Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Technology In Paper

At my day job, we hosted a "lunch and learn" session with a local printing firm this afternoon. The graphics folks here (including me) got together and thought it would behoove a lot of our co-workers to have a better understanding of what these printers -- who already do a fair amount of work with us -- actually do and are capable of. So we asked these guys to come in and give an hour-ish long presentation. For them, it was an opportunity to shmooze a bit and highlight their abilities which we may not be taking full advantage of. It was, to some extent, free advertising for them. For us, it was educational as they talked about some things that many of us -- even the designers -- didn't know were possible.

When I was working on my undergrad degree, we were taught about then-current and some up-and-coming printing techniques. Many of our internships involved working with printers and going on press checks and studying bluelines. And there were these new-fangled places that were able to run film negatives for printing plates directly from your desktop, so a lot of us learned about that. Lots of cool, innovative stuff!

But since then, I've been working primarily online so I haven't kept up with printing technologies. So there was a lot of new stuff for me to absorb today. But I didn't feel as bad since much of it was new to the decidedly younger designers who work in print all the time. A couple of things that struck me...

They have the ability now to combine metallic inks with a standard CMYK process. CMYK is that standard set of printing inks used on virtually every piece of printed material you see. The specific shades of blue, red, yellow and black are combined in different amounts to form a wide array of colors. But now, apparently, they can lay down a metallic ink underneath them, which then mixes with the colors to create almost any color you like with a metallic sheen! I can't reproduce the results on the screen here, but it was REALLY impressive. And, unlike traditional metallic colors, it's far and away cheaper on top of having that wider color flexibility.

Question: Couldn't Marvel start running, say, Iron Man comics using these metallic inks? Not like the '90s where every other cover had some metallic foil highlight, but a more subtle effect throughout the entire book? Yes, it'd be a bit more costly, but if they're worried about bringing something to the table that CAN'T be replicated digitally (not that the publishers necessarily are, but I think many retailers have this concern) it would be a definite option. Whether or not it'd be successful and/or financially viable in the long-term, I don't know, but it's an interesting prospect to think about.

Another bit they talked about today was embedding technology in the paper itself that could launch a cell phone or tablet application just by being in the same vicinity. Kind of like an RFID tag, but it would be a part of the paper itself and could act a little more proactively. Food manufacturers are interested because they could just drop these into their packaging, and send customers to a website with nutritional information, saving a good chunk of their packaging real estate for more marketing.

Again, applying this idea to comics, something embedded in the cover of their books might launch something with additional character details or a related game or something. Last month, Marvel debuted that very notion in a strangely analog fashion but providing a URL on the last page of Amazing Spider-Man for users to type in. But what if that typing was removed, and a user just had to wave their iPhone over the cover logo? Or the character image itself? Additional creator info could be added. Maybe the equivalent of the director commentary on DVDs? Here, again, though, I couldn't speak to the cost-effectiveness of this.

But this is me. Digital guy sitting in Southwest Ohio, playing armchair print publisher. I'm just here to throw out really, frickin' cool ideas; it's up to the actual publishers to get them to work!

2 comments:

Matt K said...

Pretty cool stuff. I actually feel quite out of the loop wrt big commercial printing and paper options these days, too. Most of my print projects are either for small clients, in which case they're pretty basic and short-run printing, or for big clients with their own print management.

Neat post here.

geosray said...

Sean, Marvel is making use of QR Code to embed URLs in their comics. I know I've tried it for the Age of X promo.

I do remember the foil covers of the 90's (Fantastic Four, Spider-Man); using metallic inks would be great, but because of the added expense, I agree it should be done experimentally first on say Iron Man, and see how the readers react.