A Challenge to the Printer's Art

Tricky Photograph

'What's this?" you ask. "Is the Monitor printing a cheesy photo to remind me that Valentine's Day is coming?" Actually, no.

This is our entry in a printing contest sponsored by the Inland Press Association, a Park Ridge, Ill.-based newspaper industry group.

To win, we've tried to reproduce this picture with all the clarity and vibrance of the original photograph.

While we're at it, we thought you might like to know something about what it takes to print crisp, bright color newspaper photographs - and what's so tricky about printing this one.

An electronic scanner digitizes the photo. The digital copy goes to our pre-press shop, a tiny, darkened room with big computer screens and three technicians.

The biggest challenge in this picture is the red rose, says technician Joan Hazlett. Newspaper presses use only four colors of ink in various combinations to produce all other colors.

The ink colors are cyan (greenish-blue), magenta, yellow, and black.

With those four, it's difficult to replicate the rose's original candy-apple red. So Ms. Hazlett had to electronically adjust the magenta and yellow in the flower to re-create the original shade.

Also, the only way to give the rose definition - so you can see each petal, not just a red blob - is to use shadings of black. "But if I put in too much black," Hazlett says, "it will look like there's coal dust all over it."

The image then goes to our printing plants in Norwood, Mass., and Phoenix.

As the newspaper is printed, operators must balance the mixture of ink and water on the press. Too much ink, and blobs appear. Too much water, and the ink bleeds, making the image fuzzy. Even too much humidity in the pressroom can spoil a printing job by warping the newsprint, creating a wiggly picture.

So how did we do? We'll let you know what the judges thought.

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