Interview with Mary Hardesty Kuhn, author of The Basics of Print Production, 2nd Edition

Interview with Mary Hardesty Kuhn, authorThe Basics of Print Production, 2nd Edition

1. What are some of the new features in the second edition, and why did you feel it was important to update/add them?
The industry is never static; it is constantly evolving—new methods, better printing surfaces, inks, finishes, processes, and options—so in order to stay relevant, we needed to update the book. Some of the changes and additions we address in this new edition are the advances in digital photography, electronic prep and proofing, and digital printing.

2. What advice would you give to younger students who are considering a career in graphic communications?

Learn everything you can about the process. Old-school answers sometimes help you to understand the process and why something is done the way it is even now. Regardless of where you are in the industry or what role you play in the process, the more you know and understand about the steps necessary to produce a finished piece, about the various components and processes, the better prepared you will be to plan, cost, and anticipate possible challenges along the way.

3. As a 35-year industry veteran, what have you come to appreciate as one (or some) of the most vital steps in the creation of a printed piece? What has the most beneficial impact on the desired result?
Wow, tough question! Every step contributes to the final piece; skipping steps or taking shortcuts impact the finished product to one extent or another, always. If I had choose the ones with the biggest impact, that would be tough; planning is always at the root. A couple of the elements that often have the most visual impact on the end result are:

  • The paper stock selected—you have to select the stock that best suits the design and will give you the look and feel you want in the finished product. There are so many variables that need to be considered: color, texture, finish, ink holdout, weight, bulk, how it folds, finishing.
  • The way the file is prepped for print— if you know what stock the piece is going to be printed on, how it is going to be produced and finished, and take the time to prep the file for optimum quality on that stock, on that press, with the finishing and binding considered, you will get the best finished piece for your time and effort.

4. Can you describe any scenarios you’ve personally come across where the steps you mentioned above were ignored or done in a less-than-satisfactory fashion, and can you talk a little bit about the results?
I can think of way more examples than I want to consider, but one that comes to mind was a brochure—beautifully designed pages with varnish treatments and effects. They had wonderful warm photography shot, but they did not follow through with the stock selection and prep to optimize the visuals on the printed piece.  

The images were prepped "to standards," and the piece was printed on a "blue white" gloss stock—not that either of these was bad, but the images appeared flat and cold, and the varnish treatments were lost because the stock was not up to the task.  

This was a case where production suffered because there was not enough money left in the budget to do it right. If the project had been planned at the start, with an estimated budget—from concept to final production—perhaps the end result would have been better, but because the costs were never presented as a whole, there were not enough dollars left to produce the project for optimum impact.

5. Over the course of your career, what advances in graphic communications technology have impressed you the most, and why?
The advances in electronic/digital production—photography, prep, proofing, plating, printing—are far and away the most impressive, sometimes overwhelming, advances I have witnessed. 

We now have the ability to capture and view images almost instantly, we can work directly from the source not generations away, we can retouch and color correct down to microscopic details.

We can share files across town, the country, the world in minutes;  we can view and discuss and manipulate in real time.

We can make type changes on the fly, our rules are always straight and exactly the width we want them to be, masks are clean and tight, and knockouts are trapped perfectly.

Final mechanical/print files can be generated and posted in seconds, and for the old folks, you don't have to worry about your type slipping on the boards when it is really hot outside.

All that having been said, I have to add that not all of their impact has been positive: faster is not always better, and new is not always improved. I think in some ways the overall quality of our product has been sacrificed to expediency and the perception that you don't need to know anything about printing to produce a quality piece because it is all done by computers—nothing could be further from the truth.

6. Can you talk a little bit about the substrate sample section and its value?
One of the most difficult things to explain to someone is the impact of paper on color printing: how something will look when printed on one stock as opposed to another, how the paper color or surface might impact the readability of the copy or the detail in the image. This section is designed to demonstrate those things in a very clear way—which stocks print the sharpest, which are the warmes, etc.—but it also shows why color on color sometimes just does not work, when reverse type is hard to read because the stock can't support the ink, how different ink colors look from one stock to another.  

But it is not just about do’s and don'ts; there is also a matter of visual preferences. It helps with the stock selection when you can see what the same image looks like on more than one stock, surface, and color versus another. I hope this section helps people select the stock that best suits the mood and message of the piece they are producing.

Order your copy of The Basics of Print Production, 2nd Edition.

Published on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 (updated 05/30/2014)

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