My frustrations with the Australian printing industry

A little while ago, after yet another frustrating experience with an unhelpful printing company, I vented my spleen on an international prepress forum. It made me feel a little better, if nothing else.

Here is the thread verbatim. Remember, I was in a bit of a temper, so it’s not my best writing.

An Australian Experience

So I’m arranging a job through this printing firm. I haven’t dealt with this mob before. In reality, they’re just the "front end" of a printing firm – the actual printing is done in China.

Their material specs say the usual "all files must be supplied in CMYK only", without any mention of details. I don’t like guessing games, so I called them. An accurate ICC profile would have been lovely, but unlikely, so I was just after all the information I could glean – press standards, densities, dot gain, whatever … just give me something to work with, so I’ve got some small chance of my colours printing the way I expect.

As is common in these situations (here in Oz, anyway), it was like talking to a parrot. Every question was answered the same way: "We need CMYK files". "May I have an ICC profile?" "We need CMYK files". "Do your presses conform to SWOP standards?" "We need CMYK files". "Well, what’s the dot gain?" "We need CMYK files".

[Rant 1]
This annoys me no end! This is a printing firm, for God’s sake! They don’t know anything about colour. If you went to a doctor and asked him what blood type you were, and the doctor didn’t know there were different blood types, you’d look for a new doctor, and fast! Well, imagine almost the whole country were filled with these dodgy doctors – that’s what the Australian printing industry is like.

Eventually he conceded that 20% dot gain was probably suitable, but he’s clearly guessing. He went on to say that they would provide a proof for us to approve, then match that proof on the press. So I said "but what if my blue skies are too purple, for example?", to which he replied "Oh well, we’ll run the cyan up on that sheet".

[Rant 2]
Aaaargh!! Why are printers still doing this? They’ve got wonderfully sophisticated presses, capable of very precise and consistent printing, not to mention access to a world of profiling technology, but they’re still f&cking with their densities!

Obviously, I pointed out that I didn’t want all the photos on my page to have a cyan cast for the sake of one purple sky, so I said we’d prefer to correct the problem at time of proofing. Would we have to pay for that? "Yes, there is a fee for re-supplying".

[Rant 3]
This makes me SO mad! How is this fair? They give us zero information about our CMYK separations, but if we get it wrong and have to re-supply, we have to PAY for it? This is a mild form of extortion, and it irritates me enormously.

I would LOOOOVE to see this issue go to court, somewhere, sometime. How can a printer legally charge their customer a fee to fix a mistake that was not the customer’s fault?

Every now and then you hear of a car manufacturer having to recall a batch of their latest vehicles, because there was a problem on the production line one week, and a thousand cars have faulty airbags, or whatever. The car manufacturer recalls those cars and fixes the problem. Can you imagine the car manufacturer charging the car buyer to fix that fault? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Yet it’s fair game in the printing industry, at least Down Under.

He told me that they couldn’t provide an accurate profile, because they couldn’t be sure which press our job would be running on. They have several different presses, which is not unusual.

So I pointed out that it would be much wiser for us to provide our files with the images (at least) in RGB, since there would (or at least should) be profile conversions happening both at time of proofing and time of platemaking. Of course this was met with "huh?" followed by "we need CMYK files".

[Rant 4]
When are Australian printers going to figure out the benefits of a late-binding workflow? Yes, I know it presents problems, but the benefits could be enormous!

He began to babble about unreproducible RGB colours, which of course is true. But I didn’t attempt to bamboozle him further with talk of rendering intents and soft-proofing, I just politely thanked him and hung up. But it brings me to my last rant, on a slightly different tangent …

[Rant 5]
I blame these fancy-pants, tertiary-educated, never-seen-a-press-in-their-life, love-designing-with-bright-colours graphic designers for giving RGB a bad name. I’m sure every printing firm has had heaps of "but it looked much brighter on my screen" incidents. As a result, they refuse to have anything to do with RGB, to the detriment of the industry, IMO.


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