I often say that I have one of the most unusual and "old school" jobs at Microsoft—not quite sure if I do, but I like to think so. I'm the art and production director for TechNet Magazine (and MSDN Magazine), and in addition to many other cool things, I get to follow every issue through the manufacturing process to its final, hold-it-in-your-hand printed magazine. But despite its reputation as an old fashioned information delivery system (commercial print technology traces its origins to circa 1452), modern web offset printing is infused with as much cutting-edge technology as any other industry on the planet. (Yes, that means legions of IT Pros and Developers to keep it going.) That point is driven home every time I visit our printer, Quad Graphics, in Sussex, Wisconsin, as I did recently for a presscheck on the June 2007 issue (hitting your mailboxes any day now).
To get our magazine printed—meaning electronic files transferred to ink on paper—talented color experts and senior press supervisors/floormen David Kreuzer, Brad Leskinen, Scott Kohls, and Mark Heeren worked with 21 people (listed below), on 4 presses(all employing state-of-the-art Web offset CMYK printing technology, some of it developed at Quad), during the course of 24 hours. (Thankfully the Quad folks work in shifts and had their wits about them at 3 AM, when I certainly did not.) All of this happens days before the equally complex and technical bindery (where pages are bound together with the cover) and distribution processes begin—don't even get me started on that.
The goal is to produce 112 pages printed at a quality level that meets our high design and visual standards, and that gives our readers the best quality magazine possible. Despite employing the latest and greatest in technology (computers always know best, right?), printing is still, in the end, a fascinating and organic process that behaves differently under varying conditions, no matter how carefully regulated an environment you create (sound familiar to all you IT Pros out there?). Every printed page is a snapshot that reflects countless press conditions (color balance, registration, etc), and represents the end result of paper racing through presses at an average 3000 feet per minute (or 34 MPH, producing up to 6.4 million pages/hour) plus the paper/inks/environmental conditions combo (like my hair, paper likes to misbehave at the slightest sign of too much/too little humidity), compounded by the omnipresent pressures of time vs. money.
And despite innovations like CLC—with computers "reading" density and color levels (among other things) in real time as the paper races through the press—there's no replacement for the very well-trained and discerning human eye for color in the process. There are, thankfully, many of these people working for Quad, and a typical presscheck question like "does that red look too, well, red, to you?" elicits a thoughtful discussion rather than a sigh and roll of the eyes.
You may be wondering: why all this to simply make a magazine, when all information can be distributed on the Web? Well, for starters, Microsoft wants to bring you premier content in whatever form factor you prefer—and a big percentage of you told us that there's just no substitute for holding TechNet Magazine in your hand. Plus, hot off the presses just doesn't have the same meaning when the pages slowly grind out of the nearest ink-deprived DeskJet printer. And speaking of hot off the presses, check out this photo of the TechNet Magazine covers coming off press:
-Valerie MyersArt & Production Director
*Special thanks to the following employees of Quad Graphics, Sussex, WI Division for their time, patience, and expertise during the pressrun of TechNet Magazine (June 2007): M48, Cary Mueller, Steven Lamp, Daniel Eggers, Ralph Gingras, Michael Strickland; M64, Douglas Drlaca, Jeff Muchinski, Robert Bunzel, Wendell Buchanan , Paul Brunner, Michael Brandt; M96, James Scardino, John Engelhardt, Jeff Stoebich, Jesse Moore, Floyd Martinez; M49, Derrick Reynolds, Stephen Thomas, Jonnie Quass, Jessica Mccalligan, Kyle Poeppel. Extra special thanks to the inimitable Tony Purtell for his tireless chauffeuring and chaperoning. And last but most certainly not least, thanks to Mike Penne, of CMP Media, my buddy and partner in color in Wisconsin.