Sean Michael Robinson:
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!