Monthly Archives: November 2007

Some of What You Need To Know

lost parrot

A wise man once said “I’m going to teach you everything you know, but not everything I know”. Unfortunately, he was eight feet high in a movie theatre.

The following are observations about the print production, agency life, and work in general. Its organized into easily-ignored categories.

The Workday

  • Everyone’s day ends at six, except yours. This explains the 5:59 dump on your desk by someone on their way home.
  • When the word “Family” is uttered, be very careful. You already have a family (setting aside metaphysics for the moment)—everything else are associations.
  • You can and will be thrown overboard—it’s the Family Way.
  • People come to the Studio because its way more interesting than their veal-cube. They’ll want to play in traffic. Watch their little fingers near knives.

The Workflow

  • Similar to a marathon—last files to arrive are the ones that are most screwed up. No, make that a destruction derby.
  • Just because that art director or designer went to a name school doesn’t mean their files won’t be screwed up. Remember, they think they’re Frank Gehry—they get to dream, not to execute.
  • The Inverse Law has many applications. The amount of misery generated by a client/account mgr/customer is inversely proportional to their understanding of the process.
  • The file that has to be FedEx’d rush is the one that is missing something.

Human Relations

  • Agency life revolves around Three Constants: Who’s Cool or Not, This Season’s Fad Gadget, and Who’s Doing Who. This was found taped under David Ogilvy’s desk.
  • Stay on good terms with the support staff and Accounts Payable.
  • 98.6% of office romances end badly. Don’t ask about the other 1.4%. Wait until that special someone works somewhere else, then let it rip.
  • Your problems suck.
  • A good joke lasts forever.
  • Get an outside life.
  • Beware of utopian office schemes that get breathless write-ups in design magazines. Make note who’s got an office with a locking door. Also check to see if there’s adequate ventilation and work surfaces—you are going to be putting together those comps.

The Client/Customer

  • They’re paying the freight.
  • Explain complicated things concisely. Give them a reason to consult you.
  • They know things you don’t. Maybe you’ll learn something.

That’ll do for now.

If You Think This Ad Is Bogus…

if you think this is bogus

I pulled the original from a plywood board-up on Melrose Ave. here in LA in 1989. It was an instant classic.

Over the years I’ve had it in the various offices I’ve occupied. Mainly its been enjoyed. One middle-manager stuffed-shirt at Grey Advertising huffily insisted I take it down, as The Client was going to be in the Office on a Tour.

Right. I made a note to Min-Wax the oar I was seated at.

The best reaction was from a cool account-trainee who looked at it, and told me that a friend of his had made t-shirts using the exact same art. And that this was the first time he’d seen it anywhere else.

Chris, wherever you are, you’ve brought seconds of pleasure to countless ad professionals.

In The Out-of-Gamut Color Space, No One Will Hear You Scream

red hat ladies

Sh0oting Hoops: A Miniature Basketball Court
Somewhere In the Middle of a Very Large Football Field

The visible light spectrum can contain up to 16,777,216 colors. I say “can contain” because the human eye can detect at most several hundred thousand colors. This is the wide and wonderful world of RGB. By comparison, the 4-color printing space is only about 13,000 colors.

While at the Workbook, I used the analogy of basketball court/football field to describe the difference in the respective CMYK/RGB color spaces. Even those proportions are somewhat misleading, but I had to answer questions very concisely—I worked for a publishing firm, not a help desk.

The Color “F-Chart”

Eternal thanks to my boss Paul Semnacher, who kindly gave this to me.

Behold the Color “F-Chart”, which will help you trouble-shoot color issues in the CMYK color space.


The “F” in “F-Chart” euphemistically refers to “tamper, alter, distort” and so on. Use your imagination.

The primary colors are Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. The secondary colors (Green, Orange and Purple) are created from the primaries, as shown by the circular arrows. Black is not shown on this chart, as it controls contrast and shadow.

The main arrows in the center show where contamination occurs.

  • Yellow dirties Purple
  • Magenta contaminates Green
  • Cyan contaminates Orange

Understanding these three things will solve most color issues in the proof stage.

While we’re here, there are several situations you will rarely see done well in 4-color printing:

  • A clean orange
  • Pure turquoise
  • Iridescent lime green
  • A neutral 4-color grayscale image.
    You’re better off controlling it as a rich-black, (ie 20C and 100K).
    Otherwise it will most likely be greenish. But people still try it, with predictably uneven results.

Out Of Gamut, Out Of Mind?

Sadly, no. Michael Kieran defines gamut as “The total range of colors produced by a device, system or storage medium. A color is described being out of gamut when its position in one device’s color space cannot be mapped into the the color space of another device”. Now we both know.

Common RGB Profiles

Here are some common RGB profiles. I’ve seen documents using all of these profiles—Quark, Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator. Changing the profiles in your monitor, source application (Photoshop for instance) and in your layout program will have a noticeable difference in how color is treated.

  • Apple 1998 is the smallest. However its range is considerably less than Adobe RGB (1998)
  • Adobe RGB (1998) is in the middle. Consider it the convertible currency of color management—it produces good results with most RGB recorders and plays well in the CMYK translation.
  • sRGB was designed for low-end consumer color scanners, digital cameras and inkjet printers. It is inadvisable for high-quality color production because of clipping in the blue-green part of the spectrum. Don’t use it if you are planning on printing it. Or you’re feeling foolishly lucky.
  • Monitor RGB tailors color to the monitor, instead of the other way around. It makes sense in a web application, as it forces the RGB colors in Photoshop to match those in web-design programs like Dreamweaver. Again, this observation is from Michael Keiran. Since the bulk of my experience has been in print production, I cannot verify this absolutely. But I included it as an example of the spectrum of choices in color management.

In conclusion, color is a highly subjective experience. Customers sent target proofs ranging from the workmanlike to the surreal. I saw proofs on everything from cold bright white proofing stock (excellent), through warm off-white Arches paper (love that 5% yellow gain), on down to 24lb Walmart inkjet bond (they were out of paper towels that day). Never mind the sizes. I guess the ReadMe/FAQ was optional. But they all want Perfect Color.

Go figure.

Vortex Theory of Chaos And Incompetence


This diagram is a way of explaining what can happen in the design/print production experience. Its also to show that things aren’t entirely grim here at “Mr Pre-Press Speaks!”

This schematic was drawn in 1990 using analog technology. However,  all the working parts are unchanged. Avoid sticking your fingers in the moving parts.

Young Creatives & Old Production Guys

shoes on the line

I remember the day the light went on. I’d figured out the ad industry wanted young creatives and seasoned, experienced production people.

The ad biz wasn’t looking for another 49 year old art director. Especially one with less than 2 years in a B2B shop. The business looks for, and gets, 25 year olds; who are typically beaten with a stick for 60-80 hrs a week, and are paid a lot less than a senior guy or gal makes. Everyone hopes they make their bones before they fall over from complete burn-out.

However—a senior production guy/gal who knows their game is a different proposition. I went home that afternoon and rewrote my resume to say boldly “25 Years of Print Production Experience”. I started working regularly after that.


I didn’t set out to have a career in print production. Honest. But here I am.

Long before I was a junior art director I was a disgruntled print-production guy. I tolerated it as it enabled me to pursue other things like running 100-mile mountain races and other outdoor pursuits.

Late one August night in 1997, I got fed up with being fed up and started back to school. Foreplay was Art Center At Night for a couple of semesters. There was a pause. I was still looking.

In late 1998 I lucked out and found out about Mike Whitlow’s Bookshop. I sat in on a class and realized that the Bookshop was the real deal. This became my after-hours MFA. It took 2-1/2 years, and when I had my book, I was wrung out. But it got me a job as an art director in a small B2B shop,

Our primary client was Aon Insurance. I got laid off after 9/11. Aon’s New York office had been on the 105th floor of the South Tower. Aon and my agency went into vapor-lock along with the rest of the economy.

I spent the next 18 months looking for art direction gigs. The job market was not good. The sky was raining art directors. I reluctantly went back to freelance print-production.

One day in 2003 I was down at a huge direct mail shop in Marina del Rey. Looking around me, I saw men, mostly; guys who’d been group creative heads, creative directors, guys with TV reels. They were doing direct mail. And the tanks were rolling across the Iraqi sand, hotf00ting it to Baghdad.

And that’s when I got it. Something else also happened. Being an art director didn’t define my entire creative existence. And not being one was a relief. Didn’t have to stay up nights and weekends agonizing over things I didn’t care about. Being a Lee Clow whose sole life was advertising struck me as being a monocultural retard, like genetically modified corn.

I’d begun to allocate energy in a different way. And that freed up considerable calories to deal with both print production and my photography in two different capacities. I became a happier guy in the process.

But Wait, There’s Always More

The starting line is continually redrawn. Nobody can afford not to stay engaged. Or in a more cruel vein, the rest of you can go back to sleep while I pursue my studies. Don’t mind me if I eat your lunch.

While working at Grey Advertising in the mid-90’s I met Ben Worthing. Underestimate Ben, but only at your own peril. Yes, he wore powder-blue polyester suits, and looked like the kindly grand-dad you wished you’d had. But he never missed an opportunity to look ahead and learn.

Ben was officially kept on the payroll well after the mandatory 65 retirement age because he was too valuable to let go. He’d schooled the young whelps who later on ran the agency in his print estimating office when they were fresh out of school and useless.

One evening I asked Ben a FileMakerPro question which had been bothering me. His answer was straight to the point. I then asked him how come he “got” computers when many in middle and upper management simply didn’t.

He quietly told me that it went back to his flying days in the Army Air Force in 1942. He was trained as a navigator on a B-17. He didn’t get sent to England because one of his original crew got sick, and the crew was pulled from the flight line. This probably saved him from being shot down over Germany somewhere. He was reassigned to Fort Bliss as an instructor.

By the end of the war in 1945 he was training crews in B-29s. The transition was from an unpressurized, manually controlled, 3-ton payload bomber; to a fully-pressurized, high-altitude heavy bomber that had electro-servo motors for flaps, landing gear, bomb-bay doors that unleashed 10 tons of destruction.

So when the first Macs appeared in the late 80’s he saw a tool that would change his work life for the better. He could now turn estimates for outdoor boards in three locations and four sizes in less than an hour, instead of four hours using an assistant riding a crank-calculator and a pencil on an estimating sheet.

He smiled gently, and walked slowly back to his office on bad knees. I saw him in a completely different light. Ben had remained engaged and curious when his peers resisted. An open engaged mind is a powerful thing. That’s the kind of grand-dad we could all use.

You’ll excuse me—one of my cameras needs to be exercised.

Every Pixel Tells A Story, Don’t It?


Quality halftone image reproduction is central to the print process. I’ll set aside vector art for the moment, as those are generated under a different protocol. And yes, numbers help, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Digitally-created images are unlikely to ever see the bright light of a scanner. But they are bound by the same rules as scanned files.

Scans are made from either flat art, or negatives and chromes. Flat art is scanned on flatbed scanners of varying horsepower, or drum-scanners. Film files can be scanned on a variety of scanners ranging from insanely excellent down to consumer-borderline competent. All scanners have their own proprietary anomalies.

For the purposes of higher-end print production, placed image is typically 350dpi at 100% in the layout. This is true across the board: Photoshop, Quark, InDesign and Adobe Illustrator.

(Note: In Quark and InDesign it is far easier to verify an image’s enlargement/resolution ratio than in Illustrator, where you have to dig. Read why Illustrator is unqualified as a page-layout application).

Scenario 1: High and Low

If you import an image which is 350dpi at its native 100% into a page layout scenario like Quark or InDesign at 100%, the ratio is 1:1, and everything is golden. However, if I import the same file and then enlarge it 125%, the image inversely decreases to 280 lpi.

350 / 1.25 = 280dpi

When I’ve encountered this numeric, I’ll flag it as a potential problem. When I’ve called advertisers about this problem, reactions vary, ranging from “uh-oh” to “it worked when I sent this identical file to Rolling Stone/NY Times Sunday Magazine” etc. This is when I tell them that the difference between art-book publishing and web-offset periodical printing is considerable. Images go soft, banding starts to appear, and image degradation becomes more evident. Oh.

However I’ve seen rare scenarios where images fell short numerically, and were saved by accidental or intentional bold contrasts, even halftones, and overall image quality as evidenced by the customer’s target proofs. The layout was given a pass and off it went to be wet-proofed.

But that is the exception. Like the drunk driver going over a canyon rail and walking away from the wreck.

The opposite doesn’t play out the same way. I’ve seen layouts where the original image is 350dpi, but is imported into a layout at 125%, equalling 437.5dpi.

350 x 1.25 = 437.5dpi

This is excessive, as current printing typically doesn’t require this.

On the higher end of grotesque, I’ve looked at layouts where a placed image is 15% of original, and the customer’s target proofs are 13×19. And printed out on warm toothy art paper, which typically will add 5% yellow and warm things up quite nicely. Which is fine—until the wet-proofs come back.


  • Under-resolution images need to be replaced by higher quality files
  • Over-rez files get reduced in either pixel dimensions (Quark) or percentage of import (InDesign)

My G5 Is A Beast, Why Bother?

An eternal production question. Because the monstrous spool file you are generating every time you print files that are massive is costing you time and money. Every additional calculation you make with an image (rotation, skew, horizontal/vertical flips) is an additional burden on the document and a clear sign to the pre-press guy or gal that You Are Ignorant.

Scenario 2: Real and Junk Pixels

For example: I open a customer file which is an 8-1/2 x 11″ page document that has the following image in it, complete with bleed. The placed image bleeds 4 sides in the layout.


Its starting to look like a good day. The file’s native dimensions are identical to the layout requirements.

Now look at the Image Size palette for this document:


Numerically the file is good to go.

Junk Pixels

So what happens when you get a file that numerically checks out, but just looks plain weird?

Imagine an 11 x 17 spread, and an extreme closeup of a young toddler. The child’s face looked like it had been put through a Photoshop Mosaic Tile filter. This is what the previous image would look like if it had been treated the same way;

low-rez scan

My first reaction was “Yipes!”

Was this…

  • a stylistic statement (I’d been to a lot of galleries lately)
  • an inadvertent mistake by a designer (ie, low-rez jpeg not swapped out)
  • a basic technical error.

The advertiser was contacted. We found out that the designer had put the original 2 x 2-1/4″ neg on a mid-level flatbed transparency scanner, and then enlarged it to fill the space available.

The pixel dimensions are identical, but the outcome is considerably different. Seems pretty obvious, but this is a continual travelling partner in the World of Pre-Press.

The Advertiser resent their file with a high-resolution scan and the results were considerably improved.


Image management is a combination of metrics and alchemy. The guidelines I’ve mentioned will go a long way in getting an image to print to the best of its original capacity. It has nothing to do with aesthetics—I’ve looked at many files containing images with proper numerics and zero content. The alert designer, pre-press operator, and whoever else that comes into contact with the file are all obliged to do their homework and make sure nothing falls between the cracks.

Design and Production: Two Agendas That Eventually Meet

cali fires11-2003

So…Whaddya Know?

A prominent senior designer once asked me what I knew about Quark. There was amusement in his query. He was designing the 1998 Pac Bell annual report. I was an unknown freelancer. What did I know?

I asked to sit down in front of his keyboard, and began to analyze his comp by asking questions in a walk-through manner as I looked through each part of the layout

It went something like this:

“Page layout? It looks like a spread, with a cluster of pulled guides, and what looks like a 2 column grid. Let’s go to page masters. Create master page A, set up a 2-column grid, apply said Master page to spread. Nudge and tug the master page columns a bit. Now the text starts looking a little more secure.”

“Common text box tops? Go to baseline grid. Set first line to strike at 1.5” (18p). Now all the text boxes can be moved and parked accordingly if that’s the plan. We’ll adjust the line leading later, but we’ll leave it at the default 12pt.”

“Well lookie-here. All the text boxes have a default inset of 1 point. Eliminate that, then the text boxes can slam up against the guides without fuss.”

“Formatting type? Hmmm…no evident style for anything. Body text looks like Centaur Book, 10/12.5. There was a gummed in initial cap in its own box with whack runaround. Not good. Let’s set up a style sheet for the main body text, and pull a dupe style sheet to accommodate the init cap (3 down, 1 over) paragraph, and use a character style sheet for color, etc. Now define a style sheet for alternate first, middle and last paragraphs. And forget the part about hitting returns on the end of the ‘graph. Specify the space after each paragraph. Ditto subheads, pull quotes and sidebar info”

“Colors? How many is this project going to use? 4+3 spots and a varnish? Nice. Go to color palette. Lose or convert all RGB colors to CMYK, unless the RGB green is being used as a die-line FPO indicator. Otherwise kill it.”

“The folios in the bottom look improvised. Go back to master spread. Create folios using automated page characters. I can think of more fun things to be doing rather than chasing improperly formatted folios and where they are placed.”

“Text rules? Inline text ital/bold/? Character styles!”

“And that is what I know about Quark”.

His grin had frozen in place. Which leads to the next idea.

Style Sheets Are Your Best Friend

Design and production have two separate agendas: The designer is creating multiple variants to sell one. The print-production expert has to take that one idea and make it jump multiple times. This is where a solid command of style sheets will make your waking working life considerably happier.

In 2002 I was contracted to produce the 355-page Hancock & Moore catalog through Dan Lennon’s design office.

On arrival, I was handed a sample spread containing text blocks with grouped AI eps files. It looked a lot like this:


Behold the famed Quark “Duct-Tape Xtension! The delightful things one sees when you turn on Invisibles and Guides. Whoa!

I then asked the designer if this was it. He said it was. I told him that I would use this design to set up typographic solutions for this set up. He was skeptical.

This highlights the difference between a one-off idea and a production-line execution. If I used this exact setup I would be in deep trouble. Why?

  • it was a collage, subject to unintentional ungrouping
  • the rule combination was a different enlargement for each text box
  • it was unmodifiable on a production set up.
  • Hard returns after every line, tabbed everywhere (indicated by arrows), spacing (indicated by dots). All of these can (and eventually will be altered by unwary edits)

Clients will change their minds. Count on it.

This is an example of what the finished style sheet looked like for a main copy block. Everything is handled through the style sheets. The rule combo, distance from main head to descriptor body. The subsidiary listing is described by another style sheet.


(top line is highlighted, showing relevant style sheet, with Invisibles turned on)

Remember what I said about the Client changing their mind?

Three chapters into the book they decided they didn’t like the look. I was idled for a long weekend while the designers went back to the boards. What you see here was the final-final round. Converting the previous style sheets only took several hours. Imagine what it might have been like had I not set up the original style sheets in the first place. Not a pretty picture.

HM Sample spread

One final note: While I was putting this project together I thought the type was a bit fussy and small given that the target audience was likely to be 50+ and a bit farsighted. Secondly, furniture galleries have subdued lighting, unlike Ikea or Target. The following year the catalog had an insert that used chunky 12pt bold type…

Problem Documents: Biopsy or Autopsy?

paris hilton sofa

One day last February, I was contacted by one of my cheerful placement agents. He asked if I was busy. Sad truth, at that moment, I wasn’t. He asked if I was interested in going to a remote part of the LA Metroplex to work on-site for a large B2B client. I was searching for satori, and opening my checkbook provided some trenchant insights.

I heard myself saying “I can’t be Sandra Bullock forever…”.

“And you’re gonna have to go on a date sometime!” was the snappy rejoinder.

Arrangements were made, and the next morning I was onsite.

The first order of business was a 495 page book that needed text revisions. By end of the week 10 days hence. Flipping through the mark-up it looked pretty straightforward.

The fun started when I tried opening the Quark document. I was barraged by repeated error messages telling me why it wasn’t going to open. Swell! A corrupted doc. Of course this was the only copy, the previous final doc on the server. Shutdown and reboot.

The second attempt at reopening was met by the same error messages. Consulting with other employees in the adjoining veal cubicles was met with semi-blank faces and admonishments to “keep hitting Return”.

OK. I did, and it finally opened. There it was, all 455 pages in one document. Cue up forbidding rumblings of distant thunder.

Consulting again with my littermates yielded advice to “save over the doc, and throw the old one away…”

No way. After taking a further look into this Amateur Hour bit of home-made sin, I made a decision.

I got up, walked over to the Graphics Supervisor, and explained what I’d seen, what happened and what I thought was the most effective way to deal with it.

  1. The document was hopelessly corrupted.
  2. The document would inevitably fail at some future date—maybe tomorrow, maybe the day it went to the printer
  3. And when it did fail, everyone would remember that The Freelancer (or insert your name here) had worked on it
  4. The most realistic way of correcting the document was to rebuild it in free-standing chapters, linked together by the “Book” feature, which would keep track of the inevitable folio/chapter/section changes.

Bottom line was I couldn’t and wouldn’t work on it in its current state. Otherwise they would be wasting their money, and my professional reputation was not negotiable.

A startled silence greeted this news. This wasn’t what they had in mind. Frankly I wasn’t about to humor them in this. The odds were good that Mr Murphy would make a dramatic appearance at the time of his own choosing. In the Continent of Failure, no man is an island, he is a peninsula.

They said “Uhhhhh……OK,…I guess”.

I imagine similar noises had been made at Initech when Lumberg was out of the office.

The next thing I did was to call my assigning agent and tell him exactly what happened. This was to establish my professional assessment of the situation, because I knew that within minutes he’d be called, and might be told something along the lines of “he won’t play nice” and so forth.

I was reassigned to other tasks. And I got to see the quality of Quarksmanship that oozed from that locale. It was not pretty.

Towards the end of the assignment, I got a call from my assigning agent, asking how things were going. I told him things were going fairly well, given the boundaries of competence and attitude displayed. This location was where bottom-feeding Quark operators went to die, because they couldn’t get hired anywere else.

Or anyplace that I would willingly work at.