Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 28

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A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 28
Going to Press

This is the twenty-eighth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art for print.

And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!

Last column, we left off with getting a wet proof from your printer of choice. And now it's time for the real deal—actually printing your book.

Your printer will have very detailed instructions for you about their scheduling, preferred processes, and rules governing everything from shipping insurance to spoils and overs. Read these, then read them again, then ask any questions that you have. Better yet, ask them in writing. It makes any future dispute resolution much easier if you can just forward a previous email chain discussing the issue. 

I'll say it again—get it in writing. And if it's not on the quote, it's not real. Ask them to add it to the quote—whatever "it" is—before you sign the quote. Despite the lack of legalese, the quote is a contract, and the printer is very conscious of that fact. If they tell you they'll give you a deal on something, and it's important to you, ask them to add it to the quote.

Okay. You've signed your quote, you're on the printer's schedule, and you've uploaded your gargantuan files to the printer for their prepress department to take a look at. What's next?

If there are any issues concerning file handling or any other things you're picky about, include these issues in writing with your files, and follow it up with an email with the same text. Name it something like "ProjectName for Soandso Publisher--File Handling and Prepress Instructions". And then spell out everything they might need to know about the project. Never assume that anyone has communicated anything to anyone else. If you said something in a phone call, it didn't happen, unless you got confirmation in email afterwards, and cc'ed all of the relevant parties.

Cerebus in Hell? is actually really challenging from a technical perspective, owing to the method that some of the letterers used to create the balloons and some sound effects, so I send out a fairly detailed set of prepress instructions with each issue. Here's the one that went out for the last issues I sent in:

Enclosed are the production pdfs for--
Aardvark Comics One (Cerebus in Hell One-Shot)-- September 2017Strange Cerebus One (Cerebus in Hell One-Shot)-- October 2017Death of Cerebus in Hell (Cerebus in Hell One-Shot)-- November 2017 Here are a few notes about the files — 1. The supplied files are a mixture of very high resolution (2400 ppi) 1-bit bitmap images and high resolution grayscale overlays. Some of these grayscale overlays are actually threshold-converted images as well, i.e. they're actually 1-bit images but applied in the layout as 8-bit images so as to keep transparency. Because of these factors, it's very important that the prepress operator make sure that — 1a. the RIP engine is set to do no downsampling whatsoever, on neither the 1-bit or 8-bit images (as downsampling the technically-eight bit but actually 1-bit with transparency images will cause moire)1b. use the finest halftoning possible for the remainder of the grayscale images (the word balloons, mostly)1c. please make sure the platesetter is set to operate at 2400 ppi. Additionally, 2. Please don't downsample or rotate the 1-bit images either, as it will likely cause moire due to the extremely fine mechanical tones present in the files. Whomever did the prepress work on the previous issues of Cerebus in Hell? has done a fantastic job. If it's possible to have that same person work on this one, that would be great!  I realize with files set up this way, there's a lot of opportunity for error, hence this message :) Please contact me with any and all questions or requests for correction! All the best,
Previous, less-complex jobs had slightly less complex instructions. Here's the email I sent  out with Going Home. 
Hello [redacted], 
I am sending the files over for GOING HOME right now, via DropSend. Please confirm that these new interiors have been downloaded (Going Home export 9-4-2016 FULL V3.pdf) and please delete the previous version of the files! 
Here are the prepress instructions--
1. All pages have been supplied with 2400 ppi 1-bit bitmap image files embedded. Please do not downsample these images! The book has lots of very fine mechanical tone and downsampling, even to 1200 ppi, WILL CAUSE MOIRE on some pages. 
2. Please please please no downsampling or halftoning! :) 
3. Because of the high resolution of files embedded, some older versions of Adobe Acrobat or other PDF softwares will display the pages with horizontal bands across the images. If these appear, please just zoom in and confirm that they disappear. This is a PDF viewer problem, not a problem with the files. 
4. During printing please keep a copy of our press test from March 25th on hand. This was a press test on Rolland Enviro Satin, printed with variable densities. Our goal during printing is to hit around 125 density, i.e. the darkest pages of our "light/standard" test signature. 
5. If it is possible, Patrick, to schedule this printing to take place after your routine press maintenance/cleaning, that would be ideal :) Or whenever we'd get the cleanest, most even results across the form. 
6. As we discussed before, when we get to the binding stage, we'd like the binding/spreads to be a bit "loose" if possible, enabling the spreads to open flat with minimal effort.
Thanks so much for all of your help! If you have any questions about any of these files please let me know. 
All the best,
 Lastly, if this is the first time you're working with your printer, and you have no prior relationship with them, consider including text at the end along the lines of "Please confirm receipt and agreement to these terms", or even stronger language, if you really want to be sure. Maybe "Please do not move forward with prepress until you have agreed to these items. My acceptance on the final print job is conditional on these items being followed correctly."This is all to cover you in the event that they don't do what they've said they'll do.

Which, I'm sad to say, is a problem you'll find with many printers. They won't follow your instructions, and worse yet, after the fact they'll explain to you why it doesn't matter that they didn't, and how you can't possibly see a difference with how they did it instead. No, really, you'll have this conversation many times.

Which is why I'm so pleased we're working with two great printers now, who both know that I'm a complete pain in the ass, and are willing to work to meet those exacting standards. 

Seriously. If you have opinions about how your book looks, be a pain in the ass. But also be really, really specific, and as helpful as you can.

Then, having cleared all of these hurdles, it's time to check over your digital proofs, and print.

Check check and then check some more. Pages in the right order? All the pages there? Any spelling errors? Author's names spelled correctly? Your mother's name spelled correctly? That little "PRINTED IN CANADA" line in the indicia in place so you don't have to pay a border tax?

All good? Then tell 'em to run it.


If you're printing locally, or you're willing to fly, then you might be able to visit the printer while your job is running. Just know ahead of time it'll be really loud, really scary, and if something DOES go wrong, it's possible the most you'll be able to do is jump up and down and stammer and say "Make it better please!" 

You know, maybe it's best not to visit the printer.

Sean visits "the printer", circa 2012. I learned a lot, but, mostly, I learned to find a different printer.

While you're waiting for your book to come back from the printer, it might be useful to reflect a little bit on the nature of...errors. Of mistakes. 

If you're human, like the rest of us, your book with have something about it which you won't likely be happy with. Maybe right after it comes back from the printer. Maybe a year from now. But if you've taken all of the precautions listed above, showed the proofs to your friends and colleagues, then rest assured you've done your best, and know that the majority of your audience won't notice, or is more concerned with, say, the content, or the condition of the dust jacket.

You WILL make mistakes. The PRINTER will make mistakes. And should these mistakes be noticed, the reading public will be unable to distinguish these two things from each other. This process is fraught with peril. That anything gets printed at all is a species of miracle itself. Just remind yourself that we live in a fallen world, and there are cracks in everything. And be kind to yourself. Every project is a process as well as a product, and every time you tackle a job like this, you're bringing yourself closer to real mastery of your various skills.

And ultimately, you can be thankful that you're not the guy who, say, mounted the biplane steel engraving upside down.

And you're definitely not the anonymous Topps employee who approved this, ahem, gem of a card for distribution to the robot-loving children of America.

(And if you are that guy, well, I suppose that's quite the anecdote to unload over cocktails.)

Next: The LAST INSTALLMENT! Of the regular column, that is. A few bonus single-topic columns to follow!

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at


Travis Pelkie said...

Man, that C3PO card screw up sure was a boner, huh?

HAHAHAHAHA!!!! I so funny!

Tony Dunlop said...

Ward, don't be too hard on the boys.

Carson Grubaugh said...


Anonymous said...


I don't get it...

Dave Kopperman said...

Last time I was on press, the supervisor told me about the guy who'd fallen in and was killed. It took me a little while to realize he wasn't fucking with me.