smaller version (minus the contact sheets and other appendices) in softcover as the standard catalogue. So look for the expanded version if you want it all.

ralph h. said...

i agree 100% that "Robert is one of the three best scan and separations maker working for over the past two decades" - but: you should add one more decade; and you MUST add one more person: dieter kirchner in berlin, germany (,1518,627308,00.html). all the best _ ralph, berlin