Opening Pandora’s box

January 3, 2010

It’s been a while since Poor Richard has written about proofing (see Just Do It . . . I Trust You!). At the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street, we generally follow Poor Richard’s Rule #1: Proof Everything. When we fail to follow Rule #1, it is usually because the owner decides to make an exception, allows one of our customers to convince him that they do not need a proof, and gets totally burned in the process because something goes awry or does not meet the customer’s expectations.

If the CIA was really intelligent, they would store all of their Top Secret, classified, very sensitive documents in the basements of printshops across this great nation. Because we see so much text come past our eyes, printers don’t really read much of it.  At Gralpharaphics (name changed to protect the delicate sensitivity of the franchise), we used to do internal proofs of hard copy prints for much of what went through the shop. We were looking for low resolution graphics and the general composition of each piece ; whether it would fold correctly and if there were font errors.  Today, for much of what we print, preflight software will indicate many of the technical errors and our internal proofing process is focused more on how the piece will finish (through bindery) than the general composition. In short, we don’t read for context and we don’t always catch spelling errors.

The phone call of the month for December was from a customer that had discovered a typo in a brochure we had printed for them . . . in September. In fact, it was an exact repeat of the same job printed for them about a year before.  And that job was a redesign of a file that came to us in .pdf format sometimes shortly after Adobe Acrobat was invented, opening the possibility that the misspelling could potentially be over a decade old.  Naturally, the customer wanted the job reprinted . . . for free.

We checked the proofs. Sure enough, there was the typo buried plain as day right in the middle of a long paragraph in the center panel of the inside of the brochure. It stood out dramatically in 11 point Times New Roman; so evident that the customer missed it totally when they signed off on the proof.

Who has the responsibility? Proofs do place the onus of responsibility for the final appearance and accuracy of each printed piece on the customer. This is customary in the printing trade and spelled out clearly in the proof policy that our shop sends with every proof.  While some customers may see this as a catch, printers consider it a necessity. Even if we could completely check everything we print for absolute accuracy, this would not compensate for the vagaries of syntax, composition or customer taste. There have been many occasions where Poor Richard or one of my associates has corrected grammar or spelling only to have it uncorrected by the customer. Likewise, the design or composition of many of the projects we print may be more pleasing to our customer than to our unrefined tastes.  This really is the critical point for most printers: the project must meet the approval of the customer. The signed proof signifies that it does.

Back to the problem of the month. Another of Poor Richard’s rules that falls pretty near the top of the list (like #2 maybe) is this: Customers are important. These days, they’re also pretty darn hard to come by.  We understood the customer’s problem and offered to help them with the reprint.  Mind you, this is not customary practice among printers. Margins are very tight in our business and printing at cost is spinning the wheels at best and at worst a missed opportunity for profitable use of time and equipment. Nonetheless, customers are important. We offered to make the correction and reprint at a discount.

After the correction was made, the competent Gralpharaphics team followed Poor Richard’s Rule #1 and sent the customer a final proof for approval. At least, we thought that it was final. The proof was returned with a request for another change.  Technically, this request crossed the fine line between correction and revision, but the change requested was minor and we chose not to sweat it. That’s when we opened Pandora’s box. We made the revision and sent another proof.

The proof response came back with a Microsoft Word file attached. We were now well beyond correction and decidedly in the realm of revision.   Poor Richard tried not to reach the conclusion that the customer’s stated need — to correct a typo — might not have been their actual objective. Without questioning the customer’s motives, we explained that the discount had been offered to help with a correction. The scope of the revisions requested had essentially changed the project from a reprint to something like creating a new brochure.  We would have to charge for the additional layout and prepress time incurred for the changes.

There are times when Poor Richard is able to predict the future before it even happens. I could see this spinning out of control even without a crystal ball. The conversation was polite, the customer didn’t really understand, and the project was placed on (permanent) hold.  Chances are that we lost a customer. Bummer. Not good.

Because we’re a small business in a small market, we’ve never had the luxury of dealing only with professional “print buyers;” folks whose expectations are to some extent shaped by their understanding of and interest in the art of printing. We have had the privilege of working with some very nice folks, many of whom wanted to learn a little about print as we produced their projects. I think that there was a general appreciation among our customers of the value of the tangible product we created and of the work that went into it; but now this appreciation may be fading.

The last 18 months of struggle have brought a sea change to the printing industry and to local printers like the shop on Poplar Street.  While we continue to compete with one another for business, we also compete against a host of other choices for communication. Increasingly, our customers’ expectations are molded by the other choices. It’s no problem to correct a typo on a web page. It doesn’t require a reprint. The fact is that we have fewer customers who are interested in print and they are much less willing to deal with the complexities involved.  Price and speed have become more important and many customers are actually less concerned with quality than ever before. To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, “they don’t want it good, they want it Wednesday.”

This presents a real challenge to folks like Poor Richard. The old rules of printing (like proof policies) seem necessary to me. It is important to do things right and because almost all of the projects we produce are essentially custom made, there has to be some understanding between printers and our customers.  We can’t sell labels produced for Jim Bob’s BBQ Sauce to his competitor Billy Bob.  If Jim Bob doesn’t want the labels, they’re trash.

How do we adapt? As our customers become increasingly less patient with the print process, it is tempting to just bend the rules and take our chances.  Waive the proofs, forget the rules, just print it and hope it’s right. Throw Pandora’s box wide open.

If we do that, how long will it take for the snakes inside to bite us?

Digital Weight Loss

August 13, 2008

It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged. Life’s been hectic with altogether too much of little importance going on. We’ve been doing lots of small jobs at the printshop. With a weak economy, many of the projects we are seeing are of the do-it-yourself variety. So much so, in fact, that I’ve just about quit trying to explain that Microsoft Word is not a page layout program.

The DIY aspect has also compounded the problems with compressed deadlines. Typically, the customer has underestimated the time required to layout their program or brochure or postcard. They bring it to us at the last minute. We do what we can, but with intstantaneous deadlines there’s no time to disassemble the Microsoft mess, repair what we can, try to get higher resolution photos and then and reassemble it all in Indesign.

One of the recurring nightmares in the pieces we’ve been doing of late is disproportionate scaling of photography. This one really bothers Poor Richard, but I confess that it is sometimes flattering to the photographic victim. Here’s how it works:

Here’s our unsuspecting victim. His name is Brian and he manages production at the shop. Like me, Brian has inflated and deflated in cycles over the years he’s been at AlphaGraphics. Unlike me, Brian has occasionally decided that voluntary exercise is a good thing. He’s even had a gym membership once or twice. Poor Richard will never set foot in a gym. I see no purpose whatsoever in riding a bicycle that isn’t going anywhere.

Brian’s photo at left is scaled correctly. It is a very reasonable facsimile of what Brian actually looks like. The problem occurs when our DIY designer decides that Brian’s photo doesn’t fit the space that is allocated in the publication. Or perhaps the DIYer wants all of the photos in the publication to be the same size. So he resizes the photo.

Let’s suppose that the photo needs to be taller. Here’s what we often see. Brian becomes much thinner and taller. Now, depending on his current state of expansion or contraction, this may or may not be appealing to Brian. It is safe to say, though, that it is more appealing that the other distortion that we often see.

The “horizontal stretch” is rarely flattering:

For a normal sized American type person, the effect is disturbingly toadlike. For the Southern Fried Chicken, cholesterol, and carbohydrate dieter, the result can be downright disturbing.

In Brian’s case, the horizontal stretch makes him lookonly slightly like Peter Lorre.

So, how to resolve this problem? The answer is cropping and proportional scaling. Cropping is actually cutting out a section of the image to create horizontal and vertical ratio that is similar to the area that you wish to fill. Scaling increases or decreases the cropped image to actually fill the space.

Depending on the software you are using, you may have to do this operation in either one or two steps. Real page layout programs, like Adobe Indesign will let you both crop and scale at the same time. You simply import the photo into the layout, adjust the boxes using the black and white arrows (selection and direct selection tools). You can scale proportionally in Indesign and in many other programs by holding down the Shift key as you stretch the object.

You can also adjust the proportions in Photoshop or the photo editor that you are using prior to placing the image. This may be necessary if you are using a Microsoft aberration or another of the DIY programs that are sold in the marketplace for just about what they’re worth. Here’s an example . . . let’s crop and scale Brian the right way.

Let’s crop Brian’s head out of this photo and then size it for insertion. First in Photoshop or another image editing program, we’ll simply draw a line around the area we want with the crop tool and eliminate the rest of the photo. We’ll end up with something like this:

Assuming that the image is of sufficient resolution (a topic for another blog entry), we can then resize it proportionally to fit the space needed. The end result might look like this:

Then again, why should I be the one to worry about the finer elements of basic design. After all, I’m just ther printer. Go ahead, get creative . . . turn Brian into a green duotone, stretch him all out of proportion and be happy about it . . .

Sorry, Brian . . .

Isn’t life grand?

The Zen of Trifold

February 16, 2007

“Send me pricing on this brochure,” read the e-mail. “I want 200 and if the pricing is real good I might do more.”

Feeling only slightly motivated by the prospect of such a massive order, I took a look at the file. The file extension was .psd. “A Photoshop file,” I thought, “at least it’s not put together in KidPix, like the last one of these I received.”

I opened the file. A trifold, Black and white, with photography, at least one strange font, all at 72 dpi. The size was nearly 9″ by nearly 12″. The columns were off, so there was no possibility of ever folding it. The file had been flattened, so editing in Photoshop was out of the question (even if the fonts had been included). Alarms began to sound and the blue screen of death popped up on my monitor.

WARNING: This file has failed Preflight. Your computer will meltdown in 30 seconds unless you CLOSE THIS FILE!

Grasshopper, DIY trifold brochures really shouldn’t be all that tough. Assume the lotus position, take four cleansing breaths and follow Poor Richard’s guidelines.

Step One: Measure

A standard piece of U.S. letter-sized paper measures 8.5″ x 11″. You can certainly use paper of a different size, but be conscious that it must be cut from a larger sheet. This is OK, but it will increase the price of the project slightly, perhaps too much for the opulent budget of our email correspondent.

Allow for margins on the outside of the sheet and gutters between the columns. A minimal margin for any press printed job is 3/8″. The margins are necessary to allow the grippers, which essentially are little clamps in a printing press, to grab the paper and carry it through the press. You can’t put ink in the area underneath the grippers, hence the need for a margin. For digital printing, you can probably get by with .25″, but you might lose a page number or two.

The gutters are the spaces between the columns. The basic rule of thumb for gutters is 2x the width of the margin. This will allow the text and graphics to center in the panels when the piece is folded. An amateur designer who forgets this rule and makes the gutters too small or large is termed a gutter snipe.

Step 2: Measure Some More

Now take a few more measurements into consideration, beginning with the front panel of the brochure.

As you begin your layout, you must decide whether you want the image to bleed. A bleed is when ink is actually printed beyond the finished edge of the paper. If you choose this feature, oversized paper will be required. The bleed is achieved by cutting into the printed area. Your printer will require that the images that bleed extend 1/8″ past the finished page size. If you are working with a good page layout program, like Adobe Indesign, you can define the bleed in your document settings.

Remember that you must send the oversized image to your printer. If you send a native page layout file, the information will be there. On the other hand, if you save to a .pdf file, you must specify the final size of the piece including the bleeds. In this case, the final size would be 8.75 x 11.25.

Poor Richard’s Tips:

  • As you begin the layout, you may also want to make one slight modification to the panels that will help your printer greatly and make the finished product look more professional. In the image above, the leftmost panel folds in to make the trifold. Because of very small variations in both paper size throughout a print run and the tolerances of mechanical folders, it is necessary to shorten the fold-in panel by a very small amount. Usually 1/16″ is plenty. The two rightmost panels should be slightly longer and the leftmost panel slightly shorter.
  • If colors change from one panel to the next, it’s also good to determine where the overlap will occur. Remember that the fold line falls in the middle of the gutter lines. The blue screen behind Ben in the layout above actually laps over to the back panel by just a small amount. It will look better to have a small stripe of blue on the back panel than to have a stripe of white on the front of the brochure. If you are concerned about the folds, ask your printer for a blueline or a folding dummy before proof approval.

Step 3: Consider the Reader

It’s a common mistake to design a folding brochure on a flat sheet with the assumption that the reader will treat it like a letter. Remember that a trifold is folded. It won’t be read left to right and top to bottom. Rather, it will be unfolded and read panel by panel. Follow Ben’s glasses below:



Panel one, the front panel, will of course be the first one that the reader sees. He may actually turn the brochure and look at the back panel next, but it is more likely that he will open the brochure next. The second panel he will see is the inside left panel, followed by (Surprise!) the outside left panel, which is folded in next to the inside left. If your brochure is text heavy, your message should carry from the inside left panel to the outside left then to the remaining inside panels. If your brochure is heavy on art or photos, make sure that colors or photos on the inside left panel doesn’t conflict with the outside fold-in. And remember that if you use a photo or text that bridges the left two panels on the inside, part of it will be covered up by the fold-in.

Poor Richard’s Tip:

  • You can use the center and right hand panels on the inside as a single layout area. In the illustration above, Ben’s printing press falls in the gutter between the two panels. This is a great place for diagrams, illustrations or a large photo.

Step Four: Finishing Up

In the illustration above, panel #6 is the outside center panel. This is the back panel of the folded brochure. This is the place for contact information, directions, a map, or a final photo. This panel will probably get the least attention from your reader, so put the most important information somewhere else.

Poor Richard’s Tip:

  • You can design your trifold as a self mailer. If so, the back panel should be your address panel. Remember that the USPS will require a gummed tab to seal the brochure to receive automation rates. If the tab can be placed at the top of the panel, only one is required. If you orient the address so that the return address is at the open end (bottom left of the panel), you’ll save a little money and time when tabs are applied.

Last Words:

We missed the massive order for 200 trifolds. Not wanting to make too many assumptions about the art I’d received, I called the customer to ask the right questions. It was her cell phone. Her voice mail said, “Leave a message and I might call you back.” I did. She didn’t.

Just do it . . . I trust you

January 12, 2007

Proof stampJust do it . . . I trust you.

These may be words that every adolescent male dreams about, but they strike fear into a printer’s heart.

At the printshop, these words are not cooed softly. Rather, they’re an exasperated exclamation as a harried customer walks out the door.

What the customer thinks he means is, “I’m sure you’ll get it right.”

What the printer hears is, “If I don’t like it, you’ll eat the cost.”

The printing projects we produce at AlphaGraphics are almost always custom. They will work for one customer only. If Joe’s Body Shop doesn’t like his business cards, we can’t sell them to Joe’s Spa and Massage. The businesses may sound similar, but the activities at the two addresses could be completely different. Imagine the dismay of the customer needing car repair who walks into the massage parlor (or vice versa)!

We try not to make too many requirements of our customers. We require proofs. We require that each customer approve a proof before printing takes place.We ask this of our customers even if a job has been done before and the customer says that it is an exact reprint.

“Why?” you ask.

Because printing offers so many wonderful opportunities for mistakes. For instance, we printed envelopes for the Edumacation Department at one of the local universities for several years before it became the Division of Edumacation, an important change for those who were getting edumacated. If we hadn’t proofed the envelopes each time, mail might have been returned to a department that didn’t even exist any more.

On a more serious note, we have had customers who did not thoroughly proof their business cards, received cards with an incorrect phone number, gave out half a box, then wondered why they never received a phone call.

Printers are nowhere near immune from mistakes. Poor Richard’s law #34 states, “the more creative the graphic designer, the more spelling mistakes he/she will make.” I’m convinced that the best designers all type with two left hands and all thumbs. And don’t ask me why spell check is anathema to graphics people. They used to get away with the excuse that it wasn’t built into the page layout programs. That’s not the case anymore. Now I suppose that misspelling has become a part of artistic license. Anyway, designers won’t use spell check.

At AlphaGraphics, we do internal proofs. If there’s a lot of text involved, we ask Joe to do the proof. Joe went to school in the ’50s and ’60s when they still taught people to punctuate and spell. Most of our internal proofs are checked more for form, flow and position than for content, though.

We’ve also gotten stung quite a few times. We’ve frequently corrected spelling, punctuation and occasionally syntax in text that a customer has provided only to have them uncorrect it at proof. In these cases, the customer is right; even if the necklace they are describing is not made of eggs (hint: it’s an amulet, not an omelet).

It’s really pretty simple. There are just too many jobs coming through the shop to catch everything. That’s why it’s important for each customer to receive, carefully inspect, and approve a proof. We appreciate your trust, but we’re careful. You still get a proof.

Color Separation . . . Whadd’ya Mean?

January 6, 2007

It happened again. One of our customers commissioned a new logo. She paid a website designer for the concept and the art. She was planning ahead. With the understanding that 2 color printing is far more economical than full color, she asked the designer to develop a two color logo that could be used on her letterhead and envelopes.

The designer followed her instructions. He produced a logo that used 2 colors, but he created the art in Adobe Photoshop, RGB color mode for screen, sized about 2″ x 3″ at 72 dpi (dots per inch). He did everything just right . . . for the Internet; and just wrong for print.

Now, if all of that printerese jargon has confused you, hang on ’cause I’m gonna ‘splain it to ya.

Here’s a logo. No liability here, it’s not a real product . . . dairymen don’t last long around lactating tigers. We’re just going to use this to illustrate how colors work for the Internet and for print.Specifically, we’re going to talk about how colors go together on your computer screen and in a printshop.

First, notice that you only see three colors in the art — orange, green and black. Strangely enough, the logo at the right is actually comprised of three colors. It’s put together in RGB color mode — Red, Green, and blue.





Here’s an illustration of how RGB works:

These are RGB color separations. The image on the right is a composite. RGB is an additive color mode. Here’s how it works. Red, green, and blue wavelengths of light can be combined in various intensities to make a wide spectrum of color. If you add all of the colors together, the result is white. All of the visible wavelengths of light are transmitted to your eye. That’s what’s happening in the illustration above. Various shades of red, green and blue combine to make the tiger. The solid colors in the background combine to make white.

Interestingly enough, combinations of two of the three colors together create the secondary colors used in printing. Red and green combine additively to make yellow. Blue and green combine to make cyan. Blue and red combine to make magenta.

The secondary colors can also be combined to make a spectrum (or color gamut). Printers call this process color. The RGB color gamut you see on your screen is a little bit larger than the gamut that can be printed on a printing press. Your screen gamut will also be dependant upon external lighting conditions and about exactly 1,763 other variables that are way beyond the scope of this little blog entry. Here’s the important part: What you see on your screen will rarely match what you see on Bob’s screen next door or Mary’s screen in the next cubicle. And Poor Richard’s law #47 states that what you see on your screen will NEVER, NEVER match what is printed on paper!

Process color looks like this:


You’ll notice that we’ve added another color to the three secondary colors listed above. The four process colors used in printing are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMY and K for black). In an ideal world, the combination of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow will produce black; but the reflectivity of printing inks is not perfect. CM and Y combine to make kind of a muddy, ugly brown; so printers add black to be able to produce a solid black color.

CMYK is a subtractive color process. The inks combine to actually absorb (subtract) certain wavelengths of light. The remaining wavelengths are reflected off of the paper. You see this as color. White is close to 100% reflectivity — nearly the whole spectrum is reflected. A true black would have 0% reflectivity. A large part of the entire spectrum of visual lies in between and can be produced with combinations of cyan, magenta, and yellow, with black as an enhancement color.

Now, back to our logo problem.

RGB obviously won’t work. It’s an additive model based on a mixture of light, not ink. If you mix red, green and blue ink you get blecch, a completely new color that no one wants to see in print. So our customer’s logo will have to be converted. We could convert it to CMYK color and print it on a printing press, just like the tiger above. But there are some practical and economic problems. When CMYK is printed on a printing press, four actual inks are put on the paper. This requires either a four color press or a couple of passes through a two color press.

Four color presses are more expensive to purchase, setup and operate than smaller and simpler 2 color presses. Typically, there is also more paper waste involved. At AlphaGraphics, our minimums usually start at 1000 12.5 x 19 sheets for a process color job. In this case, that means 2000 pieces of letterhead for a customer who really needs half that much. Running full color in two passes through a 2 color press is even more problematic, the biggest difficulty being that you really don’t know what the final color will be until the second pass . . . and then it’s too late to do anything about it.

Our customer’s logo was also sized for the Internet. The size was approximately 2″ x 3″ at low resolution. When we shrunk the size of the logo to increase the resolution and clarity for print, it turned out about this big:

Tiger Logo

Envelopes are also a problem. Most conventional four color presses don’t like them. We tried to run envelopes on our color press once and spent half a day removing shredded envelopes from the rollers. Not fun. So, that means that process color envelopes have to be ordered from a specialty printer. Again, more expensive, 2,500 minimum and 2 – 3 weeks lead time; it’s not a good alternative for the customer.

Here’s the solution:


It’s a two-color tiger. In this case, all we did was change the color of the tiger’s eyes. Now, we’re going to print him in spot colors, orange and black. We’ll actually get the effect of more colors by shading the orange (with screens and gradient fills). And we’re going to get the right color. We’re going to mix the ink to specifically match the orange the customer wants.

In this case, the orange is PMS (Pantone Matching System) 158. Pantone makes neat books for printers that tell us how to mix colors. We’ll mix the orange ink and compare the solids in the printed product to a color swatch in the book. This doesn’t mean that there will be absolutely no color variations in the final product, but it should be really close to the PMS color specified. Please note: the ink color will match the Pantone book, but not necessarily your computer screen. Even if you waste a lot of time trying to calibrate your screen, the only reliable way to see a Pantone color is ink on paper.

This is what our customer originally had in mind. Two color printing is done on small presses. It’s economical to produce very short runs and most of the small presses we have will run envelopes, too. Unfortunately, her designer didn’t understand this at all.

We talked to the web designer. Nice guy. He had produced a really good looking logo and had not the faintest clue that his customer wouldn’t be able to print it. He also had no idea of how to draw a logo for print. Of course, the project was delayed for a week while everybody traded emails until all of this could be determined. In the end, our customer had to pay for additional design time for us to re-create the logo in Adobe Illustrator as vector art with specified Pantone colors.

What are the lessons to be learned from this?

  1. Poor Richard’s First Rule: Ask your printer. Ask your printer. Ask your printer.
  2. Make sure that the designer you hire understands how to design for print. Do not assume that he does. Many graphic designers are fine artists and web designers, but lack the technical knowledge needed for print on paper.
  3. Be very specific. Talk with your designer about exactly how you want to use the art they will create. Choose specific colors. Make sure that you discuss the cost implications of the art that they will design.
  4. Finally, involve your printer in the project from the outset. We think that it’s best if you have a direct relationship with your printer. If he is involved in the project from the beginning, he can work with your designer on the technical aspects. This will save you money over the long and short run.

The Full Moon

December 7, 2006

Gravity is always bringing me down.

The full moon has an effect on tides, people and machinery! It’s really hard to explain, but things sometimes go badly awry around the printshop as the moon becomes full.

We had two critical projects going into last week. The first was a challenging, but not unusual trifold brochure for one of our best customers. Heavy ink coverage, process color with some color critical builds on a cover stock; it should have turned in two days. The second was a run of 7500 booklets, color cover plus 16 text pages. This one should have taken 3 days in press, plus a couple of days in bindery and another one to mail. That’s what should have been.

But that was before the change in the force of gravity. The full moon doesn’t negate all of Newton’s formulas, it only offsets them a wee, wee bit. Enough to make Rickie, the pressman, decide that he’d work on Thursday morning despite a 102 degree fever. Enough to kill a Xerox color machine. Enough to combine with high humidity and turn our smoothly performing Hamada 452 press into a paper shredder. And just enough to make AlphaGraphics look really bad to a couple of good customers.

I’ve written before about machinery problems. Before I became a printer, I thought that this was just Item #1 in the standard list of printers’ excuses. It’s not. Printing machinery is precisely tuned. When it gets out of tune, the printing becomes . . . imprecise. We don’t do imprecise. Add into that equation a human being with a fever who wants to battle the machinery into submission and the result can be disastrous. What started last Tuesday as a small scratch, stripe, and redo on Project #1 above, ended up with ink problems on Project #2, two days down time and a visit from Bob the Press Magician.

It’s expensive to call in Bob the Press Magician, but it’s even more expensive not to call him in. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to write about Bob. He’s one of the more amazing characters I’ve ever encountered. Bob’s over 50 now, but has retained the energy of a 3 year old on a chocolate high. I am entirely convinced that there is nothing that Bob cannot fix. His sense of machinery is uncanny. He helped me fix a press once by listening to it over the telephone. He’s that good.

Bob came in with his brother Steve. Steve’s just moved in from the West Coast to join his brother’s service company. The two are not really alike in appearance or personality. Bob talks incessantly. Steve eats incessantly. The common heritage seems entirely accidental; they could easily be brothers born of different mothers and fathers. I think Steve’s going to be a real asset, though. If Bob the Press Magician understands the mind of the machine, brother Steve relates to the zen of the monster.

We’ve enjoyed a long run without a major breakdown. This one made up for it. Two days ruined printing plus two days down. It took the Magician and the Zen Master 12 hours to track down all of the problems and fix them. We were back up and running this morning, but basically 4 days behind.

We’ve been in communication with the customers. Customer #1 (the color piece) is OK. She would have liked the trifold last week, but they’re still on schedule. Projects for Customer #2 are always on a tight timetable. The due date is usually the day before we get the order. We had set a tentative timetable with them last week when the problems looked minor (and recoverable). Then we discovered a problem on one of the sheets that had already been printed. We talked again on Friday, when we thought we’d be up and running on Monday. The project finally came off press today. It should have gone into the mail today. We talked again this morning. They’re not happy with us.

I wish I really could blame it all on the full moon. Maybe we could just take a couple of days off each month or something. Unfortunately, printing problems are far more unpredictable than the phases of the moon. We try our best. We do our best. We pray a lot. Maybe we’ll take a cue from the Zen Master and talk to the machines.

“Shall we print something now, grasshopper?”

It takes grace to laugh

October 4, 2006

I was nervous. Actually, some pretty significant frustration had turned into just general nervousness. It began early. We were on the verge of completing a nice looking, color catalog sheet for one of my favorite customers (and causes). I had grabbed a couple of samples on my way to our morning staff meeting with the intent of paying a compliment to our designer and pressman. I sat down at the conference table and opened the piece. Something was wrong.

“It’s upside down,” stated Brian, our production manager, in a matter of fact voice.

“It can’t be,” I said, as I folded the sheet back up.

I guess I was thinking that somehow everything would be right when I unfolded it again. Nope, the fold was a little complicated, but the reverse side was definitely upside down. My next brilliant move was to go get 5 more sheets and open them up to check. I was hoping that somehow only a few sheets had been printed upside down, although I knew this was very unlikely. No such luck . . . they were all wrong.

Standard operating procedure calls for a folding dummy to be placed in each job jacket for the pressman’s reference. There wasn’t one in the jacket for the project in question. I’m thinking that the dummies didn’t do the dummy. The worst part is that I had looked at the piece several times during production and I didn’t catch the mistake either . . . dummy me.

“Everybody just guessed on this one, and you all guessed wrong?” I questioned. There were long faces all around the table.

Back to the nervousness. It was an important job, due now, for a great customer. I had been working on the project with Steve (actual name, don’t think he’ll mind) for over a month. I really wanted it to look great. And now I had to talk with him and tell him what had happened. I called his office.

“Not in yet, but we’re expecting him any minute,” the receptionist said.

“This is Richard at AlphaGraphics. I’ve got a little problem I need to talk with him about. I’m heading your way.”

He still wasn’t there when I arrived, so I sat down in the lobby. I think I knew that it would be all right, but the jitters got a little bit worse.

Steve’s a tall, friendly fellow with a great personality and usually a big smile. He is the prototypical nice guy. I didn’t expect him to lose his temper, but I hated to disappoint him. I heard the door open downstairs and footsteps coming up.

“Hey!” he beamed, as he saw me and the brochures . . . “Our catalogs!”

“Not a good start,” I thought. “There’s a little problem,” I said.

“What, they look great!” he responded, opening the first fold. Then he flipped the piece over . . . and over again . . . and over again and broke out laughing!

The jitters vanished as I heard the laughter and I knew it was going to be OK. I thanked Steve for his reaction and apologized for the mistake and the delay. He was more than understanding and we set a new timetable for printing and mailing the catalog sheet . . . with both sides oriented the same way.

It takes grace to laugh, and I knew where Steve’s came from. His organization is a Christian ministry for women and he demonstrated that he truly lives the life that he espouses. He may not have realized the effect it had, but Jesus came right through in his laughter and in his reaction. Thank you, Steve  . . . and thank God for the little daily blessings!