Above the clouds

A night 'on press', by francis atterbury

Twenty hours earlier…

Above the Clouds is a book by US born photographer, Scott Mead. It catalogues the beautiful, dramatic and often astonishing images he took from aeroplane windows as he travelled around the world.

The book will be published by Prestel this summer and it has been my job to create and oversee the manufacture of the book.

The images contain amazing colour, drama and detail and the decisions behind the choice of ultra-high resolution screens, the text paper and case binding of this large format landscape book could all be stories on their own. However, people often talk about ‘press checks’ and I thought it might be interesting to document what happened here (spoiler alert: this story contains prolonged periods of inactivity).

 

above the clouds

The book measures 300 x 355mm (landscape) and the paper has been made to 780 x 650mm (short grain) printing 4pp to view in 8pp sections. There are 136pp so there’s a total of 17 signatures (34 sides) to print. The plates are made using a 10 micron dot (equivalent to a 500 line screen) which allows incredible detail in the reproduction and renders the printing dot invisible to the eye.

 

08.30 hours…

You will always be asked to arrive earlier than actually needed as it’s cheaper to keep a person waiting than a press (usually) – my day started at 8:30am.

We had already printed one of the 17 sides in this half of the book and a further two were the subject of image retouches. My job today was to print the remaining 14 sides. As a matter of procedure, it’s always advisable to keep the colophon & contents to the end as it makes a useful final check for pagination and it often gets overlooked in proofing with any errors being only noticed when printing.

 

09.10 hours…

Side 1 – There are three images on this sheet and, although the calibration has worked for two, the third image remains wrong compared to previous proofs and it’s not going to work. When on press, it’s important to decide quickly whether an image can be changed how you want or not. If not, the sooner you lift it the better for everyone but you may be surprised by just how much it’s possible to move the colour on press. However, one of the downsides of very fine screens is there’s almost zero dot gain and consequently very little scope for amendment on press (especially in the highlights) and so we lift the side to retouch the image.

 

11:15 hours…

Side 2 – The second sheet is looking incredible and we use this to balance the colour. We’re running strong weights but I want the Cyan to sit slightly above the Magenta in density as Magenta will kill luminescence. It’s very important at the start of any job to establish a set of weights that make good images and as far as you can, to stick to this. Humans are rubbish at remembering colour (whatever you may think), but excellent at recognising difference. So, if you compare a sheet at 9pm to one you printed 3 hours earlier you are likely to reduce the ink weights to match the overall look of the earlier sheet. But this sheet has dried and already lost 3–5% of it’s colour and so begins a sad chain of declining ink weights and boring, boring books. Find what works and, unless it’s actually wrong, stick to it!

 

11:48 hours…

First sheet signed off – Density readings 1.0Y 1.5M 1.55C 2.1K. And before you say that the Yellow is too low, we’re running a half tone varnish and have calibrated for the Yellow tint within the varnish and reduced the Yellow plate density accordingly. The lift of the ink and the beautiful mattness of the paper means the images stand out like jewels!

 

12:30 hours…

Side 3 – arrives and the weights are working well. Looks great and passed clean.

If all you do is press pass, you’ll die of boredom… or overeating… or both. There are waits between passes and it’s time for lunch.

 

13:42 hours…

Side 4 – You can’t usually go out for lunch though; modern presses mean you need very long runs indeed to get to pudding and by 1.30pm the next sheet is ready to look at. This one needs a very slight tweak to the Magenta to take a little of the blush away and allow the radiance of the light beams to shine through. One tip here, it’s very important not to tell a pressman what to do. If you say to reduce the Magenta that’s usually what will happen; however, in reality it might have benefitted from more Cyan. I always try to explain why I don’t like something and how I want it to change. 

 

15:49 hours…

Side 5 – Took a bit of time to get there because of the deceptively simple cloud formation. But greys are often difficult as grey relies on a balance of all three colours. Here though it’s great and is passed to print.

 

16:00 hours…

Time for the first coffee and a little work on something else so start to lay out a cover for a new book. Pureprint is relatively unusual in that they are extremely well set up with very comfortable rooms with plenty of facilities.

 

17:18 hours…

Side 6 – Colour looking good, but too much turbulence in the mid tones of the image. Because of the exposure and shutter speed, this is present in many of the images but here it has become distracting. Don’t forget the basics; we wash the blankets, wash out the plates and turn the paper stack. Result: beautiful image and pass for press.

 

17:30 hours…

Back to my cell for a Skype call with a new client in California.

 

18:36 hours…

Side 7 – Looks great. Easy sign off.

 

19:47 hours…

Side 8 – Getting into the groove now and Tommy on nights is hitting them really well. Signed off easily.

 

20:40 hours…

Side 9 – Now there’s no more natural light and, with only the night shift around, it really becomes important to pay attention to the ink densities and to remember to stay consistent. Metamerism is a real issue between digital colour proof and printed paper and, without daylight as a reality check, it’s easy to lose confidence and direction.

In between, I get to watch the Masterchef final (whist eating some sort of takeaway). Unusually, I’m not called away at the crucial moment.

 

22:14 hours…

Side 10 – I’m not happy wth the way one of the images is looking. It’s a snow scene and I need to subdue the pinkness in the ice but it can’t be done from the information on the plate. We record the values for the sheet (it will be helpful for two of the images) then lift it and move on.

 

23:40 hours…

Side 11 – Right first time again. Well, maybe a touch of Cyan…

 

00:50 hours…

Side 12 – Another problem. Here two images run above one another and take the same inking path. One needs more Cyan, the other less Cyan. It’s impossible to resolve and so we decide to record and lift once again.

 

02:15 hours…

Side 13 – This final image sheet looks just great.

 

03:30 hours…

Side 14 – This is text only and looked great. I was already packed and ready to set off home with just the Pureprint security rabbits for company outside.

 

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