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One off off-set lithographic Print?

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  • One off off-set lithographic Print?

    Hi guys,

    I have a situation where I need to commercially print illustrations that are coloured entirely in black. It's basically realistic aircraft illustrations and the aircraft are painted black. So I have the issue of having to present these black aircraft including all of the shading/lighting etc so that the black that the aircraft is painted is as dark and as close to the black paint that was used on real aircraft as possible.

    The reader base are sticklers for accuracy. The aircraft was, in fact, painted in a very dark grey colour, not 100% black, but under the wings where the shading is much darker and in shadow it is pushing the black to 100%. What I do not want to happen is when it's printed we just end up with a black blob of ink that is overpowering any of the subtle shading and details.

    My only option is to lighten the dark grey paint colour that is applied to the aircraft to compensate, but I only want to lighten the colour just enough so as to not cause problems when printed. So essentially keeping it as dark as I possibly can.

    To test this out I would like to set up a few different versions of the illustrations with varying percentages of the dark grey paint colour and choose the best option for the final colour.

    Back in the 90's when I was involved in Design I seem to remember that there was an option for small print runs or test runs ecalled a "Bromide". Is this term still in use today and would it be a viable option to get a 1 off lithographic print of a page printed for comparison purposes? Any idea of the ballpark costs for such a print?


  • #2
    A bromide is, skipping the details, mostly just a photographic print. It's been years since I've heard that term used and even longer since I used to have them made on occasion earlier in my career.

    Are these hand-painted illustrations that would need to be scanned? If they're fairly large, you'll need to have studio photos shot. Either one of these methods would involve a whole lot of Photoshop work and some intelligent guessing, but it sounds like you've already gotten past this part.

    Have you considered finding a digital printer that specializes in fine art prints.

    PrintDriver should be along soon, and he knows a whole lot more about the ins and out of digital printing than I do.


    • #3
      I saw the word Bromide and ran screaming from the room....

      I don't do any litho printing but I'm guessing, like most presses these days, the output is emulated by some form of digital print that will closely approximate what you'll get off the press. You will need to discuss with the printer how far apart your gray values will need to be on the paper you are printing on in order to get a good gray separation.

      If I were doing this in large format as a ''giclee'' print (and I put that in quotes for a reason), I would do exactly as you are doing in order to get the gray balance you are seeking. Multiple prints at varying densities.

      Fine art digital prints, often called ''giclee'' prints are nothing more than very high quality inkjet prints done with archival-quality, long(er)-lasting pigmented inks on archival grade paper. A high end Epson or HP or similar wide format printer is often employed for these. It isn't the fastest way to get several hundred or more prints done (can be nearly 15minutes for a 40"x60" at highest quality.) The form is usually used for low count serial prints (usually under 100) and usually pretty expensive.

      Photographic Art prints can be done on a Lambda or Lightjet printer on archival quality photo paper as well. These are RGB laser exposed, RA4 wet-processed photo prints up to 48" x 120" (+/-). Probably not what you have in mind.


      • #4
        Thanks for your comments guys.

        The illustrations are digital and created entirely in Photoshop so adjusting to taste is not an issue. There will be currently an unknown number of instances that will be affected by this particular issue. They will be included in multiple volumes of perfect bound books with approximately 200+ pages in each book. They will be commercially printed using 4 colour off-set litho.

        As I understand it digital printing compensates for such issues and is not a fail-safe way of emulating traditional litho printing. I wouldn't feel safe putting my faith in a digital print to test out such an issue which could look really bad if I do not get it right. Although I can see it becoming a costly venture if we go the full films or file to plate and one-off print route... That's why I wondered if there was a small print run option available for such test?


        • #5
          Have you talked directly with the book publisher? They may have an option.
          I do a lot of fired enamel porcelain, where there ain't no way I can run a test panel. But the vendor has a high end proofer that is calibrated to the strange color mix of the fired earths and gets impossibly close to what the finished piece will look like. I'm betting today's litho companies have something as accurate. If not, only they can give you the price for such a one-off.


          • #6
            They will be included in multiple volumes of perfect bound books
            When you mentioned "one-off," I assumed it meant that you just needed one of them, in which case digital printing would be the way to go.

            I'm still not sure what you're asking, but now it seems you're asking about printing press proofs that will enable you to choose the one that works the best for the full run. If so, that's doable, but press proofs are very expensive and not often done unless there's money to burn.

            Before everything became digital all the way to the press, color keys and matchprint proofs were made directly from the negatives used to burn the printing plates. These proofs provided a high degree of reliability in that both the proof and the print run were from the same negative. Today, it's all digital and electronic proofing, which sounds like it might not provide you with the degree of certainty you're looking for.

            All that considered, I'd do as PrintDriver suggested and work directly with the people who will be printing the book since they can give you exact feedback on their procedures, systems and expectations. You said this would be a 4-color process job, where you'll be printing subtle shades of very dark grays. It might not be doable for you in this instance, but accuracy for that kind of thing can sometimes be improved with a 5th or 6th color (gray spot colors) rather than relying on black itself (along with the other 3 inks) to carry the bulk of the burden. Over the years, I've seen some beautifully printed B&W tritones and duotones that had the kind of richness and depth that really isn't possible in a CMYK mix alone.

            Slightly off topic, but I designed a coffee table book a few years ago where high CMYK printing quality was essential. To ensure accuracy, the book printer sent me a monitor and a computer with software precisely calibrated to their settings. I had to send it all back when the job was done, but they told me that working with their equipment using their exact settings under just the right lighting conditions was needed to ensure the quality the client expected.


            • #7
              Guys, thanks!

              I currently work for the publisher as the Illustrator/Art Director for the project. I'm kind of at the helm with creating these illustrations and it is down to me to ensure they print correctly so I was going to try and get a test sheet printed with various examples with different levels of grey so I could see which levels are the best to go with. Sadly we are a long way off from sourcing a printer for the entire project, but the illustrations are in progress. They can be altered quickly at any time so it may just be a case of sorting this issue when we have a printer finalised so I can liaise with them specifically.

              "I'm still not sure what you're asking, but now it seems you're asking about printing press proofs that will enable you to choose the one that works the best for the full run."

              The above is exactly what I am asking. I can make a custom page with various instances of the same illustration, but each one will have a different version of the black paint (varying in darkness). I can then choose which version or dark is the best to use.

              I usually wouldn't worry as much, but due to the levels of accuracy required for the actual colours used to paint the aircraft and what with this one being painted black it has the possibility of looking bad printed if I use the actual colours the readership would expect.

              Below is a small crop of the trouble areas. It is an aircraft in profile view. In the crop on the bottom half of the image you can see the under the wing (in shadow). Towards the top of the image you can see the paint colour used on the fuselage which should show it's true paint colour:

              Click image for larger version

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              This is the colour I should be using:

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              This is the colour I am currently using (seen in the illustration crop), but it is very light in shade and it will raise some eyebrows amongst the readership as not being accurate. I really need to get it much darker, in an ideal world the same as the above swatch:

              Click image for larger version

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              Interesting idea regarding the use of spot colours, something else to consider which might help in this case. There will only be a few of these black painted aircraft so an extra colour might not break the bank if we can ensure better accuracy...

              I think what I am after is a proof of some sort. I'll try some local litho printers to see if they can offer a solution.

              Ideally we would have had the printer sorted already, but in this unique case the creation time for the artwork and the research has taken a long time. 50 years for the research and I've been doing the illustrations for 5 years already with at least a couple more to go before final printing is even considered.

              Another option might be to use one black on the fuselage and another level of black under the wings, but that still might look bad when printed in CMYK. I'll have to leave these black illustrations till last and see how this can work when we get the printers on board.


              • #8
                Considering how you've described it, I don't see much choice other than to work closely with the printer once they're chosen. And if quality is as important as you indicate, I'd be very careful in choosing the printer. I would also get that done as soon as possible. Considering the effort you say has gone into this and the high expectations, hurriedly selecting a printer can't be left to the last-minute since their abilities with quality control will be crucial to the success of the project.

                As for proofing, even if you did pay for a press proof, if that proof wasn't run on the same press as the final job will be printed, it won't mean much. Even small things, like humidity differences on subsequent days using the same press and paper stock, can result in a noticeable difference.

                One of the bigger problems you'll be facing on this one is dot gain. Those subtle high-density grays can be difficult to maintain, and it all depends on you working very closely with a quality-oriented printer to ensure that the digital files are prepared in exactly the right way to account for all the variables involved. Fortunately, much of this involves the kinds of tweaks to tonal values that can be made at the last minute or even during prepress.

                For what it's worth, I'd be very nervous about sending a job like this one to a foreign printer to keep costs down if that's being considered. On this kind of job, I'd want to be standing next to the pressmen as they were printing it.


                • #9
                  B, Thank you for your expertise and valuable insight on this matter. You have given me a few extremely valid points to consider. I will take your advice and wait until we have a quality printer on board so I can tackle these particular illustrations whilst working closely with them to get the best result possible.

                  Incidentally, there are some decent printers in Eastern Europe. Several other publishers within our genre have their high print quality books printed in that region. Namely Bulgaria and Poland. So they may have upped their game in recent years. A trip out there might not be out of the question when the printing is underway.


                  • #10
                    BTW a Bromide is produced on a process camera, usually from the film that will be used to make the plates. It is not a good indicator of how the printed version will look.
                    Time flies like an arrow - fruit flies like a banana






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