Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Not-Quite Live BULLETIN From Valencia, CA

Sean Michael Robinson:

Hello everyone!

We were not quite able to make the "simulcast" thing happen yesterday, mainly because there were about a million things happening at once and I had my hands full talking (shouting) "DOT GAIN" over the roar of the Bang Printing operation.

I drove up from San Diego with my wife Rachel, and we snagged my brother Justin from Los Angeles on the way. Arriving at Valencia about an hour early, we sat around the table at a local fast food joint and took turns drawing "printing presses"-- sight unseen, mind you-- on a napkin, with a stolen pen. Here's my brother's rendition. Notice the tree-sawing machine feeding the press.

We were escorted into the massive (and meticulously clean) press area by Alex, the business manager at the plant. Marcell the pressman was finishing a run as we were coming in, and we were soon joined by many other people, including Josh, one of the press technicians. We ran the signature a few times, with several different ink densities, using a densiometer and their gain calibration charts, hidden in the to-be-trimmed area of the signature, to take a look at the amount of gain each of the different settings were generating.

We've talked about dot gain here before. What you basically have to know is this-- as ink strikes a substrate, it expands on the surface. The amount of this expansion depends on the "range" of that area-- dot gain is worst in the 40-60 percent region-- and the type of substrate. For instance, uncoated web-press sheets like we're using for High Society exhibit much more dot gain than coated paper, like was used on glamourpuss.

Me, with a Preney copy of Going Home and a Lebonfon Cerebus.

Modern pressed attempt to deal with gain in very different ways than in the past. Since most work these days is continuous tone (i.e. grayscale), printers have their platesetters equipped with calibration curves that adjust tonal values to output the values as they'll most likely appear on that particular press. So, you send your photo embedded in your PDF layout, and the printer's curves adjust all of your, say, 50 percent values to 35 percent prior to printing, so that, post gain, your 50 percent value remains 50 percent optically.

Of course, with line art, there's no half-toning, so you can't use correction curves like this at all, which is a big struggle in web-offset, when the issue comes up. So you want your blacks darker? You have to balance that against the inevitable increase in dot gain, which, on the High Society material, manifests itself as fill-in in dense cross-hatching, as well as, of course, Cerebus's dot tone value. And, as I said before, there's no "grabbing the lighten button" to adjust, as these are non-linear processes, and are different from press to press.

So we spent about an hour and a half running different densities and examining the differences. Meanwhile, I'm sweating the minute variations, trying to balance (my perception of) Dave's desires for rich black with my desires for minimal gain. At one point the pressman Marcell (I'm sorry if I misheard your name, Marcell! It was extremely loud :)  ) suggested we stay on the lower density but drop the water level of the press. At that setting, we hit on what seemed to me like a happy medium between rich black and gain, and we were done for the day.

The press sheets will be off to Dave for review, via Fedex later today, and then once we have the orders from Diamond in January, it's off to the presses!


Eddie said...

This is really incredible! Thank you for the post and update Sean. Always awesome to see and hear about the production of the books. I hope these make the grade. Sounds a bit like it was an episode of Star Trek with Scotty in the engine room.

Scott Yoshinaga said...

Is this why the blacks in the remastered Cerebus Phonebook 1 aren't as rich and dark as the previous version? That's the only thing I noticed about the previous version that might have been a better than the remaster.
The higher quality paper and the time and effort to clean up the artwork for the new printing process paid off.

Jeff Seiler said...

Sean, I've known some truly dedicated Cerebus fans in my time, but your dedication to the work is beyond the pale.

Dave is lucky (and blessed by God) to have you on his side.

Sean R said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jeff and Eddie. Yeah, the Scotty impression is pretty accurate :)

Hey Scott-- I didn't do the work on Cerebus V1, except for the three replacement signatures, so I wasn't privy to the details with the printer. But examining it in preparation for this, my impression is it was a combination of

a. Lebonfon's standard printing approach, i.e. not a lot of tweaking of the density to this particular job. We actually worked with them after the book was done to get things improved, and they made some improvements and significant changes-- but then they went out of business, some of their assets sold to another company, alas. Hence returning to square one now.

b. the super-bright web-offset stock used in that book makes the blacks look paler in comparison. The offset stock we'll be using for H.S. is a little cooler overall.

c. the replacement signatures are actually lighter than the rest of the book, possibly because of the (totally false) "conventional wisdom" that somehow higher-res supplied files leads to more gain. This is complete b.s. but I've now heard it from several different people, all whom should know better. B/c I supplied materials at 2400, that might have led to them backing off on the ink density a bit, which led to really crisp high-frequency information, but even milkier blacks than the rest of the book.

These test samples this weekend were several cuts above the Cerebus trade, rest assured :)

Eddie said...

Lebonfon went out of business??

Sean R said...

Yes indeed! It happened sometime in early October, and we've been searching around since then for a new printer. The remainder of their equipment was bought by a company called Marquis.

Scott Yoshinaga said...

Wha?! They went out of business after all that hubabaloo? Wow...

It will be interesting to see if Volume 1 ever goes into reprint again, and if it will be improved upon as far as the density of the black color goes.