Demystifying the Press Check Process with Chris Barton’s New Book: Dazzle Ships

By Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director and Designer

Sometimes, we in the design department actually LEAVE the design department for a few hours.

I know it’s hard to believe, but we don’t always sit behind a computer clicking buttons for eight hours a day. Some aspects of book making require interacting with other people outside of our building. Case in point: the press check.”WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?” you might ask. Thanks for asking.

To explain:

The books we work so hard on in digital form while in development also make it into physical printed form, so they can join the other wonderful physical books in your homes and your bookshelves. For certain books—those that have special printing treatments, exceptionally large print runs, or have art and images that will be difficult or extremely important to match color, someone either in design or in print production will head to the printer when the book is on press for quality assurance to make sure it’s printing as expected.

What do we expect? That the color will match the high-end color proofs we’ve approved in house and send along with the digital files to the printer. A shot of printer proofs for our upcoming Millbrook picture book Dazzle Ships by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai:

Victo Ngai Dazzle Ships book illustration
Yes, the printer proofs look like a wonderful jumble of mixed up pages, 8 pages per side of large sheet of paper for the press. Once printed and folded properly, the book will all make sense. But that’s a whole separate printing signatures & forms blog post for you.

We print in most books in 4-color process, so there are four plates and rollers laying down the four color components of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, that once together make a full color book. Color levels are adjusted when on press by adding or lessening any of these four color components in various areas of the images. For this particular job we added more yellow in places to warm up the art.

Printing presses are long machines with many components. This is one section of the press—one of those four plates & rollers—the yellow plate. Which may be obvious. You can see parts of two more presses in the background.
Once the paper has made it through all four color rollers, the entire image has been formed and the press sheet rolls out, done. It takes a few (or many) sheets for any color adjustments to make it through the entire press, so it’s not unheard of to go through a couple hundred sheets of paper to get the colors all where we want them. Much of this prep is done BEFORE the printer calls in the clients (us), so we’re there to do the final look and adjustments.
And when the pressman on the job is experienced and great at his job (in this case it was Dan, hence ‘pressman’ rather than ‘pressperson’) there are very few adjustments to go once we arrive. Here, cover press sheets are rolling out of the press. The operator will grab the top sheet and bring it over to the light booth  to compare to the previous round of color adjustments and our high-end color proofs:
Chris Barton Dazzle Ships Press Check
That reflected purple screen you see almost cut off the top left corner is the screen for the computer that runs the press—there are many many color bars and buttons that correspond to parts of the press & press sheet, all of which mystify me but the people running the press know them like the backs of their hands.

 

Making a color adjustment for one page will affect all the other areas of the book in that particular column of the press sheet, so changing one page to be more yellow could up the yellow on another page that really doesn’t need it. As with most things, 4-color printing is a balancing act to get the right result.

Chris Barton Dazzle Ships Jacket
Pressman Dan knew exactly how to adjust for this cover and jacket—I’d say something like “this is looking to blue, can you warm it up more” and before I was done he’d be agreeing and already adding the yellow in the right places with all the mystifying buttons. This photo shows the difference between adjustments. Which you can sort of see in the the picture… but trust me, we moved the color on the flaps to be a better match.

Once the color is right, we sign off on the approved sheet, and let the rest of the job run using the same levels. Press checks when they go well can take only ten minutes. Press checks when they go badly can end up with pulling the entire job off press to fix a problem, then rescheduling for another time—that did not happen with this book. This particular excursion to the printer went very smoothly.

And we went back the next day to see the interior pages on press and worked on matching the color of the back cover printed the day before to the color of the endsheets, as the same piece of art was used in both places.

Victo Ngai Dazzle Ships Book Endsheets
Also once signed off, we get a few press sheets and take them back to the office to take pictures, like this, to tease readers with more bits of the incredible art in this book. Just wait ’till you see the entire thing!
I’ll be seeing the finished book soon, once it’s back from the bindery. With the final quality assurance step at the printer, I know it’ll look remarkable! You can see the entire book soon too—Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion is on sale September 1.
Preorder it now from IndieBound or Amazon, or look for it at your favorite indie bookstore this fall.

Hey, Designer, what was that word you just used?

By Danielle Carnito, Trade Art Director and Designer at Lerner

Sometimes when you’ve been in a particular job role or three for a while you start taking for granted that everyone around you knows what you’re talking about when throwing around technical design or book speak. Or maybe it’s not even technical book speak, but department slang. Then every once in a while a colleague from another department wanders over into the design world, overhears us bandying about such words, gives us an odd look, then walks away. This is how ideas for blog posts are born.

So here it is, folks. Some technical words as they apply to finishing printing treatments on book jackets and covers, defined as we use them at Lerner:

Foil stamp: an extra printing application, done with stamp, which adheres a metallic or pigmented foil to the paper. When you see something super shiny on a cover or jacket, this is usually a foil stamp. Stamps can be holographic or glittery or pearly… or just a straight color.  Foils can be used over an entire cover with an image printed on top of that, which will give the entire cover a metallic sheen. Or, they can also be used for a mirror effect.

Holographic foil combined with an emboss on the title.
Foil stamp bringing self reflection to the reader

At Lerner we use the foil stamp more regularly on our novel hardcovers—otherwise known as the case—beneath the jackets. Here’s just a sampling of some Carolrhoda Lab and Middle Grade novel cases:

I would be remiss not to mention the talented Designers who have put together these jackets and undercover easter eggs: Kim Morales, Emily Harris, and Laura Otto Rinne. I may have done a couple as well.

 

Emboss: a printing treatment, added at the end of the printing process, in which a part of the paper is raised to make a 3D or sculptural appearance to a book cover. It’s tactile, it’s awesome, it makes whatever you emboss stand out further on a cover. Used often for titles. (if we can get our title even one millimeter physically closer to you than the others…)
Some variations on an emboss:

Deboss: the affected area of the jacket is sunken rather than raised. Why would you want to do this, you ask? Well, what if you were trying to mimic claw marks, scratched into the surface.

part of the production file for a case deboss or foil stamp.
This will eventually end up on a color paper, so won’t be black & white.
(Unless the designer Kim chooses to use white paper for the case.)

Blind emboss: just the emboss to create the shape. No ink. Very subtle.

Sculptural emboss: a regular emboss has one level, a sculptural emboss has more levels for a more intricate look. If I ever get this kind of emboss approved, I’ll gladly take a picture of the final product and update this post.

Lamination: That plastic coating on jackets that makes them durable. You probably knew this one. But did you know laminate can be either on the front surface or the underneath surface of the jacket, depending how tactile the cover should be. There are different types of laminate as well: standard gloss, matte, or soft-touch matte (or in department words: “the one that feels really nice”).
Varnish: a final paper coating, not as protective (or plastic) as lamination, but can aid in keeping fingerprints to a minimum. We often use a lamination & spot varnish to achieve a cover with both matte and gloss areas. Which is very hard to take a picture of. (departmental slang: “let’s do the matte/gloss thing with this jacket!”)

And one more for now: that little piece of textile on the top and the bottom of the spine, where the pages meet the binding–that’s called the headband. And yes, designers delight in choosing the color for something even this small. Every detail matters.

This picture really does make it look like I use a lot of red & orange on book cases. Hm.

The goal with any of these finishing printing treatments here is to make our covers stand out from crowd while representing the content of the book the best we can—for instance, for book covers such as The Bunker Diary, with a less-than-cheerful topic, it’s really best not to misrepresent the tone by having a bright shiny glossy look on the front.

Do we ever wonder if these finishing details matter to the reader? All the time. But we believe they do. Go to any bookstore, you’ll see foils, embosses, debosses, matte laminate, or many other printing enhancements on covers (Glitter! Metallic ink!) everywhere. What do you think—do these options make YOU want to pick up and read one book more than another?

Equation for a Book Cover Design

Ever wonder how all the parts of book cover get made and then put together?
Here’s a simplified equation* of one recent cover, Tripping Back Blue by Kara Storti.

 

 +

 

 +
=

 

**
 x
picture of feathers***
=
 
* NOT PICTURED: all the parts of the equation when I was assembling the file in Photoshop & Indesign. Let’s face it–pictures of me sitting at a computer staring intently at the screen while moving letters up or down a millimeter to get the best composition, or fading the feathers in and out 5% at a time to get the best vibrancy, are not that interesting.
** NOT PICTURED: Me hunched over a table in the photo studio with a cramping right hand, carving letters out of glitter and cake flour in several different flour : glitter ratios, to get the right amount of sparkle.
ALSO NOT PICTURED: Todd the photographer adjusting lighting during the photoshoot, also to get the right amount of sparkle.
*** FUN FACT: Rights-managed photo licenses for our book jackets usually cover usage for a particular photo used within the jacket design only. So while I can show you the feather picture in use in the actual jacket, I can’t show you this image on its own. You get to imagine it.

Images used courtesy Danielle Carnito (ingredients) and Todd Strand/Lerner Publishing Group (lettering)