Matt used to work for a local newspaper as a pressman, and I would occasionally stop in with cookies for the guys – and to sneak a peek at the press! It was like going ‘into the painting’ on a tour with Mr. Rogers. You remember those, I hope!
Before printing was discovered, a century was equal to a thousand years.
Henry David Thoreau
I had a pretty clear understanding of the process involved after working with commercial printers; getting the inks to the right saturation, making sure the paper was at the right tension, aligning the plates properly – but seeing it in action really made it all come together. Once the press is set-up and running at top speed, the actual item takes seconds (literally) to print.
If you’re intrigued and want a little behind the scenes view of a press, you’re in the right place. The videos below are of older presses – the fancy new presses aren’t as fun to watch because everything is hidden neatly behind sidewalls (sort of like a washing machine).
One-Color Sheet Fed Press
Here’s a machine we’d love to get our hands on. In order to produce a colorful image with a single color press, you feed the paper through a number of times, layering the ink and the color. The dry time of the ink is extremely important in such cases because the colors won’t blend well if they’re layered dry.
Traditional Multi-Color Press
I can smell the ink in this place. A multi-color press has a separate station / inkwell for each color that is being printed. It could be black + a custom spot color, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black), or any number of variations between.
I had to share this one too because I’m waxing sentimental. I miss that old newspaper – but not nearly as much as Matt does.
A Vocabulary Lesson
I bet you’re wondering about the title…who are these gangs of printing? I suppose I should have started this little series with a vocabulary lesson, but videos are more fun.
Gang / Gang-Run
Gangs (in printing) are not a who, but a what. Gang or gang-run printing refers to printing more than one job on a sheet of paper. Printing more than one job per sheet of paper reduces paper waste, production cost, and saves time.
It’s sort of like making cookies; you roll out the dough and puzzle piece as many hearts on the surface so you only have to re-roll it two or three times. If you only cut one heart from the dough before starting over you’d be in the kitchen all day.
Gangs use as much of the sheet as possible so more jobs can go to press on any given day. By sharing the sheet with another job, you’re saving money because you’re only charged for the paper used on your project – not the entire sheet. Gang-runs are one of the main reasons printing has become more affordable in recent years.
Full Color / 4-Color Process
Full-color or 4-color process refers to the inks used on the press. In this case, full-color or 4-color process or process means cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. You’ll more often than not hear these colors referred to as ‘CMYK.’
Advances in technology have made process printers far more affordable, so many of the printing facilities you’ll find will offer 4-color printing as a standard. (I remember when this was not the case and 4-color printing meant four specially mixed spot colors…more on that in a minute.) What does that mean for you? Your color photographs and illustrations can be reproduced quickly, easily, and with great accuracy.
CMYK / RGB
As mentioned above, CMYK refers to Cyan – Magenta – Yellow – Black. These four colors blend in infinite ways to produce printed color. RGB refers to Red – Green – Blue. These three colors create all of the color pixels on your screen(s): laptop, smart phone, television, etc.
While the industry standard requires files to be in CMYK for printing most jobs, there are cases where an RGB file will be requested. It’s important to note the limitations of color-matching between media…what you see is not necessarily what another person sees – just as your screen will render color differently than a sheet of paper.
1-Color / 2-Color
1-color usually means a job is printed in black only, 2-color is usually black + 1 spot color (Pantone®), 3-color would be black + 2 spot colors, and so on. 4-color could mean black + 3 spot colors, but most likely it means full-color.
Spot Color / Pantone®
Spot colors refer to a very specific color which is 99.9% of the time a Pantone® Matching System (PMS) color. It’s a very strict palette of colors intended to produce near perfect matches in print. In their words, Pantone® is “an innovative system of identifying, matching and communicating colors to solve the problems associated with producing accurate color matches in the graphic arts community.”
Basically, a Pantone® color ensures that Coca-Cola® Red and Campbell’s® Soup Red are easily distinguishable to consumers. These colors are called spot-colors when printing because quite often they are used to color one area of a job.
Sheet-Fed Press / Web Press
Sheet-fed presses print on sheets of paper, while web presses print on rolls of paper. In the examples above, the first + second are sheet-fed presses, the third (the newspaper) is a web press. Standard sheet-fed sizes: full sheet (28″ x 40″), half sheet (28″ x 19″), and quarter sheet (13″ x 19″). The rolls, also called reels, are REALLY BIG (I’m pretty sure that’s the official unit of measure.)
Paper, Paper, Paper!
So, now we’re on to paper / stock / cardstock. This industry is humongous² – that’s not an exaggeration – amazingly, my love for paper is even bigger! I kid you not. So, I’ll go over the paper stocks that are common among larger, less specialized printers.
If you’re working with a smaller printer (in size, not capabilities) I’d suggest going to their facility to see their stocks and finishes and wonderment…the possibilities really are endless when you put ink to paper.
But I digress. To the terminology!
If you take a look at what a lot of printers are offering these days, there are a few standard terms they’ll mention:
Text refers to a high-quality, lightweight paper. Great for sales sheets and inserts, text stock is often used in booklets and quality periodicals.
As the name implies, cover stock is used as the cover in printed works like paperback books, reports, and calendars. You’ll also see this stock used for business cards and postcards.
This refers to the thickness of the sheet. Technically, paper has three sides: a front, a back, and an edge. If you measured the thin edge of the paper, you would be measuring in 1000ths of an inch. For example: 14 pt. stock is .0014 in thick (0.0356 mm). The larger the point, the thicker and sturdier the stock.
This refers to the weight of the sheet. The weight of paper isn’t as useful as other measures because it’s based on the specifications of manufacturing – not the end result we experience as consumers. For example: The 92 lb. printer paper we have here in the studio sounds impressive, but it’s just an everyday paper stock you would use to print directions to your cousin’s wedding. (If you’re interested in reading more on paper weight…)
In addition to the paper, they’ll mention the finish. Think of it as the icing on the cake.
This is paper in its raw form, without chemical finishes or coating. School paper, stationery, and traditional calling cards are usually uncoated. It has a lovely old-timey feel, often used to communicate a person or company’s eco-friendly philosophy.
A paper with a glossy finish. Think magazine or picture book pages.
A paper with a low-gloss finish. Again, you’ll see this in magazines or picture books.
A paper with a dull finish. Some high-end magazines / journals use this stock. You’ll recognize it by its ‘creamy’ texture, it feels like a baby’s bum. (This is my favorite of the finishes, if you couldn’t tell.)
Adds a little extra gloss to the finish, protecting your piece from wear, tear, and fingerprints.
This adds a high-gloss finish to your piece. It goes on as a liquid and is cured (dried) with ultra-violet light.
Ever wonder how paper is made?
A little peek at the world of post-consumer product recycled paper. Talk about a BIG reel of paper!
To wrap up this primer, there are a few random bits of terminology you should know:
Bleed / Full Bleed
No, this is not a cheap sequel to Rambo. In printing, bleed simply means that the color / design / text ‘bleeds’ over the edge of the piece instead of printing within a margin. For example, your home printer probably prints documents with a .35″ margin, whereas your photo printer bleeds ink off the edge of the paper, covering the entire sheet with your image.
4/0 + 4/4 and So On
This quickly describes the color used on the piece. 4/0 means 4-color (full-color) on the front, nothing on the back. 4/4 means 4-color on the front, full-color on the back. 2/1 would be 2-color on one side, 1-color on the other.
If you intend on folding your finished product, you’ll want the printer to score the paper for you. It creates a lovely little ridge on the paper that makes folding thick stock easy – and keeps the fold clean.
Remember in school when the teacher would tell you to fold your paper like a hot-dog (fold on the long side) or a hamburger (on the short side)? Well, as they say, there’s more than one way to fold a paper! Traditionally, you’ll see half-fold and tri-fold (letter fold) promotional pieces, but there is also z-fold, roll-fold, accordion-fold, gate-fold…and more! The design and production of a printed piece are very closely related here. Understanding what information the viewer should see first (and which panel the information needs to be on to do so) is critical.
So, do you feel a little better versed in printing jargon?
This is not a complete primer on the printing industry. There is so much more to it than I could possibly cover.
I intend to revisit them later, as Matt and I are both lovers of print and paper, however my intentions in writing ‘The Gangs of Printing’ was to share a primer on the methods / terminologies that might be used for standard business cards, promotional pieces, and the like. Why? I have found that a small bit of knowledge on a subject has the ability to remove a great deal of fear / hesitation.
My hope was that the next time you order a printed piece, you’ll feel confident in your selection of 4/4 on 16pt uncoated cardstock, or 4/1 on a die-cut 14pt glossy UV-coated cardstock.
One for the Road
I came across this video while searching for others regarding the printing and paper industry. It’s too good not to share and the message is extremely important as well. You’ll get an inside look at letterpress printing, small business, and love.
If you’re a softy, this is where things get a little emotional…I’d suggest tissues.
Please, support small, independent businesses whenever possible.
With inky hands,
P.S. If you’d like to dig a bit deeper, I highly recommend Put It on Paper: Every Person’s Guide to the Printing Industry