the miracle of modern production

April 26, 2010

If you are engaged in producing publications of any kind, you may wonder how your pdf turns into a book. This short educational film will not help you. However, it will help you to appreciate the complete miracle that your pdf is! A couple of years ago I had the honour (well, it was very interesting) to tour a printers’ works, and see all the guys there doing their different jobs. (None of them were called ‘Ready Man’, which seems a shame. But by the same token, no one was about to get their hand made flat as a page by a machine. And there were no vats of hot copper. The scariest part, frankly, was the distribution manager’s room, with its complicated system all over the walls.)

Of course, it seems a world away. We’re digital now! The computer does everything for us. We simply type out what we want to say (and then edit, verify, footnote, libel-check, lay it out, sub-edit, proofread it, and proof it again); add our own photographs (or ‘pics’), which we may well have scanned ourselves (at 300dpi, I hope, and with signed permission if they are of children or models, and copyright permission), arrange the text around them in such a way that it is still legible, and ensure that the pics are not in any way stretched or manipulated out of their proportions; check printable margins, calibrate colours as best we can (there is no exact science for the mysteries of digital colour, your RGB to CMYK conversion, your Pantone). Then we simply turn the thing into a pdf file. How does this work? I don’t know. You click on a button: ‘make pdf’. Presto. Anybody can do it.

The printers do the rest. (Technically of course they deal with the colour issues too. But I have spent anxious moments with designers, trying to work out how something would look in print, and we have seen initial proofs coming back looking completely different from all predictions.)

There is a second way, involving Microsoft Publisher, stretched clip art of funny pics form the team party or major funder, misspelled words, single words left hanging at the top of a page or in the margin of a picture, ungrammatical libellous remarks, unsupported assertions that amount to untruths, etc. Anybody really CAN do this. And you still press ‘make pdf’ and send it to the printer. But there are superstitions about that kind of stuff.


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