ENC 4293.0001 Technical Communicator's Survival Guide » Chapter 5: Production
Chapter 5 Student Writers: Alex Goldman, Portia Springer & Christopher Tubaj
Throughout its lifecycle, a document goes through many transitions from initial outline to printed manuscript. The final transition, the production process, occurs when the digital master file is converted into a tangible object such as a book or brochure. Similar to document creation, the production process has many factors that must be carefully considered. This section of the Communicator’s Survival Guide will focus on three such options: digital file conversions, paper selection and binding options.
Digital File Conversions
Of the many decisions that must be made during the production process, digital file considerations may be the most technically challenging. Computer systems store information as a series of binary numbers arranged in a pre-defined format. Many such formats exist and transitioning from one to another may have unintended results. For this reason, we will examine the consequences of three types of digital file conversions: graphics, fonts and colors.
We begin with graphical considerations, or more specifically, the choice between the two primary graphics types: bitmapped and vector based images. While there are many image formats to consider, most are merely different implementations of the same ideas. Some of these variations are created to fine-tune an existing format for a specific platform, while others are created to make a format proprietary. However, bitmapped and vector based images differ in a more fundamental way.
A bitmapped image is analogous to a pencil and paper drawing; though the drawing elements can be applied in layers, at any given time the drawing exists as a single layer of graphical information embedded upon a flat surface. A three-dimensional image can be simulated via a technique known as isometric projection. This is accomplished by converting the 90 degree angles of a 3-D object into 120 degree angles in the 2-D image. The apparent depth is merely an illusion though as a two-dimensional object such as paper cannot contain three-dimension’s worth of information. Consequently, there is no way to rotate a flat image in such a way that a new view is presented. That is to say that once created, a bitmap image cannot be easily manipulated.
Figure 1: A box drawn in isometric projection (tavmjong.free.fr)
Unlike a bitmapped image, a vector image has depth that is not simulated, but exists in a 3-D virtual space. Even though this is quite different from how we draw, it is precisely how we, as humans, think. Inside of the human mind, the world is not a series of shallow images but rather a three-dimensional mental model. When one sees a solid object from the side, one safely assumes that the other side, which can’t be seen, does in fact exist. For example, one knows that a car has four tires without ever seeing more than two at any given moment.
The primary advantage of vector graphics is that is that they are not only inherently rotatable, but inherently scalable as well. A bitmapped image can be scaled by way of zooming in, but this process causes each of the individual picture elements, known as pixels, to become distinguishable and take precedent over the overall image. Consider the difference between watching a normal sized television from ten feet and then from ten inches. At ten inches, a TV would be unbearable to watch as its resolution at that distance is insufficient to produce a clean image. This is important throughout the document creation process because images may be scaled numerous times to find the right fit for a particular page.
Figure 2: Vector versus Bitmap (gagravaar.wordpress.com)
Fonts are a second aspect that must be watched with great vigilance. The total number of fonts available is already nearly countless and still growing by the day. The reason for this excessive volume is a combination of legal and financial as companies can often save money by creating a new font rather than using (and paying royalties for) an existing one. In many cases, a corporation will take an existing font such as Helvetica or Times New Roman, change it by some minimum amount required by law and brand it with a new name. In an instant, a new font is born into an overcrowded world.
Regardless of how the situation arises, the consequences of font copyright law must be dealt with. Many software applications achieve this by way of a system of font equivalencies. Such a system works by replacing an unsupported font with the supported font that it considers the closest match. For example, a system may substitute the user requested font Helvetica with a similar font such as Arial. This exchange could prove to be either trivial or catastrophic depending on circumstance. Corporations make for a good example as they use exact, often custom fonts in their logos and copy-written material. Consumers recognize these fonts in the same way that they recognize a corporate logo or slogan. As such, any amount of alteration is simply unacceptable.
It should also be noted that some small changes have a large impact on the final product. For instance, a minor increase in the thickness or boldness of the individual characters can cause them to appear considerably darker then intended. This minute change may result in substantially less whitespace on the page and a less clean appearance. This in turn, could alter the mood of the written work, thereby changing the message without changing a word.
Color is the third and final design element that must be carefully monitored throughout the production process. Color is the detectable difference between two distinct frequencies of visible light. The human eye uses sensors to detect the component primary colors and the brain uses this information to determine actual composite color. Computers store color information in essentially the same way: each color is broken down into primary colors such as red, green and blue (hence the name, RGB color). This technique is fairly consistent among all digital technologies, but what is not consistent is the amount of precision used to store each component color. For instance, at four bits per color, a total of 4096 (212) unique colors can be represented, whereas with six bits per, that total jumps up to of 262,144 (218) colors.
Figure 3: RGB color model (www.weblo.com)
Amazingly, the human eye can distinguish many more colors than this, well into the millions. It is for this reason that many applications now dedicate 8 bits to each primary color for a total of 24 bit color. Again, the total number of permutations grows exponentially to a monstrous 16,777,216 (224). The reason this is so important is that during the process of converting from one format to another, color information can be lost. In this example, a drop from 24 bit color to 18 bit color results in a loss of 98.5% of the original color depth. How important this loss of detail becomes is highly situational. A picture of a ball or balloon or a bicycle could be considerably discolored without incident, but a corporate logo misrepresented would draw the ire of marketing types quite quickly. Ferrari red is a very specific red as is IBM blue and McDonald’s yellow. These things must be kept, not just close, but verbatim, as we transition from file to print.
Paper selection may seem trivial, but nothing could be further from the truth. In order for a document to achieve the desired look and feel, whether professional or playful, it is imperative that the proper size, weight, and brightness be chosen. Even relatively small campus print shops such as UCF’s “The Spot” have considerable options to choose from; larger print facilities such as Fed-Ex Kinko’s expand this selection even further.
When selecting a paper size, one must choose between standard and custom sizes. As with many standards, paper options may differ depending on one’s location in the world. The standard-sized printer paper used in the United States and Canada, formally known as US Letter, measures in at 8.5˝ by 11˝. Outside of North America, the standard-size paper is referred to as A4, which is slightly more elongated at 8.3” by 11.7”. It should be noted that if a document formatted for US Letter were to be printed elsewhere in the world (or vice versa), it would not print as intended. An additional paper size commonly used in the United States is called Legal Paper which is precisely 3” longer than standard. As one might expect, such paper is typically used for legal documentation but can be used for other publications if the situation demands. Naturally page size has a major impact on the price of any print job. Not only do larger sized sheets cost more than smaller ones, but custom sizes also cost far more than standard sizes.
Figure 4: Paper Sizes (www.chinaprintingsolutions.com)
The second consideration in choosing a paper type is its weight. The weight of a paper is designated by the fixed weight, measured in pounds, of 500 sheets of the basic sheet size. This gives us a definition, but what does that mean for the end user? The easiest way of describing this is by simply thinking about what a single sheet of paper feels like. Paper with greater weight also has greater thickness and firmness. The thickness of a single sheet of paper is called its caliper. The higher the caliper, the less likely it is to bend or wrinkle. Extremely high caliper paper is referred to as cardstock and is used primarily for the document’s cover and, in some cases, page separators. Much like with paper sizes, increasing the paper’s weight has a major impact on production cost.
Brightness is the third and final consideration in choosing a paper. Brightness refers to a paper’s ability to reflect light and has a major effect on both the vibrancy of images and the sharpness of text. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 100 with 100 being the brightest or most light reflective. While brightness level is not easily determined when viewing a single sheet, comparing two sheets side by side will make the difference quite noticeable. Desktop printers generally use paper with brightness in the 80s. Photo-quality paper ranks in the high 90s so that printed photographs appear more vibrant. Certain paper manufactures such as HP, only sell paper with brightness above 90 in retail stores because consumers tend to buy the brightest paper available.
A very important issue that all publishers face is that of binding their final product together. When choosing a type of binding, it is imperative to consider the appearance, usability, durability and price of the final product. Document binding has a major impact on all of these factors. It is well known that a book is often judged by its outwardly appearance; if a potential reader does not find the binding aesthetically pleasing, they may pass it over your document in favor of another. It is crucial to consider how the document will be used and select a binding that will survive this type of usage over the entire life of the product. Finally, when making these choices, we must also consider that every decision will affect the price.
The types of binding discussed here include:
- Coil Binding
- Ring Binding
- Screw Post Binding
- Duo-Tang Binding
- Perfect Binding
Documents bound with coil binding are easily read from and written to while sitting on a flat surface such as a desk or table-top. The ability to flip completed pages to the back saves desk space and limits clutter. There are two types of coils: plastic and metal. The metal has a more professional appearance and better longevity than the plastic, but at greater cost. Coil binding spines are available in more colors and sizes than any other binding style.
Figure 5: Coil bindings (boundtoimpress.com.au)
Coil Binding Hole Patterns
The most common hole pattern used with coil binding is the 4:1 pitch hole pattern. This arrangement uses four holes per inch on the edge of the document. The holes for this style are usually either round or oval shaped. Depending on the size and spacing of the hole pattern, there will be either 43 or 44 holes on an eleven inch binding edge. Supplies for binding documents with 4:1 pitch are available in sizes ranging from 6mm up to 50mm in diameter. This allows for binding documents that are up to two inches thick.
Not as common as the 4:1 pitch coil, some printers and binderies prefer to use 5:1 pitch coil. With five holes per inch, 5:1 pitch coil is more tightly wound and provides a neat and tidy appearance. However, the tight spacing of the coil and the smaller size of the holes used by this pattern limit the size of spines that are available. Supplies for binding documents with 5:1 pitch are available in diameters ranging from 6mm up to 25 mm. This means that documents larger than roughly one inch thick cannot be bound using this hole pattern.
While three-ring binders are the most common configuration for letter-sized paper, other options do exist for non-standard sizes. In conjunction with a hole punch, a ring binder can provide a quick and easy binding solution. Ring binding is most functional in scenarios where the user would like to add or remove pages post-production, such as when new products are added to (or old products removed from) a store’s product catalogue. Not being forced to update the entire catalog for a few small changes offers a major savings in both time and money. Binders are available in a variety of sizes and styles. The most common types of ring bindings are:
- “O” Ring
- Square Ring
- “D” Ring
- Slanted “D” Ring
Figure 6: Ring bindings (theofficeguide.com)
Screw Post Binding
Screw posts provide one of the most effective methods for binding documents with exceptionally high page counts. Often called Chicago screws or Chicago screw posts, these small document fasteners are used almost exclusively in some industries. For example, most movie executives will refuse to consider a screenplay not bound with screw posts. Like ring bindings, screw post allow individual pages to be easily added or removed for painless updates.
Figure 7: Screw post with extension (www.greenlightoffice.com)
Tips for Screw Post Binding
- Screws are coated aluminum with a finish of black, gold or brass.
- Screw posts are available in lengths as short as 1/8” and as long as six inches with extensions available for oversized documents.
- If the Screw post is too small, the pages will not fit, and if the Screw post is too large, the pages will be loose and the bind will be sloppy.
- The required holes can be punched with a standard hole-punch or drilled with a professional-grade paper drill.
The Duo-tang binding is suitable for situations where the other binding options would produce too much overhead. For example, a three-ring binder would be completely inappropriate to unite a meager half-dozen pages. Duo-tang is most often seen in report folders; they typically have a clear front report cover which provides a full view of the title or introduction page. Typically, this binding type can hold no more than several dozen pages.
The Perfect binding is the binding majority of people are most accustomed to seeing and using. The perfect binding uses glue to hold the interior sheets together and to a wrap-around cover. This is common for textbook and novel-type publications. A document that uses Perfect binding cannot lay flat on a desk like a ring binder; however, it costs less per unit for large production runs. Also, stacking binders is hard to accomplish due to their triangular shape, whereas stacking documents bound with perfect binding is trouble-free.
Tips for Perfect Binding
- On the cover, leave an extra 1/8” at the head and an 1/4” at the tail of the untrimmed folded signatures
- Make certain grain direction of the cover is parallel to the spine for a more durable bind
- Allow a minimum 1/8” head, tail and face trim inside text pages
- Allow 1/16” to 1/8” for grind on spine edge of inside text pages
In summary, the production process, which spans the gap between digital master file and printed product, contains many facets that must be cautiously monitored. Careful handling of digital files as well as the proper selection of paper and binding will ensure that the final product meets or exceeds all end user requirements.