This is going to be a two-part series. Before getting into the second part, I strongly recommend that you read and study my Printing Workflow presentation as it details how to accomplish some of the steps in reasonable detail. Although there are a couple of PDF documents for printing, they do not show some of the slides as they are not visible outside the presentation flow. Make sure to watch the slide presentation. See the updated soft-proof profile post before proceeding. (8/8/2001)
I have been using MagCloud on-demand publishing since last year. I had two academic projects that benefited from the technology and my exhibits and publishing as well. Along with two students, in collaboration with the members of the Photographic Society of Rhode Island, PSRI, we published PSReye Focus in December 2009. This past fall semester MagCloud was an important tool in another course where students worked on a project titled Vision of Hope in collaboration with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. Since May 2010, I have used MagCloud services for three exhibits, an expanded exhibit catalog, and more recently a free-standing publication called IR Earthscapes.
In all projects, the proofing turned out to be the most challenging step, partly due to time constraints resulting from poor time management, and partly due to the way we have handled the proofs. Since my last project IR Earthscapes, I have come to the conclusion that there has to be a smarter way of proofing to save time and to save money while getting as much information as possible from the proof.
In the publishing process, there are several variables that the publisher controls, some the printer controls, and some that fall through the cracks in the process. I want to start by exploring what these variables are and how we can make the best of the proofing for a high-caliber finished publication. I will mainly focus on the image quality related issues rather than the layout, typography, sequencing, and the like. The main ingredients that contribute to the image quality are:
- Printing paper
- Printer ICC profile
- Image editing environment
- Images themselves
- Image editing workflow
The first two are under the control of MagCloud, and the last three are under the control of the photographer/publisher. It is important to know how MagCloud controls those elements and how that may affect my preparation of the images I want to include. Let’s begin with what the user cannot control, the printing paper and the ICC profiles. Although we cannot control what they use, we can certainly try to make intelligent choices.
The Paper Used in Printing
MagCloud uses different weights and stocks of papers depending on whether the magazine is saddle-stitched or perfect-bound. This information is directly from their site, simply reorganized in a tabular format:
The saddle-stitched issues printed on 60# text paper are not satisfactory for my purposes; the pages show through, the feel is not substantial, and the overall impact is limp. For short and medium issues the saddle-stitched option may be viable with good quality and feel. However, the consistency of the look and feel of the perfect-bound issues is very satisfying with heavier feeling cover and substantial inner pages along with crisp perfect binding. I will not use saddle stitching for issues over 30 pages or so, the pillowing around the spine takes away from the overall look and feel of the magazine.
ICC Profile Used in Printing
I did not know this until my last issue, but MagCloud uses different ICC profiles for saddle stitched and perfect bound issues. I thought I would get an image/print quality proof with 30-40 pages, then I would try the full-size magazine, followed by the final proof. I started the process by requesting a saddle-stitched proof and found that the toned B&W photographs looked over the top although on my monitor they appeared acceptably subtle. I pulled down the toning, a cool selenium tone, and ordered a full-size, 100-page saddle stitched proof. Very disappointing! The pages bled through and the whole thing was flimsy. I wrote to support and then I learned to pay attention to paper used, and that there were different ICC profiles used for different processes. To make a long story short, along with the paper type the print profile used made a difference in the final result, a perfect-bound 80-page magazine which feels solid with very good print quality.
On the other hand, the photographer or the publisher has several things under control, and under control, they must be.
Image Editing Environment
It is imperative to have a properly calibrated and profiled monitor to know what colors you are dealing with. If you are not working with a calibrated monitor your efforts are going to be a big crap-shoot. My choice of equipment are a 24″ Samsung 244T monitor and X-Rite ColorMunki calibration and profiling device. I am not a fanatic about it and do not calibrate my monitor every day, heck I sometimes go for several weeks because I do not work on images all day every day. But I make sure that before I start any photographic work my monitor is freshly calibrated and repeat it once a week if I continue working on photographs.
Additionally, the lighting around my monitor is reasonably controlled. There are no windows behind me or on either side that may cast light and create glare. The wall behind the monitor is not brightly colored to affect my perception of screen colors, and so on. I try to create as neutral an environment as possible.
The old adage, GIGO; garbage in, garbage out; applies here. Editorial scrutiny on the photographs to include in a magazine based not only on content but on actual image quality is essential. It is tough to edit out some of the photographs because of emotional ties to them. However, the inclusion of poor quality photographs will most likely lower the impact of the entire publication. Being self-critical, if editing your own images; or editorially critical if editing submitted images is an essential part of the workflow to produce top-notch publications. Additionally, you may want to pay attention to the totality of the collection that will become a part of the finished product, but I will not say more about that here.
Image Editing Workflow
I use Photoshop Lightroom 3.x and Adobe Photoshop CS5 for my editing workflow. The artistic judgments aside, the images need to be edited for full tonality, appropriate color (I avoid “correct color” as there may be artistic judgments here too), proper saturation, and proper sharpness. When I prepare to print single images on my Epson 4880, I know the paper, I know the ink, I have done it enough times that I am quite comfortable with my workflow. I am in charge of the process from beginning to the end, and I can see the results within minutes. However, when I prepare output for MagCloud printing I am mostly guessing and using a trial and error process. That caused me to lose time since I had to make changes and order proofs several times to get the desired output in the end.
Then I started thinking that there must be a better and more efficient way. So I wrote to MagCloud support and asked if they could share the ICC profile they use for printing with me. The MagCloud rep was kind enough to look into that and sent me one ICC profile they use for perfect-bound magazine output, and the saddle-stitch output ICC profile will be coming after February 20.
In part two, I will explain the smart-proofing workflow and recommend that you review the Printing Workflow presentation slides and be comfortable with the concepts there.