The Plant Tour aka Print 101

I gave a plant tour to a Marketing Manager the other day. Watching the “aha” moment when he got it still hasn’t lost its luster, even after all these years.

Back in the early nineties when technology was changing from traditional art boards to digital files, I snagged a color key from a pile of proofs that were headed toward the recycling bin. (they are no longer made) I still use this color key because it’s such a splendid example of the separation of 4/color process. The color key has four layers of acetate and each layer has a representative of CMYK. One layer is cyan, the next magenta, then yellow and black. When the final layer is laid down, the 4/color photo is complete. Once a newbie to printing sees this example they have a level of understanding that was missing before. Then, I take that comprehension another step and show them how each color is then digitized onto a plate and how that plate is then hung around a press cylinder. The ink is loaded into the ink well with the corresponding digitized plate. Paper is fed through and each cylinder rotates around and offsets onto a blanket that then offsets onto the actual paper. It’s truly fun to watch them understand.

The other moment of wonder comes when I take a parent press sheet and fold into a 16-page signature, number it and then unfold it. There, I’ve just provided a basic example of imposition. We talk a little about page layout, bleeds, photos and all the possible ways for a job to wrong. Customer files, imposition, plates, paper, inks, press and finishing. There are four main departments and within those departments a minimum of 8 people will physically touch that job.

Thomas gave me the nicest compliment when we were done with the plant tour. His response was, “I can’t wait for Print 201.” My job is satisfying on those days.


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