Press (printing) Options?

Subject: Press (printing) Options?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 2004 16:52:41 -0400

Anne Allaire Burke wondered: <<I'm working as the first and only tech writer for a company. I've got minimal experience dealing with printing options & vendors. In the past, all of the details have been previously worked out.>>

One great place to look for advice is in the yellow pages: Look for "print brokers", who are people who act as middlemen (and women) between the person who wants to print something and the companies that will actually do the printing. Think of them as realtors for paper! <g> As is the case with realtors, some are incompetent crooks out to line their own wallets, but most are quite good at what they do and very helpful. Ask for referrals to good print brokers in your area, and compare until you find one you can trust.

If there is any large government office in your area, ask to talk to their purchasing department and see if you can hook up with the person responsible for buying printing services. Many of these people will give you the cold shoulder, but some will remember that you're paying their salary with your taxes and will happily provide advice on what to look for and which local printers are reliable.

<<However, now I'm in the position to research and make the best decision regarding printing options. I'm curious about what those options are?? What exactly is docutech printing? Is this the best way to go for user guides?>>

There's a bewildering array of options. If you're interested in a primer, have a look at the Chicago Manual of Style; they have a whole section on how books are produced. International Paper produces a wonderful little book called the "Pocket Pal Graphic Arts Production Handbook"; my 2000 edition lists 1-800-854-3212 as the contact number. Until you get one of those references, here's a really short and overly simplistic summary:

Offset printing: A process in which the printer creates metal, plastic, or paper printing plates that are used to convey ink from the plate onto the paper. (More modern versions use digital presses that eliminate many steps along the way, such as the production of the films traditionally used to create the printing plates.) The main flavors of offset printing are one-color (e.g., black ink on white paper), four-color (also called CMYK from the four ink colors that can be used to create almost all other colors), and high-fidelity or hexachrome (CMYK plus two other colors used to make photos look more real). There's also "spot color", which involves adding individual new inks of specific colors at specific "spots", such as when 99$ of the book is black ink on white paper, but you want teal blue headings.

Print on demand: A variety of processes in which you send a file to the printer and they output and bind copies directly, just as if you printed the job on your laser printer only faster and better. Docutech is the best-known, and it's basically a glorified photocopier with a bunch of sophisticated control options; the quality isn't as good as with offset printing, but it's more than good enough for many manuals. You can also do a variety of high-speed laser printer or inkjet printer printouts, but Docutech is the Microsoft of print on demand.

As I said, overly simplistic, but that summarizes the options.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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