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Title: Opening the blackbox of printing
Date: 2009-06-27 21:30
Author: Pierre
Tags: Conversations, Colors, Printing + Publishing, Tools
Slug: opening-the-blackbox-of-printing
Status: published

When we began to think about how to establish a more rich and warm
collaboration with printers after the cold alerts we experienced during
OSP production, Georges Charlier's appetite for research and openness to
exotic solutions reappeared in Pierre's mind. And since we are preparing
some new books, it was time for an update on his approach.

Georges Charlier is the passionate owner of pre-press, printing and
publishing house **Salto**. He lives and works in Ulbeek, Limburg (B)
where he restores a former brewery, and transforms it into a platform
for the production and conception of extraordinary publications.

![ulbeek]({filename}/images/uploads/ulbeek.jpg "ulbeek"){: .alignright .size-medium .wp-image-3089 }  
**Every printed book is an original**  
On this mornings' motorway road to Campine, Pierre remembers for Femke
his first (and only) meeting with Georges Charlier, around 10 years
earlier. [Thierry Van
Hasselt](http://www.fremok.org/site.php?type=P&id=56), comics author and
publisher, had spot books outputted by a fantastic printer, that built a
model printshop on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands, near the
Meuse, in a haunted park. This man would be able to provide
extraordinary color separation and printing quality, maybe the best in
the world... Thierry and me felt they needed this kind of quality in
order to reproduce the subtle greasy drawings in *Gloria Lopez*,
Thierry's book they were working on at the time. Follows a fever meeting
and tour by former photographer Georges through the whole chain he has
built: a repro-table with natural light and Nasa photo sensor, to avoid
the brutal lighting of hi-res scanners (too high contrast); ultra high
care color separation with in-house software recipes; exotic screening
with an optimised solution of half 600 lpi and half stochastic
rasterization and luxurious printing, combining warm grey, transparent
and an opaque black 'skeleton' to match the matte quality of a litho

Far from the kind of glitter fireworks printers usually send us as new
year's eve auto-promotion, this exceptional person was convinced that
every book, even in large scale print run, is an original, *the*
original. And that every stage in the process is a step to achieve the
final and best result in the hands of the viewer, or user. A statement
we 100% shared for the contemporary comics like Fréon was publishing. A
few weeks after, Thierry literally lived there on the machine and an
impressive volume was produced.

**The tunnel of production**  
Today Georges Charlier explains how he felt frustrated by the tunnel
view approach to much contemporary printing workflows. The effect of
ISO-standardization might be that overall printing quality has
increased, but often there is not much space for experimentation and
above all *specific* quality. "*In the United States, color specialist
became known as agitators, as troublemakers. In the interest of
survival, the printing business tries to streamline the process from
digital file to a printed product as much as possible*"

**Printer without printshop**  
It might be the result of very practical and economical constraints, but
it does not come as a surprise that Georges habitually uses the presses
of his colleagues rather than his own printshop. Out of necessity, he
has learned how to practice high quality printing without attaching
himself to his own machine park. The experience of traveling between
materials and setups has made him aware of the differences between
presses of various makes. As a way to enforce a serious conversation
with press manufacturers, he eventually made up his own 'acid test'. A
collection of seemingly simple black and white images enables the
analyses of radical shifts in quality between machines. We imagined the
tense silence in the Heidelberg boardroom when he unfolded his test
sheets, the complete management had gathered for the occasion. He
printed the same sheet not only on the respectable German presses but
also on a Roland, a Mitshibishu, a Komori and a KBA. Afterwards, in the
corridor, the staff of engineers thanked him for pointing out to their
bosses that even at Heidelberg there was room for improvement.

**Material knowledge**  
On multiple levels, our conversation touches on the way material and
knowledge, objects and software are intimately interwoven. It has
motivated Georges to develop his own tools, and also his own paper.
After an intense collaboration with the technical staff of a small paper
factory in The Netherlands, he managed to develop a paper fit to his
needs: a slightly ivory, matte but silky surface which supports the
reproduction of a series of photographs by Bauhaus photographer Moï Ver.
But the company went bankrupt, and although he still has access to the
recipe, without their expertise and equipment he will not be able to
produce the same quality paper ever again.

**Spectral colors**  
"*I met likeminded people like in the Netherlands, and we said to each
other: let’s drop the old Lab color system, and try instead to build a
new spectral system*". Georges is busy developing color systems that are
not limited to the traditional 3, 4, 6 or 7 values, but that are based
on various separation operations that depend on what we want to store
and retrieve on paper.

When the [CIE Commission internationale de
l'éclairage](http://www.colour.org/) begin to build the RGB color models
in the 1920's, it made sense (and fit with the mathematical computation
power available at the time), to simulate the regular way our eyes
simplify, with the help of three kinds of cones, infinite physical color
wavelengths into three color values, as an event, before they are
quantified and evaluated by our brain. These models were developped
using [some statistical
averaging](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIE_1931_color_space) between
samples of observers. And these subjective observations were than
normalized to build a model that pinpoints specific and measurable

So the perception of these observers ended up in two overlapping
simulations at work when we look at printed pictures: the one their
cones have provided, and the result of the combination of three
different inks chosen for their direct relation with the wavelengths
that please these same cones. This synchronized simplification helped
further models based on RGB (notably XYZ and Lab) and paved the way for
the current ISO separation model used widely for most of the
quadrichromatic printed images nowadays.

But we lost a diversity of color events in that double reduction: mostly
all saturated colors in between, and colors that look the same under
certain conditions but not under others (a phenomenon linked to
[metamerism](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metamerism_(color))). And if
we experience everyday marvelous and rich color **events** in our
brains, all different depending on our sex and origin, we have also
progressively standardised the way we perceive printed color separation
and the amount of colorised experiences we've acknowledged not to find
in there.

Georges' openness to rethink the color model will not only benefit color
reproduction, but also in another field of his activity, the archiving
of sensible material. And it's use can even be enlarged with the
archiving of information about actual pigments in the file format that
stores the full spectral data of an image.

gloves]({filename}/images/uploads/DSC03256.jpg "White gloves"){: .alignright .size-medium .wp-image-3089 }

He is finishing a special edition of images from the archives of the
[Scott Polar Research
Institute](http://www.freezeframe.ac.uk/gallery/gallery). He puts on
white gloves and shows us 5 cahiers of photographs taken by Herbert
Ponting. The images document the catastrophic Terra Nova expedition
undertaken by Robert Falcon Scott in 1912. Duplicates rather than
reproductions, these contemporary
[platinotypes](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platinotype) are meant to
survive their originals (assumed life span ca. 1000 years). Their
exceptionally refined quality is accentuated by the bristle character of
their subject matter. Scott and their party never returned from the
Terra Nova expedition. But the penetrating gaze of those adventurous
men, dressed in layers of self repaired clothes, will miraculously
survive after being photographed, archived, scanned, digitized,
described, retouched and finally printed in three monochromes on acid
free paper.

![PD\*27005129]({filename}/images/uploads/captain-scott_1299075c.jpg "PD*27005129"){: .alignright .size-medium .wp-image-3089 }  
<small>Captain Scott in his cabin</small>