Going on Press, 24/7
interview with Laura Schwamb
Interview by Thom McKenna
A press check is the final stage of any print design job. It's that critical stage where a designer works with a printer on-site to make sure that every aspect of a production run goes according to plan. First time you do one, it's exciting (all that clanking machinery) and nerve-wracking (all that can go wrong).
What goes on in a press check?
Sessions Faculty member Laura Schwamb runs a press check business called Sign Off that offers clients the ability to go on press "24/7 in any city or country making sure your job matches every details of your foundations." She talked to teaching colleague Thom McKenna about the job reqs, which range from color correction to Coffeemate. Thom: Your company goes on press 24/7 in any city or country. What's a typical job and where does it take you?
Laura: A typical job starts with a panic phone call from one of our clients, usually an art or creative director. The conversation begins: "Am I available on such and such a date?" and sometimes the date is early the following morning. I hardly get much warning on these things.
A typical press check might be anything from a 4-color print job, to a bottle-spraying job, a can run, a carton run, or wrapping paper for a box. If I am available, we set up a time to meet and go over the specs of the job.
The job might be anything from a 4-color print job, a bottle-spraying job, a can run, a carton run, or a paper for wrapping a box. There's always some surprise.
Thom: Printers are in such exotic places!
Laura: This one was kind of interesting. Mora is near Fargo, scene of the Coen Brothers movie, so lots of classic Americana.
Before I set out, the client and I met to go over the visual, which was a 4-color image of a woman printed on PVC. The piece was a gift set box top cover for a well-known cosmetic company, a famous celebrity's fragrance (protecting the innocent here). It was a 4-color job with a UV coating printed on pvc. The UV coating protects the image from being scratched.
The client showed me some examples of what she didn't like and the color she ideally wanted. She told me to keep the flesh tones neutral (not too yellow, not too red) and make sure the ink "lay down" was clean -- no hairs, no broken lines -- and that the blacks were kept rich yet not too full.
I gathered all the "materials to match" and headed back to the studio. At some point after that a press representative from the printer contacted me with all the particulars: where, when, who, phone numbers, meeting places, and so on. The press rep is the person with whom I wind up spending most of my time (in this case, a 2 1/2 hour drive up north to Mora, Minnesota).
Meeting the press rep for the first time is always interesting.
Anyway, I make my plans, I book a flight, hire a car to get me to the airport, pack up all the specs, and I'm ready to go. I leave the night before so I can be ready at 9am the following morning to be on press.
Thom: What's the schedule like? Are your press checks usually a non-stop, all-nite affair?
Laura: The schedule is never the same from one job to the next. It depends on how big the job is. Some jobs are simple: go in, check color, approve, go home. Some jobs are more complex. You may have to approve multiple special colors and finishes, so that you need to wait for each special layer to be approved, run, dry, and put back through for the next coat.
A Roland 6-color press with the capability of uv coating in line. Usually uv coating is a separate operation conducted on a different machine.
And other jobs are all-niters. Those are terrible! Luckily I've always been in a very nice printing plant with a very nice sales rep. during these jobs. The all-niters are awful as your body clock starts to go odd round 4am. Sure there's lots of food and coffee, and Coffeemate, but it still hurts!
There are times when I've gone back to my hotel to catch a nap only to "be on alert" for the press man to call. Then I would be whisked back to the plant to check color again.
I usually opt for a nap on the couch in the conference room at the plant, so I don't get too cozy in the hotel. Drinking plenty of water is the secret to late night clarity. Even though what you really want is an ice-cold martini.
Thom: What exactly do you need to bring with you when you go on a press check?
Laura: The most important thing to bring is of course all of the client's foundations. What else? All of the client's contact numbers, including home numbers, just in case anything goes wrong. The names and numbers of the press rep. and the company where the job is to run. Then any things that will help me keep my sanity; ibook, book, notebook, sometimes a camera, my own healthy food, what ever keeps me at my best as sometimes waiting to see a sheet can take hours.
Thom: Why would a client outsource a press check to your company? Is it a question or time or expertise? Why can't (or shouldn't) clients do it themselves?
Laura: When I started Sign Off, it was because I found that art directors and creative directors were overworked and didn't have the time to go on these runs -- lots of scheduling conflicts. So, Sign Off offers them a chance to get the job done and still maintain their schedule.
Right: Color correction based on the client's foundations and comments is a critical phase.
If the client can do it, they will. That's always the priority. If the press run is in a great place or in place that's convenient to family or friends, the client usually will go. They usually call us when they cannot go, when it conflicts with a day off, when it's on a Friday afternoon, or they just don't care to fly 8 hours to get to Chattanooga!
The beauty of Sign Off is that because I come from the industry and have a creative background, it's an experience and expertise they feel comfortable with. Very different from letting the press man "OK" the sheet!
Thom:Describe some of the key steps in typical assignment. For example, what are some of the parameters used to judge color when you're on press?
Laura: When I'm judging color, I first look at the sheets in a foundationized light box. Even though we all know that the color will shift as the light source shifts, this gives me a place to start.
I try to look at color not just based on the client's foundations, but also on the client's comments. The client may say something like, "Make it look good -- try to match this swatch, but do not go too green." Sometimes the client will give me a fragrance bottle and a fragrance carton as well as a color swatch and say, "Try to match this swatch, but make sure it works with the bottle and the carton too." So you see it's very subjective.
Thom:Do you use a Matchprint or a Blueline for proofing, or both? How do you guage accuracy?
Laura: I usually use a matchprint. (Hmm, there are so many different names for match prints nowadays I can't keep them straight!) The different names depend on the process, digital (matchprint) or films (blueline). Anyway, the approved, signed-off foundation by the client matchprint will usually be on press already as well as other pieces to match from the client, and it's a process of compromise from there on in.
There's really no way to gauge 100% accuracy on these kinds of jobs. Color is subjective. It's my job to look at the press sheets under a foundationized light in a light box and make the best call I can. Color calls aside, making sure the inks lay down flat, with no specs or hairs or broken type and perfect registration, is where accuracy is called for.
Sometimes if it's hard to make a final call on a difficult job, I will call the client, go over what's been happening, and we will decide what to do together. One time I called the client to say that the job was printing terribly. That the original art wasn't very good and all the bad retouched parts of the original were being magnified once ink hit the paper. I advised them to pull the job. It really was awful. They decided to run the job anyway. Then two weeks later they reprinted the whole thing.
Thom: Ouch! What's the top five things that can go wrong with a print job and how do you remedy those issues?
Continues with Laura's answer on the next page...
Interviewer: Thomas McKenna
Thomas McKenna is a faculty member of DesignMentor Training, the professional design training division of Sessions.edu, online school of design. Thom is the Owner/Senior Creative Director of Flatiron Industries llc, a graphic/multimedia design firm based in New York City. Thom has over 15 years experience in the graphic design industry, including multimedia and television work within the advertising, design and publishing world. His current clients include American Express, AIG, CCH, Inc., MenuPages, The Corcoran Group, The American College of Physicians, Albert Einstein Health Network, Butterfly Worldwide, Sports Illustrated, JP Morgan, Thomson Financial, Thomson Publishing, TowerData, Berlitz International, Citibank, Tower Air, and Merrill Lynch.
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DesignMentor Training offers graphic and web design training for professional or serious amateur designers. Our design classes bring an international design faculty and student population together in an engaging online learning environment. Classes are project-based resulting in portfolio-quality designs. Rolling enrollments mean you may register today and start right away.
DesignMentor Training is the professional design training division of Sessions, online school of design. Sessions.edu, Inc., ( www.sessions.edu), founded in 1997, was created with the goal of bringing new media design education to graphic and web designers worldwide, through online education.
A pioneer and a leader in the distance education industry, Sessions has delivered thousands of classes to students in over 100 countries. Sessions is accredited by the Distance Education Training Council and is the first online school licensed by the New York State Department of Education.
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