Photo Finish

It’s summer in Saratoga Springs, NY, but not everyone is headed to the town’s famed racetrack. Several out-of-towners are here not for the ponies but for catalog press checks, photo shoots, and product reshoots, among other activities taking place at the Quad/Graphic’s print/production facility here. Multichannel Merchant visited Sussex, WI-based Quad’s Saratoga Springs location in late July to get a better sense of what goes on when a catalog is being printed, as well as to see firsthand some typical prepress tasks and post-printing projects.

9:30 A.M.

Outside the two-story main building of Quad/Graphics’ Saratoga Springs compound, flags bearing the logos of companies such as multititle educational products mailer S&S Worldwide, plus-size women’s apparel catalog Silhouettes, and outdoor gear, clothing, and home goods merchant Orvis Co. ripple in the breeze. The flags mean that these mailers are currently in some phase of production at the plant. The facility, covered in washed pebbles overlaying “spancrete,” a distressed looking concrete, is just one of 10 connected buildings on the property. Put together, the structures form an “L” and add up to a little more than 1 million sq. ft., with each building running about 100,000 sq. ft.

9:45 A.M.

Quad’s director of photography, Mark Kozlowski, leads a tour of the facility, which employs roughly 915 workers. It’s one of nine printing plants that the company owns and operates in North America. Print runs at this plant range from 100,000 to about 2 million, Kozlowski says. What’s more, adds vice president of manufacturing Tom Frankowski, Quad can handle up to 16 catalogs on press at one time here.

One of the buildings is basically a 100,000-sq.-ft. storage room, with racks spiraling up 10 stories high. The racks hold various signatures, or page groupings, of finished print jobs. The signatures are combined in different variations to create multiple versions of the catalogs, magazines, and other publications produced at the plant, to cater to varying segments of recipients.Another of the buildings serves as the pressroom, housing Heidelberg M3000 and M1000 web offset presses.

10:00 A.M.

Speaking of the presses, one machine that’s meant to spit out more than 1 million copies of a late-summer Silhouettes catalog has been paused. The metallic “blanket” on the presses, which places the ink down on the paper, must be cleaned. An additional 86,135 linear feet of printing paper in 12 rolls, all for the Silhouettes run, waits by the side of the press to be fed into the machinery. Paper is delivered to the facility daily via freight train; the plant is located beside railroad tracks for easy access.

Green tubes running above the presses suck up unused paper, which is then shredded for recycling, says pressroom manager Jeff Nettesheim. With the presses running at full speed, the Silhouettes job should be completed by the end of the day, using 30-35 rolls of paper, he says. The catalogs will then be saddle-stitched, or bound with staples, rather than perfect-bound with a spine held together with glue. (See “Saddle up,” below right.)

11:00 A.M.

Danine Warren, the art director of Orvis’s gift, home, and pet catalogs, is stationed in the plant’s upstairs photo studio, tinkering with one brown and one black leather mitten in front of the camera. The products had been shot on location near Orvis’s Manchester, VT, headquarters earlier in the year on models, but they need to be photographed again for closeup pictures in the catalog. Although Orvis prints its books at Quad’s Sussex, WI, plant, it has been using the Saratoga Springs facility for prepress work for the past four years, says Warren.

A live video, like a much larger version of those seen on hand-held digital cameras, allows Warren and Quad photographer Jude Goldman to see a video image of the gloves as the two try to find the best angle for the shot. When shooting on location, Warren says, the company relies on far less sophisticated technology — a Polaroid camera — to give them a near-immediate idea of how the shot will look. Warren and Goldman have been repositioning the gloves this way and that for hours, and have taken seven shots of the items since 9:00 a.m. “Some [photo shoots] are extremely fast, but you may have one that takes forever, something silly like a watch,” says Warren.

11:30 A.M.

Still chasing a shot of the gloves. Goldman adjusts the lighting “so it pops the image.” He checks the positioning of the shadows and the level of white tone in the shot to make sure as much detail as possible will be seen in the catalog. Goldman and Warren debate positioning the gloves on a colorful throw rug but decide it would be too distracting.

After at least every few shots Goldman must make sure the camera’s view of the product hasn’t moved ever so slightly to the right or left. The cameras in the studio are so sensitive that the vibration from a person walking through the room can nudge hem out of position.


After finally capturing a successful image, Warren reads off the page number of the holiday edition of the gift and home catalog that the gloves will be featured on, along with the SKU number, so that Goldman can file it properly before exporting the picture into Adobe Photoshop. From there, it will be made into a tagged image file format (TIFF) attachment, which will allow the Quad prepress and Orvis catalog staffers to tweak the tones of the photo for color accuracy with the aid of an enclosed booth equipped with controlled lighting.

12:15 P.M.

Warren and Goldman have several more items to photograph, including a Retro Tricycle, a monogrammed quilted brown suede vest, and a pair of boxer shorts imprinted with little dogs. A Princess Play Set, which the company wants to shoot in silhouette, is going to pose some challenges, as the costume’s strap-on sparkly purple wings have pink ribbons hanging down, says Warren. Each ribbon will need to be set apart, so that customers leafing through the catalog will get a sense of how the wings look when worn. What’s more, the set comes with a magic wand and a tiara that will need to be included in the shot.

Warren and Goldman begin adjusting the positioning of the items, with a Tinkerbell-like tinkling sound heard each time the motion-based sensor located in the wings is triggered. They decide to prop up both the tiara, which also comes with hanging ribbons, and the wings using strips of foam core (hardened pieces of foam). Warren explains that Orvis typically uses a professional photo stylist for shoots but did not in this case because the product shots were — at least in theory — fast, low-maintenance follow-ups.

12:30 P.M.

Warren isn’t the only Orvis catalog staffer struggling with a shoot at Quad on this day. Beverly Kerr, the merchandise coordinator for the women’s and men’s apparel catalogs, is in an adjoining photo studio tussling with three pairs of brown, wool-blend men’s pants. Adjacent to this second studio is a makeup room the size of a small walk-in closet for when models are used at shoots. A few computers and workstations are set against a side wall of the studio for soft proofing — proofing using the computer screen instead of a hard copy.

The main photo shoot for the holiday men’s and women’s books, earlier in the year, took about 10 days, with about 23 shots taken a day, says Kerr. During major seasonal shoots, one or two pallets of boxes full of clothing will be hung on a metal pole located to the side of the photo staging area. It will typically take two days just to steam-press and organize the items, she points out.

1:00 P.M.

Kerr and Quad photographer Mark Van Amburgh check the level of gray in a picture by putting a plastic-looking strip featuring various shades of color up against the pants. Kerr is concerned about a slight crease at the top of the pants. In general, says Van Amburgh, “we’re trying to eliminate anything [in the photos] the art director could say is wrong with them.”

1:30 P.M.

Time to reshoot a pair of pants for Orvis’s U.K. women’s catalog. The company had planned to use the photo from the U.S. catalog but realized at the last minute that the U.K. book will feature the pull-on version of the pants, rather than the fly-front style shown in the American catalog. The shot should be an easy one — but the pleats keep popping up. Kerr smoothes them down as much as she can, and she and Van Amburgh finally get an image they’re happy with.

1:45 P.M.

Lunch for has yet to arrive, though it was ordered nearly an hour ago. Kerr and Van Amburgh joke about fainting from hunger. Next door, Warren and Goldman are still working on their reshoots. A mint-green dog sweater for Orvis’s Dog Book had been shot on a model (of the four-legged variety), but Warren’s bosses felt it looked a little tight on the dog wearing it. So Warren and Goldman are working on an accompanying closeup silhouette shot of the sweater. Warren gently dabs off dust particles and lint from the items before they are set in front of the camera.

Proofing of the photos taken today will be done via soft proofing, says Van Amburgh, sitting in front of one of the studio computers, demonstrating the process that the art director will need to go through to access the proofs. Within 48 hours of receiving the final, approved proofs from the cataloger, the book will go to press, he says.

2:00 P.M.

Lunch finally arrives. The hungry teams munch on salads and deli sandwiches on a round table adjacent to a galley kitchen in the first photo studio. Everyone eyes the box of oversize chocolate-chip cookies.

2:30 P.M.

Warren and Goldman are headed back to the studio for more shooting, but Kerr, who skipped lunch in order to leave early, is heading out. Multichannel Merchant, too, decides it’s time to take off. It’s been no day at the races, but we’re grateful for this inside peek at the production process. And now we know why those Orvis catalogs always look so good.

Saddle up

Saddle-stitching, or stapling, is the preferred binding method for Quad/Graphics’ catalog clients, says Jeff Nettesheim, pressroom manager for the company’s Saratoga Springs, NY, production facility. The plant has 22 saddle-stitchers but only four perfect-binding machines, which create a catalog spine by gluing pages together.

Indeed, most catalogs today are saddle-stitched rather than perfect-bound, says Jim Willms, vice president of production planning for Menomonee Falls, WI-based printer Arandell Corp. About 75% of his company’s clients, all of whom are catalogers, use saddle-stitching. Some catalogers feel that most customers are accustomed to the look of a catalog that has been stapled rather than glued together with a spine, Willms says.

Then, too, perfect-binding is more expensive. “I can’t put a dollar amount as far as how much more expensive perfect-binding is compared with saddle-stitching,” says Willms. “I will say that the perfect-binding equipment is more expensive, which would make the hourly rate higher to pay for the equipment.”

Closing the loop

About 75% of catalogers printing with Quad/Graphics request that a representative be present for a live color check on press, says vice president of manufacturing Tom Frankowski. The number requesting this service has dwindled, he says, due to the implementation at all of its facilities of close-loop color control systems. These use a moving camera installed inside the press to continuously monitor the mechanics of printing that contribute to color accuracy, including ink and color density, print contrast, and hue, he explains. Monitors located directly above every printing press at the plant show live measurements of each of these characteristics to press technicians.

“This tool is substantial in terms of verifying that the press is printing properly,” says Frankowski.

“It used to be that just about every cataloger sent somebody on press,” says Janie Downey, president of Cumberland, ME-based production consultancy PublishExperts. “Now fewer than half of the catalogs I work with do.”

Fashion catalogs selling color-sensitive apparel still typically send a staffer to do a live color check, she notes. And as much as close-loop technology has improved color accuracy, Downey adds, the process is not fail-safe.

Also, Downey points out, not all printers have implemented close-loop color control systems on all the presses in their facilities. Though the technology became available 10 years ago, for instance, it wasn’t until 1999 that Quad installed it on all its presses.

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