Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Lesson in Magazine Printing from the Ghost of Robin Williams

Surprise, surprise, there were no takers for the copy of TIME magazine purporting to show the ghost of Robin Williams.

Despite the Dead Tree Edition article being picked up by the Naples (Florida) Daily News and several web sites, no one could scare up $10,000 and enough gullibility to bid in the eBay auction that ended Friday.

But those of you with more dollars than sense and a passion for printing errors need not despair: Almost immediately, the Kennewick, Washington-based eBay seller "warnecathe" relisted it, again with a minimum bid of 10 Gs.

Williams' ghost reportedly showed up at his mansion a month ago, but the scores of printing and publishing geeks who commented on the TIME cover were not fooled. The consensus was that the cover, along with the back cover, was simply printed without enough black ink.

A few correctly pointed out that I was wrong in saying the cover could not have been printed shortly after the press started up. Newsstand copies of TIME are bound before the subscriber copies, but the covers are printed at the same time.

Several commenters guessed that the copy was printed just after a blanket wash, a process for cleaning debris off a press in the middle of a printing job.

A blanket wash causes paper going through the press to get little or no ink, so the paper coming out of the press is supposed to be diverted to the waste stream until the color returns to normal. But in this case "the pressman was just a little too quick in deciding where the waste stopped and the good sheets started," wrote Tom Kenny of Pictorial Corporation, on the LinkedIn group Print Production Professionals. "We wouldn't be discussing this if the error didn't produce such a metaphoric image. It's the ghost in the machine."

In the blink of an eye
Another one of the 34 comments in the PPP group provided more detail: "The black ink is way way down, the magenta and yellow are down a bit, the cyan a hair more than the magenta and yellow," wrote Eric Eliel of e2 Communications. "Looks very much like they just washed the blankets and the press was coming back to color."

"Keep in mind, the speed at which modern heatset [press] webs run, at 2000+ feet per minute, translates to about 17 copies per second at speed. The presses should come back to color after a washup in about 50 to 100 copies, which is about 3 or 4 seconds. This 'color' issue could occur in a blink of an eye, literally."

Sandra Jones of Best Version Media explained why the faulty cover couldn't have been noticed and pulled out during the binding process: "Being a subscriber copy, it would have come off the stitcher already buried in a postal bundle."

And no one disagreed with the assessment offered by Grace Savides of Independent Printing: "Wow, that eBay seller is quite the opportunist. It's amazing how little shame some people have. Glad no one's put a bid on it yet."

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