May 22, 2014
We are fortunate to have a longtime relationship with our map printer, Advanced Litho Printing. It makes fulfilling our printing needs a bit easier since we have the advantage of working with same people over time. They understand our issues and work with us. Even more fortuitous to us is their location — they are "just down the street" (ok, 170 miles away) in Great Falls, Montana.
The entire Routes & Mapping staff recently took to the road to see firsthand what the printing process was all about.
Through coordinated efforts, our visit coincided with the latest run of Adventure Cycling route map reprints. We were graciously met in the lobby by Jennifer Korst, our sales representative, who then quickly ushered us onto the printing room floor to meet the pressmen running our job.
Introductions all around and then pressmen Arin and Loren walked us through their process once they receive the prepped files.
Ink is added in 4 slots to the mega sized 6-color Heidelberg Speedmaster press. This impressive machine is a high speed lithographic press. It can run the four CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) process colors plus two spot colors. Our maps stick with CYMK and do not need the spot.
An overview of the Heidelberg Speedmaster.
Arin feeds ink to the press.
Hanging loose and thumbs up all around with cartographers Nathan Tayler,
Travis Switzer and Melissa Thompson.
The waterproof, tear resistant specialty paper is loaded at one end and output at the other end some 50-feet away. This type of paper can be a challenge to run depending on the humidity of the day. On dry days static electricity builds up in the stacks causing the troublesome paper jam. Thankfully this didn't happen while we were there. Soft rubber suckers pick up the sheets one at a time to feed into the machine.
Loren stacks paper into the tray of the press.
Single sheets of paper are run through a series of rotating drums carrying one color and a press plate with the image to be printed. Each color is printed exactly on top of the previous color. As the sheet approaches the final output box, a microfine layer of what is called offset powder is applied. The offset powder keeps sheets from sticking to one another as they lay together and dry. It also prevents color from transferring to the opposite side. The press only prints one side at a time so every map goes through the machine twice.
Maps falling into the output box.
Once the machine gets going, samples are pulled by a pressman from the output box to compare with the proof he's been given. He adjusts ink amounts through multiple sensors to get the best color match. It can take a few hundred prints to achieve his, and our, satisfaction.
Nathan, Travis, Melissa, Carla Majernik and Jenn Milyko discussing the finer points of a color check with Arin.
It takes 24-48 hours to dry before the second side can be printed. After the second side has dried, the maps make their way to the folding machines. We found ourselves as intrigued with these machines as the press. For our maps they do multiple folds in two directions in one pass. And boy are they fast!
One of the multiple folding machines.
Before leaving, we were introduced to Jerry who produces the press plates. These metal sheets are attached to the Heidelberg's drums and carry the images to be printed. One is created for each of the four process colors. They are etched by laser to take advantage of "the fact that oil and water don't mix. In lithography, the press plates are imaged, or burned, so the image areas attract ink and the non-image areas, which are wet when on the printing press, repel the ink." Though we saw them late in the tour, plates are actually made quite early in the printing process which explains why making changes at the proofing stage gets expensive rather quickly.
Closeup of a lithographic press plate for a Lewis & Clark map section.
Jerry shares with Nathan, Travis and Carla how lithographic press plates work.
As the tour wrapped up, there were smiles all around. I think we all felt a bit like kids again getting to witness the magic firsthand of how our work becomes a tangible product. Well worth the drive.
Photos 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8 by Melissa Thompson | Photos 3, 5, 6 and 9 by Casey Greene
GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.