Last Updated: 17/09/2015

print buyer magazine - process case study

all revved up to manage color

Print Buyer interview; Unity Media reprographic manager, Jane Luker

Producing vibrant, eye-catching colour and crisp detail is essential for any consumer publication to stand out in the crowded newsagent's shelves, but perhaps especially so in the adrenalin-fuelled world of hot hatch titles, where the front cover has to be as loud as the turbo'd and tweaked motors featured within.

When Sevenoaks-based publisher Unity Media began producing its monthly title 'Performance GTI' in-house in autumn 2004 as part of an ongoing plan to bring repro of all 18 of its business and consumer titles in-house, print quality issues reared their heads almost right away. "We weren't getting consistent quality," says reprographic manager Jane Luker. "The editor wasn't able to achieve the look he wanted for the magazine. He wanted 'pushed' colour with strong saturated tones, dense blacks and sharp highlights, but we weren't getting it."

Luker began asking around more widely for suggestions and was eventually directed to colour management specialist Neil Barstow of Barstow visited the publisher and spent a day profiling monitors with basICColor Display software and a X-Rite EyeOne spectrophotometer. He also advised on appropriate lighting and viewing conditions for on-screen photo retouching, as well as arranging for calibration of an Epson 4000 proofer with GMG RIP so that contract-quality proofs could be made in-house. "We knew we had to get it right with 'Performance CTI' before we could bring any of the other consumer titles in-house," recalls Luker. "The colour management consultancy was brilliant and we're not only getting good colour now but it's better than when we were using external repro."

The vast majority of photographs arrive at the Unity editorial offices in the form of raw files from digital cameras; conversion to print-friendly formats is done using Adobe Photoshop CS2. Luker says this gives noticeable quality benefits compared to standard digital camera TIFF or JPEG files. Working on colour-managed displays means that repro staff can make edits to colour, saturation, contrast and brightness, confident that the final printed result will match what they see on the screen. This is vital, as different editors have different looks that they want to achieve; the 'Performance CTI' and Performance Ford' titles go for a fully saturated look with glinting chrome and pin-sharp details, while 'Purely Porsche' and 'BMW Car' favour a more muted, natural style.

The balance of images that come in as new or archived transparencies or photographic prints are scanned on a Creo iQSmart3 flatbed scanner. Operators again rely on their screens to judge the colour and effect of their edits. The majority of colour editing is carried out with images in RGB mode, but with CMYK print colour previews to gauge how changes will appear in print. Once images are retouched they are converted to CMYK and ink weights are checked to prevent potential problems on the press. They are then proofed and signed off.

It's not just the editorial pages that are handled via the in-house reprographics department; all advertising, both display and classified, is routed through here as well. Supplied ads come in a variety of formats - PDF, Adobe Illustrator or sometimes QuarkXPress files - and are converted in-house as necessary.

Complete assembled issues are converted to PDF with high-resolution images, fonts and any other artwork elements all embedded. All colours are converted to final CMYK print values based on the type of press and stock combinations used at printers Garnett Dickinson (for the business titles) and William Gibbons (the consumer range). Both printers provide specific settings for use in the PDF creation process.

Jane Luker and her team have been able to bring all 10 Unity business titles in-house and 5 of the 8 consumer ones to date; the remainder are expected to move across by the end of the year.

Quality has increased, and it's not just the repro specialists who think so - editors, publishers and even the chairman have commented on the improvement. Bringing the repro function in-house has also speeded communication between departments, so that proofing, amendments and re-proofing can happen faster.

Perhaps as important as any of these is the fact that having rigorous colour management is making Unity Media self-sufficient, which is invaluable in a climate where external repro houses are failing - having to find an alternative supplier for a dozen magazines at short notice is a nightmare that no publisher wants to face.

unity media