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Graphic Designer's Digital Printing and Prepress Handbook.

Graphic Designer's Digital Printing and Prepress Handbook

Constance Sidles. 2001. Gloucester, MA: Rockport Publishers, Inc. [ISBN 1-56496-774-3. 240 pages, including index. $50.00 USD (softcover).]

What are stochastic screens? Halftone screens? Even if you know the difference, do you know when it is better to use one or the other? What about paper cut long-grain versus short-grain? So much about the printing world can be Byzantine, even to those of us with a graphics background. Constance Sidles, in her Graphic designer's digital printing and prepress handbook, helps solve these and other mysteries by giving us the "backwards" perspective of how to design better based on the end product, the printed page.

But isn't it true, you might be asking yourself, that print is dead? That the Web has usurped the preeminent publishing position once held by printing? Despite prognostications to this effect, Sidles points out, "There is more print today than there has ever been in the history of the planet" (p. 10). I find this easy to believe. For instance, 95% of the mail I get each day goes directly into the recycle bin without being opened (sorry, junk-mailers). And the number of new hardcopy books and magazines being published each year? It staggers the imagination, with no signs of slowing.

It may be obvious, but Sidles reminds us that paper and the printed word are convenient, cheap, and portable. Not to mention the sheer pleasure of holding a beautiful work in your hands and turning the pages. I felt this to be true while perusing Sidles' book. It's both a joy to behold and a delight to read. All of this is aside from the importance of what the content has to offer. This book puts its beauty where its meaning is. Page after page of lavish color illustrations give visual credence to Sidles' print-production wisdom. The title may not be exciting, but the book is.

This should come as no surprise, because Sidles is an award-winning nonfiction author. Even on the first couple of pages, I noticed the engaging way she writes. She starts each chapter with a compelling anecdote, something that draws you in. Then, each chapter sets out clearly the main areas to look out for and to know about for each topic (a good example to technical writers of purposeful, engaging writing). In a nutshell, the Graphic designer's digital printing and prepress handbook is a lively and approachable guide to avoiding pitfalls and maximizing new technologies in print media.

And technologies have changed. Where once a tag team of print professionals was needed to send a print job out the door (remember typesetters? paste-up artists?), now a single person armed with the right software and hardware can handle the whole production cycle, from concept to printing. This digitization has changed printing on every level, from design to output.

Even further, "the digitization of design elevates print to new levels: With the power of software programs that can manipulate art down to the tiniest level, we can create things that were never possible before" (p. 11). Distance is a new power as well: "By digitizing text and graphics, we can send print designs shooting all over the world to be printed wherever they're needed or wherever we can get the cheapest deal" (p. 10). Thus, what graphic designers need in all this is not to be simply print-savvy, but to be print-savvy in the digitized world.

Sidles covers such digitally empowered issues as fine-tuning color images (even deciding when to throw them out), color management (don't forget to calibrate your monitor), resolution (higher resolution is not necessarily better), workflow (tap into the power of PDFs), and more.

From my own experience, I can remember being surprised when the laser printer toner flaked off stiff card stock paper after an expensive and tricky print job (Sidles warns about this in the chapter on paper). I was also amazed to find that sometimes the tiniest text changes can take hours of seat time to fix the cascade of changes on subsequent pages--usually at the last minute. (She recommends always planning ahead, of course, and being careful to print out a hardcopy before submitting a job to a printer.)

Her explanations are not software-specific, so you probably need to bring to the table a knowledge of your own photo-editing, illustration, and layout software to fully use her advice. However, one of the most important things the book does cover is printer's jargon. Equipped with the right terminology, you can find your own answers by using the help in your software.

Effectively, what the Graphic designer's digital printing and prepress handbook is not is a beginner's manual. Sidles does not walk you step-by-step through the basics of trapping or scanning. Instead, hers is an approach that expands on the knowledge of the graphic design professional. I think her aim is to help you become someone who easily knows how to avoid buying paper that will curl or using overprinted type that is illegible. Sidles, with her print production experience, seems to care about sharing the wisdom she has acquired through decades of haps and mishaps--no small benefit.

CAROLYN BLOUNT BRODERSEN is a documentation writer at STW Fixed Income Management in Carpinteria, CA. She has over 17 years of experience as writer, editor, tester, researcher, teacher, and graphics/UI designer for various firms across the U.S. and in Japan. She is treasurer of the Santa Barbara STC chapter.
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Title Annotation:Book Reviews
Author:Brodersen, Carolyn Blount
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:909
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