[ModLib] Colors, Fading, Printing of Jackets

Roger Lathbury lathbury at gmu.edu
Sat Apr 16 20:40:47 EDT 2011


An explanation about color printing I wrote up earlier somehow was deleted from my computer. Perhaps I can reconstruct it.

Color printing is a four color operation; four plates are made from primary colors and then assembled to make the final image. One plate is made for a somewhat lighter yellow, a second for magenta, a third for cyan, and a fourth for black. The colors used for four color printing are not what one normally thinks of when one hears the words "yellow," "red," "blue," and "black." The first three are what are called process colors, and they are lighter than vibrant yellow, red and blue. (Black is black and does not vary.)

If regular red, yellow, and blue were used, the result would be an over saturated look. You can see this in magazines printed in the 1940's when that over-intensified color was thought chic or striking. To get a regular red, for instance, a printer will "build" the color by printing some yellow over the magenta. Of course, for abstract designs or on jackets where fidelity to an original is not important, as on the jacket for the romances that has been reproduced so often, exact match of color may be less important because deviance will be less evident.

The four colors are printed in the sequence mentioned above to avoid plate contamination in case the ink has not dried on the paper when it is passed to the next color.

Up until 1962 or so Modern Library jackets were printed letterpress. A somewhat harder paper was used for the jackets because jackets are handled a lot and will tear and look bad if they are printed on fibrous paper. Just look at jackets from the 1920's and 1930's (Modern Library or most other books) and you will appreciate how friable the paper is and why a harder surfaced paper--consistent with the ability of letterpress inks and the letterpress process--is more important.

Registration--the alignment of images as they are superimposed one on the other--is more difficult with letterpress than with offset. It is also trickier for sheet fed presses than for web press operations. Press runs for Modern Library books were small enough so that web press was less likely to be used.

Modern Library jackets were printed offset starting somewhere in the mid 1960's.

The colors that fade the quickest are the lightest. Process yellow and magenta fade more readily than blue. Black doesn't fade at all. If special colors are made, the same principle applies. Pink and orange fade more quickly than dark brown or navy blue. The light under which jackets are kept affects their preservation. Flourescent light fades colors more quickly than incandescent light. Bright sunlight will made a spine fade (thus the term "sunned spine."

Printing colors are created in varying ways. Some are "built" colors made be superimposing half tone screens one on top of the other, these half tone screens being printed from the process yellow, magenta, or blue inks all printers have. Other colors are especially created in the same way that paint colors are created at hardware stores. These shades are are known by PMS number, so called for Pantone Mixed Shade, a more or less universal code for indicating color. 443C (a shade of green or blue or brown, whatever--my color wheel is at work) will be the same for a printer in Boston as for one in Santa Fé. Special shades outside the normal Pantone wheel can be made too for special effects: Kodak yellow is a proprietor color; so is Coke red, and Barbie pink for Mattel. If you take apart boxes from (say) beer six pack cartons or products on grocery shelves you can frequently see from the text strips the elaborate ways in which manufacturers try to create distinctive looking prod
ucts from special inks.

Modern Library jackets, being done as economically as possible, are likely to use the simplest techniques possible. Some are two color jackets. Some are three of four color jackets. The Salinger _Nine Stories_ jacket, as I remember, is a two color job made from Pantone Mixed Shades. The jacket for _The Maltese Falcon_ (the second jacket, not the original 1934 one) was created by a four color process of built color. Some of the jackets for Faulkner's _Sanctuary_ I seem to remember as having three colors. Ingenious designers can, by the deft use of half tone screens, create more colors than one might think from two colors: red can be made to look brown and pink as well as red, depending on the second color that it is paired with.

To speak to another line of inquiry on this list serve earlier, the original Knopf jacket from the 1930 _Maltese Falcon_ was a more elaborate production--which is prima facie evidence that it wasn't ever used on early printings of the Modern Library _Falcon._ The 1934 jacket was two color job. It was done on the cheap.

Apologies for the length of this.

Best to all!


Roger
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