Monday, April 2, 2012

Here's Why We Avoid Four-Color Body Type

Thank you, The Wall Street Journal. You did me and a whole lot of other production managers a huge favor today with your printing foul-up.

Every couple of years, it seems, I have to talk an editor out of going along with a designer's proposal to jazz up a publication by getting rid of boring old black body type in articles. "Ooh, purple would look nice."

It was hard enough way back in the 20th Century to explain why printing 8-point type with four colors of ink would create an illegible mess. At least then most editors and designers had some clue about how printing worked.

Nowadays, you're likely to be dealing with someone who cut his teeth on the web and can't fathom why what he sees on his monitor can't look exactly the same when printed. ("I don't want four colors; I only want purple!" "Well, if the printer can't make the colors register exactly, get another printer.")

Now I have my evidence.

The Journal printed a graphic showing Pinterest postings intended to inspire innovation among General Electric employees. (Pinterest, by the way, is also known as OSASMCWOTT, which stands for "Oh, S#&t, Another Social-Media Craze We Ought To Try".)

The Pinterest captions use colored body type, which is fine for the web but looked like mud when printed in the copy of the Journal I have. I literally could not read some of the captions.

It's sorcery
When I watch a six-foot-wide roll of paper zipping through an offset web press at 30 miles an hour having tiny dots placed on it one color at a time, I'm always amazed that the process can result in accurate reproductions of color photos. Getting those dots to line up precisely on a sheet of paper that changes dimension as it goes through the press is nothing short of alchemy, or maybe sorcery.

As Gordon Pritchard notes, one set of dots only has to be 1/300th of an inch out of place for the colors to be considered out of register.

The great thing about the Journal example is that the photos don't look bad for newspaper printing. But slight misregistration that is tolerable for photos becomes a disaster when applied to small type.

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Anonymous said...

OSASMCWOTT = hysterical

Charlie McAlpine said...

How about an 8 point Old English Script? Would that be alright?
I read that there is a country in Europe named Sans Serife. The provinces are Upper Caise and Lower Caise.

Stacy said...

oh how I loath 4c type, 3c type and 2c type

elaine said...

Hooray! Well said. If I had a nickel for everytime someone says it doesn't look like that on my monitor I wouldn't have to buy mega million lottery tickets.

larryz said...

When designer used to tell me that the printed piece didn't look like it did on their monitors I used to tell them to buy 5000 monitors and send them to their clients.

Anonymous said...

Showed it to two customers; one said that they should have tweaked the process purple, the other thought a second-order Stochastic thing might have helped.

Anonymous said...

I come from a publication gravure background. Back in the day, to do it right, this would have been a spot color- a nice PMS 2738, for example, run in the fifth unit. No one does that anymore, though

Caroline said...

I'd share this article on Facebook but my 'friends' would not have a clue. Love the 5000 monitors comment! Give me a 5th pms color any day of the week, I can easily register that!

Anonymous said...

Kudos to the gravure printer commenter. Our newspaper would love to be able to do the colored ink trick. All we would need is another press running a spot purple ink for only those pages, which would now become a section, that the purple ink copy runs on. The we could add that section to the inserters. Total cost for all: horribly high.
May I add: we copy and ad proofreaders were always on the lookout for new artists who insisted on using <> as a replacement for black because it looked darker and more intense.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine doing this in a newspaper. Not that we haven't been asked! One of the banes of any print proofreader's existence is new graphic artists who have not worked in print before and who like to use "registration" as a black color because it is "so deep and intense". Yes, and it is also all four colors right on top of each other in type as low as 5 point (ad disclaimer copy).