Four-color covers and jackets are probably the single area in book printing that causes the most problems for accurate quoting and for disappointment with the finished product. We have struggled with this for 20 years and have written about it in Printer's Ink several times ... but questions remain.
In the old days of a couple years ago, when 4-color covers and jackets were rarely used on short run books, the problems were fairly unimportant but now, with about 20% of all our covers being 4-color, it seems worth addressing again.
After all these years, I can honestly claim to be no expert at all on 4-color. My 20 years of experience have put me somewhere between "beginner and intermediate" when it comes to knowing enough about it to feel competent.
However, I do have this huge asset and that is that there are people here who are experts. Between Verne Cook at Image Arts and Rick and Renee here at T-S, I believe we can come up with a way to explain some of the potential complexities of 4 -color covers and jackets and also give you some suggestions that will produce a better product and help you save some money at the same time.
First, here are some definitions to help you along the way:
Traps: Printing one ink over another, i.e., printing blue over yellow to get green. If you want a solid purple border on a 4-color book, you can print the fifth color, purple, or screen the process colors in such a way as to create the purple. Traps are less expensive than printing a fifth color but with a trap the color match is only approximate.
Reverses: Dropping the color out of a solid printed area, letting the white paper show. If you reverse type out of a picture, then want it printed in green, you would have a reverse and also a trap to create the green or a reverse and then print the green as a fifth color.
Spread: If you reverse type out of the picture, then print the reversed area in green, you need to "spread" the green type just a tad bigger than the reversed area so the green will cover the entire area, plus a bit. This eliminates a potential problem of white edges if the press registration is not perfect.
Composited Negatives: Composited 4-color negatives will contain the completed 4-color separation and they will also have the type, reverses, traps, etc. included so they can be considered to be ready for plate making without further work by the printer.
Very few printers make their own 4-color separations, reverses, traps, etc. That is done by firms known as color houses, preparatory shops, etc..
When we quote on 4-color covers, unless you send us a copy of your art work, we assume it will be very simple with no reverses, traps, etc. and we quote it accordingly. However, 4-color covers practically never turn out to be this simple, so we put a phrase in our quotation that says we reserve the right to finalize our quote when we see your 4-color art. There are additional charges for reverses, etc. and usually this results in an added charge of $100 or more that we tell you about before we proceed with your order.
If you tell us you will provide your own separations, that usually means we will still have to make the reverses, etc. and this will, again, not be included in our quote.
If you tell us you will provide composited 4-color negatives, that means the reverses, traps, etc. will all have been done by your separators and the negatives should be ready for plate making by TS, without need for any further work on our part.
Again this is rarely the way it works out. Our color house makes about a dozen sets of composited 4-color negatives for us every week. They understand exactly what we need, give us the proofs we need (a 2-color and a 4-color chromalin), know when we would prefer to run a fifth color instead of trapping the color and we rarely ever have a problem with their negatives.
For customer furnished negatives, things rarely work out this easily. Nearly half of our customer furnished 4-color negatives do not fit the cover size we need, they trap everything whether they can get close to the right color or not, they frequently don't spread their copy in reverses and this creates registration problems so that we have to run the covers one up (we normally run 5 1/2 x 8 1/2" and 6 x 9" covers four up, jackets two up) and this creates extra press time, paper waste (we don't stock paper for one up covers) and it can double or triple the cost of film laminating or UV coating.
In addition, furnished negatives rarely come in punched for press register, or if they do, they are not apt to be punched for the pin sizes we use.
Before we accept a job, our layout department checks out all furnished, composited 4-color negatives to see if additional time and cost are necessary before we can make plates. Sometimes they are OK as is, sometimes we can fix them ourselves, sometimes we have to send them to our color house to fix and occasionally we have to return them to the customer.
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On jobs like this we can provide a toose color proof of the separation before anything gets composited together. This way, if you aren't satisfied with the colors achieved in the separation, they can be corrected without having to recomposite the entire thing. This slows down the process a bit in that you see two proofs instead of one but for complex covers where you feel color match is critical ... (i.e. something akin to "perfect color"), it can save dollars and, in some cases, time. If our separator foresees trouble, he may suggest doing this, or, if you foresee trouble, you can certainly ask for it. We do not make an additional charge to do this, however, it will likely add time to your schedule.
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