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Industry Insight

BoSacks Speaks Out: The Color OK from Hell


By Bob Sacks
Published: December 17, 2010

I've been in the publishing business a long time. I have seen amazing technologic changes in our industry that have brought an exactitude to the printing process that was always wished for but hardly achievable when I got started in publishing. Registration problems were not only expected, but in a strange way almost accepted as an unavoidable part of the four color printing process.

In my time in the business I have been not on dozens, but on hundreds of color OK's. I have been with excellent and very creative art directors who know less than nothing of the printing process. I always considered traveling with the "creatives" to a press side experience both fun and challenging. The challenge was explaining the printing process and getting them to sign off when I told them in no uncertain terms that that this is really a terrific match to your proof and the best that printing science and the press can deliver.

There was an eight year period when I was at High Times that I would go to Quad Graphics, usually without an art director, and did the Color OKs solo. In those days I had the unheard of liberty not to have to match the proofs, but rather to do on press anything I wanted to, to get the best printed results possible in the shortest amount of time. In the old days I felt that I could achieve an OK faster than any man or woman alive. Now that I think about it, it would have been a fun challenge between Production Directors - the Super Bowl of press side Oks.

Anyway the video is pretty damn funny even if you haven't been on a color ok.

My Favorite quote that I can recall about the printing process comes from my college roommate Ed Cobb. I am no doubt only paraphrasing him but it went something like this:

"A proof proves nothing"

I couldn't agree more.

My compliments to Sappi Fine Papers, for understanding the drama and the on-press dilemmas of the pressman, and the Production persons as they deal with the lovable creatives. Let's be realistic here and remember that without the creatives there would be nothing to print.



By Jim Raffel on Dec 19, 2010

Love how you close with remembering that without creatives there would be nothing to print. We are all part of a supply chain. If we fail to work together and communicate the chain ends up with broken links....and a chain with broken links does not work so well.


By Michael Jahn on Dec 20, 2010

Holy Gery Balance, Batman ! Your story about your free wheelin' press side "forget that proof, listen to me!" approach was horrifying to me. We should all thank our lucky stars that you were not in charge of color printing at Pantone when they made the guides (if you were, well that sure explains a few things)

The "a proof proves nothing" comment was clearly made by someone who is not concerned with repeatable and reliable manufacturing. We use things like rulers so we can communicate height and width - is this somehow so different than color measuring devices ?

When I worked for World Color, we were one of 10 printers who printed the weekly Walmart Sunday Newspaper insert - all of us printed using Rotogravure. The print buyer - I think his name was Mike Barton - held a weekly meeting in Bentonville. All 10 printers had to bring in a press sheet sample, and all 10 of us had to bring in the proof we submitted, and Mike walked around and compared them all. He would select the one that was more different then all the others, and hand them a "foul ball" - if you received this foul ball three weeks in a row, you were fired as a Walmart Printer. As this was a BIG account, everyone QUICKLY became proficient at printing and proofing to a STANDARD.

Mike could not be in 10 locations subcutaneously for all press runs. Mike did not want to hear excuses - he wanted the color of the insert to be the same no matter who printed it.

That is the way things work - and I am with Jim. Jim makes a pretty fine solution that enables such things to occur. In the end of the funny video - that Designer eventually saw what she was expecting or required. This is never a press problem, it is almost always a color communication problem. Having a proof that can simulate 'what is going to happen' is the first step toward that communication. If your mood determines if something is too yellow one day or more orange on another, I guess you are a living, breathing press okay from Hell indeed !


By Noel Ward on Dec 20, 2010

Reminds me of a printer I know who was taken to task by an ad agency for not being able to print "Coke Red" on his digital press. So he called a dozen printers on 5 continents and had them FedEx him local prints of Coke Red in various ads. None of them matched.

Samples in hand, he walked into the agency for another meeting, spread them out on the table and provided a reality check of Coke Red in the real world.

Having worked in agencies, bought a lot of print (and my wife used to be an art director) I know how this goes. And how much BS is a key hue the color palette.


By Dennis Beck on Dec 20, 2010

Now I know why Henry Ford was right- You can have any color you want so long as it is BLACK.


By Donald French on Dec 21, 2010

A proof really does prove little. Here is an experience from a training course in the distant past: Our group was being trained in the setup and operation of one of the first digital drum scanners. We ran a series of grey balance targets and proofed them. Each trainee retired to a viewing booth and marked their choice for the best grey balance at distinct grey levels (highlight quartertone, etc.). Despite the fact that we had all been tested for color vision, we had almost as many opinions as we had students. Plotting the results yielded a consensus that was used by the group, but some strongly disagreed with the choices. The lesson is this: You can standardize and measure as much as you wish, when the mechanics of human vision and experience are introduced, there is no such thing as an exact match.


By GAry Schulthess on Dec 23, 2010

I've been printing longer then most people have been in this industry(starting in 1961),and have been through many OK's from inept print buyers.
This brought back a memory of a 6 hour color OK with an artist. We did At least 34 color pulls and never got the "mood right", the color was fine on a half dozen pulls. We never completed the job and the artist was never commercially successful, or at least I never heard of him again.
A persons visual perception varies so printing and proofing to standards is critical. All we sell proofs, that's what the customer looks at and that's what we print to. As long as the press sheet matches the proof we can mark it sold.
With all the instrumentation and color standards established, and changes to ink this industry has never been better at running repeatable color.


By Douglas Graves on Dec 29, 2010

I'll see your Artist, and raise you a colour blind Art Department Director. Why they sent this guy to torment us I'll never know. And how he got the job is an even bigger question. He was utterly useless.


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