Wednesday 13 April 2016

Fantastic Offset Paper On A Budget: Rolland Enviro Satin

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings! Long time no blog!

What follows is a long technical discussion of ink on paper. If you're easily bored by, uh, words, this is the wrong post for you... stay tuned next week for something a little more visual.

As Dave mentioned in this past week's update, in addition to spending my time finishing the painstaking Cerebus Volume One restoration work, I've been working with a new printer to get them up to speed for the next book we'll be printing (Reads, for those of you keeping score).

Since we printed High Society in California over a year ago, I've gotten a lot of first-hand experience working with printers, both on finished books and on press tests, on different kinds of paper, different types of printing, all with basically the same concerns--what's the best way to get the least amount of dot gain, with the blackest black possible, and still have a final product that has a tactile quality to the finish that's still satisfying and "line art" like?

For those not in the know, "dot gain" is the generic print term for ink expansion. No matter the print process, no matter what surface (substrate) you print on, ink expands as it hits a surface. This could be an infinitesimal amount, barely visible to the naked eye--this could be a very large amount.

If you're printing "grayscale" or color work on a modern press, then gain is much less likely to be an issue than it was in the past. A press's Raster Image Processor is calibrated to build in a curve that anticipates the average amount of gain on that press with that paper stock and automatically adjusts the size of the half-tone dots accordingly. But printing line art, especially line art with such fine details as Dave and Gerhard's work, dot gain is still very much an issue. (Line art mainly made up of thick, chunky swathes of black and little fine detail? Not so much of an issue. If all of your lines are half a centimeter thick, it's unlikely you'd notice fill-in, after all)

The amount of gain on any given printing setup is on a seesaw with the density of the black you desire. The darker the impression, the more gain you'll experience. This is true whether you're printing on a modern offset press, or from a woodblock, or with a potato on newsprint.

Therefore, if you're printing material that has both large areas of black and a preponderance of teeny tiny little lines and tone where dot gain is easily visible in clogged and darkened areas, it's important to find the right position on the teeter totter before printing. How black can we get this black? How much gain can we afford?

Most of the things that add to the gain on any given printing setup are intangibles to a publisher. The type of press used by the printer. Their ink formulation. The condition of the press, how well it's maintained and run. How often it's put through a diagnostic regimen. How critical the pressman is, and how well she can respond to the changing temperatures of the press through the length of the job. Even the type of plates.

With all of these intangibles present, this means that, as a publisher, even with impeccably setup files, scanned with great scanners at an optimal resolution, your final product will still vary wildly from press to press. Even if you attend the printing, you're not running the press itself.

So what can you effect?

Well, all of these intangibles can only be addressed by working with a printer you trust, and ponying up for a wet proof before committing to printing with them. (Wet proofs, by the way, are the only proofs that will actually tell you anything about a press at all, as they're the only kind of "proof" actually run on-press with real plates. It can cost you a few hundred dollars, but it's worth it when working with an unknown printer to make sure they can meet your needs on press).

But let's say you've already selected your printer, run your wet proofs. They're looking pretty good, but the black leaves a lot to be desired. Is there any way to get a richer black to your final product?

All other things being equal, the biggest change you can make is the substrate, i.e. your paper choice.

The more porous a paper is, the more ink spread you get. Consequently, on very porous paper, printers have to err on the side of a light impression to try to avoid too much gain. In addition, more porous paper leads to a "softer" impression overall, causing an overall blurriness to fine detail. This is a finer distinction than the gain, and is less likely to be noticeable to the average "citizen reader"-- but it's still present.

These days, the default go-to paper among North American web offset printers seems to be a stock called Husky Offset. It's ubiquitous, probably mostly for the cost, and its ready availability. It's also very, very white, blindingly so, which, combined with the slightly rough finish, gives it a copy-paper look, at least to my eyes and hands. Suffice it to say, I'm not a fan.

We started talking to Marquis, our new Canadian printer, several months ago now, with the idea that we would print Reads with them as a trial, if their press test looked good enough. So I assembled a host of the most problematic Church & State I pages and sent them to Marquis, along with a copy of the TWP-printed Church & State I for comparison.

The forms they sent back, printed on Husky Offset, looked very good, but were missing the rich black from the TWP printing, and had a bit more gain as well. This wasn't surprising seeing they were printing on a web press versus the sheetfed offset used by TWP, but given the overall level of quality they had achieved, we wanted to see if we could ramp up the quality a bit more. I set out in search of a better paper that would be comparable in price to the Husky Offset.

Now, if you tell a North American printer you'd like a richer black and less gain, they are most likely to tell you to switch to a coated stock. Imagine a glossy magazine. A coffee table book. glamourpuss. You get the picture. The coating makes the surface of the paper impermeable and thus a much less gain-y surface to print on. But coated papers have a bunch of downsides, the biggest of which are their incredible expense, and, to me, anyway, the reduction in readability introduced by the glossy surface. From a tactile perspective, too, coated papers, even matte coated papers, can feel strange, plastic-y and artificial.

Anyway, it's an academic argument. We can't afford to double or triple the price of the book to change paper stock.

Unfortunately, the only other papers uncoated papers in the Marquis sample book cam along with significant increases in price. However, I still had a pile of sample books from a Marquis competitor, and I noticed that all of the Marquis papers were also listed, which suggested that they were obtained through the same distributor. There was one paper in particular that felt incredibly smooth to the touch and, at least in the sample book, had a smooth, lustrous black. In addition, the value bars on the side of the sample book were very smooth, with no hint of roughness-- just smooth ten percent value.

So what was this miraculous paper? Rolland Enviro Satin. And, it turns out, Marquis could also order it. Even better than that? It's almost the same price as the Husky Offset.

Two weeks later, forms from the second press test, on Rolland Enviro Satin, arrived. Way less gain,  almost none in some areas of the form, and a much richer, silky black. All that difference with just swapping out the paper and making no other changes. We have our paper.

The "Sheffield" test is the only real reliable (and mostly available) data point in evaluating smoothness of a paper from afar. The lower the value, the smoother the stock, and thus, all other things being equal, the less gain. Husky Offset, according to the manufacturer, comes in at Sheffield 160. Rolland Enviro Satin? Sheffield 90. (For comparison's sake, the Rolland Enviro's much more expensive cousin, Rolland Opaque Smooth, comes in at a 110)

Strangely enough, Rolland Enviro Satin is not being marketed as a line art paper at all. It's chief claim to fame is, if you can't tell from the name, that it's made completely from recycled material. And it's possible that this is what gives this paper an extra edge. There's a luminous quality to the black that's unusual for an uncoated paper, that might be a byproduct of the very involved process of reclaiming and recycling the pulp. The paper is also less bright, slightly "cool" white then the garish Husky Offset, which sets off the rich black well.

All of this is the very, very long way around to the conclusion. In the budget paper line art game, whether you're printing on a web offset press or a sheetfed offset press, there's a new king in town. And his name is Rolland Enviro Satin. And as long as we continue to print in North America, you can bet that's what we'll be using.

If you're looking for print work anytime soon, I'd suggest you run a test and see for yourself.

Next week-- hows about some good ol' images, and a bit less in the "wall of text" department?

Restoration Status Update--

Reads-- complete, awaiting text insertions (and word from Dave whether he'd like an essay!)

Church & State II-- laid out and almost complete, save one page awaiting a negative scan, and the concluding essay

Cerebus Volume One-- another 170 pages or so to go! Slow, difficult work, as almost all of it is sourced from newsprint. Many exciting developments and improvements in the work as it progresses...

(As an aside--I'm considering writing several how-to articles, either for this website or a revamped site of my own, that would take a project from the scanning stage to completion. Call it, say, From Paper to Prepress to Paper Again. Anyone out there interested in such a thing? What stages would be most helpful in hearing about in greater detail?)


Anonymous said...

Documenting this process in its entirety (here or on your site) sounds like a great idea, and one that would help many folks. Please do consider the idea.

--Claude Flowers

A Moment Of Cerebus said...


"Paper-to-Prepress-to-Paper" articles?

It has to be run on AMOC, surely... quickly followed by a free PDF compilation... sort of an appendix to the Guide To Self-Publishing.


iestyn said...

Count me in as INCREDIBLY interested.

Personally - I think you should be running workshops and not just articles!!

I'd love some how-to videos.

(and time and money to do something about them )

Delwyn Klassen said...

I would also be interested in a compilation. Getting the benefit of your experimentation has been quite useful to us up here in the Yukon already. I look forward to the next installment.

Steve said...

Hiya Sean -

As I've mentioned in emails with you, as an old pressman it's articles like this which take me back to those days - and remind me why I don't miss them at all!

It does seem to me that one way to get a profoundly dark black would be to double-print those areas - that is, have black on two print heads on pages that have very large black ink coverage.

Yeah, I know: the logistics of the plates would be a nightmare.

But, you're probably used to those by now...


Tony Dunlop said...

I'm just sorry Dr. Mara isn't here to give us her first impression of Reads...

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Add me to the list of people who think a comprehensive tutorial and discussion would be incredibly useful and appreciated.

Hey Delwyn, you're in the Yukon? Which part? I grew up (well, got older) in Whitehorse; always nice to meet a fellow Sourdough.

-- Damian

Travis Pelkie said...

I'm going to start referring to Damian as Yukon Cornelius from now on. "Gold and silver. SILVER AND GOLD!"

Tell us how you faced down Bumbles!


Oh, uh, yeah, I'd be interested in whatever it is that what's-his-name here wants to talk about.

Seriously, yes, I would like to hear what Sean has to say about this. I'm sure it would be very beneficial for potential self-publishers as well.

I still haven't written an email about Dave and Zappa. Someday, Sean!

Unknown said...

I'm not sure how many folks are printing on this quality of paper, but I'm definitely hopeful that word will spread of Sean's discovery for those who are.

Jeff Seiler said...

I'm with you, Tony. I would have loved being a fly on the wall witnessing Dr. Mara's reading of Reads.

Delwyn Klassen said...

We've had 2 years of Yukomicon now (postponed this year), but one outcome has been an increased cohesion of the comic-making artists here. One long-time comical artist, Chris Caldwell, has gathered six others together to have group show this fall (Heavy Metal North - just went live on Facebook). Zines and one-sheets are showing up here and there.

By way of which, this continuation of the spirit and themes of Notes from the President and Guide to Self-Publishing is becoming more important to us here. Thank you very much to Dave, George, Sean and Mara for the plethora shared here. I'm passing it on as best I can.

Damian: Born and raised, mostly stayed since '73. I thought I was the only Cerebus reader up here. Go figure.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Travis: Ha! I used to watch that show every year in the pre-YouTube days. "Peppermint!" You can call me Corny for short; in fact, I'm often called that.

Delwyn: I remember Chris Caldwell, and I still have my Paws collections by Doug Urquhart and Yukon Komix by John Lodder, purchased off the shelves of Mac's Fireweed. Good to hear cartooning in the Yukon has some champions.

Sean: A PDF would be great. A printed book would be great (I'd buy a copy to help fund the venture). Video tutorials would be great. A link to download your scripts would be great.

-- Damian