The Challenges of Color PrintingJan Heine
Color print and media is so common nowadays that most of us take it for granted, but it is much more complex than Black & White. When we decided to go to a full-color publication, we knew we had to get the color right; bad color looks a lot worse than black & white. We wanted Bicycle Quarterly’s presentation to match the quality of its contents.
Many readers’ loved the understated quality of the magazine. Over the years, we got many letters and e-mails: “Please keep it black & white forever!” I appreciated that sentiment, but I also knew how stunning the photos of our test bikes and rides looked before I converted them to black & white. The brown leather of a well-worn saddle, the blue sky above a mountain ridge covered with dark green evergreen trees, the tan color of a dirt road – they all lost some of their beauty in black & white.
To make this possible, we first had to think about our cameras and photography. How large a camera can we carry on our rides, and how small a camera still will take top-quality photos? Many of our locations are very remote. We don’t want to do photo shoots where bikes and riders are driven into the backcountry for a “make-believe” re-enactment of what a real cycling adventure looks like.
Once the photos are taken, they are processed by The Color Group here in Seattle. These wizards adjust the many aspects of color and value in the photos, so they “pop off the page” without looking unnatural. We give them good photos, and they make them great. The last step in the process of creating the color is Consolidated Press, a local printer specializing in quality magazines.
These two companies are nearby, so when proofs are ready, I can just cycle over to review them. (And there are multiple sets of proofs until everything is signed off and ready for printing.) Sometimes I wish I lived where I could go straight from my back door onto a forest road to ride up a mountain. But in this case, having this “industry” nearby saves time and money, facilitates discussion and improvement, and also reduces the pollution of couriering proofs across the country or the world. It’s neat to work with local outdoorsy people who know what the terrain looks like where we ride, and thus can make our photos look even more realistic.
Color printing even improves the B&W photos of our historic articles, as the added browns and sepias give the photos a richness that pure B&W cannot match. In fact, the photos now have the same evocative quality as the originals from our archives.
We have really enjoyed the positive comments about the magazine’s change to color. We hope the new images bring you more delight and inspiration. Most of all, Bicycle Quarterly now looks like I had envisioned it when we started 12 years ago!