The 6 P’s of Presswork (It’s not just the pressman)

Hat tip to Brian Lawler  for posting this photo of female press operators at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo on his blog.

The six P’s of presswork and putting them all together

A recent internet discussion asked the question: “What is more important, the Pressman or the Press?, and while we refrained from commenting on the matter at the time, we certainly did have strong opinions, at least on the premise, if not the conclusion.

The idea seems to be that, in order to have success in presswork, we need to have either a very good pressman or a very good press, and the debate centered on which, in the end, is more important. What an odd idea! We need both, of course, but neither by itself  is enough to assure quality or efficiency. The pressman (or woman) needs more than good skills and a good press to achieve amazing results-they need the 6 P’s of Persistence, Proofing, Plating, Process Control, Personal Communication (and a few others) to excel as part of a team.

  1. Persistence: Great presswork isn’t about getting that one great job out. It is about doing it over and over, day after day. After years and often decades of seat-of-the-pants press operation, it takes commitment and persistence to change over to a process controlled approach to press work.
  2. Proofing: Yes, Proofing is a press issue, because even a good pressman with a good press can’t match a bad proof. As I like to say, “Bad proofs make bad pressmen.” A pressman can’t expect to match a bad proof by running to the numbers, and long experience with bad proofs has convinced too many otherwise good pressmen that running to the numbers just doesn’t work.
  3. Ph, packing, paper: We’re putting all these together because they all belong to the general class of Technical Things That Must Matter.” In other words, we know that they are all important, even of no single factor alone can assure good press work. We could add dozens of other factors here that don’t happen to start with the letter “P”: roller pressure, press speed, oscillation, conductivity, ink water balance, ink viscosity, and so on. From the perspective of maintaining quality, they are all important, but taken together, the most important thing is consistency. On a press, maintaining consistent conditions faithfully in all parameters is more important that perfection on any single factor.
  4. Process Control: Building quality requires continuous improvement, and that in turn requires process control. We can’t improve a process until we first are able to control it, and then track it over time to monitor changes. Many otherwise good press operators treat each job as a unique event, and miss the opportunity to improve long -term results through process control and trends tracking.
  5.  Plates: Press operators have limited control over TVI, or dot gain, so much of the responsibility for achieving proper target values here lies with the prepress department, particularly in the plating area. When the press is supplied with accurately curved plates, it is easy for them to achieve  correct TVI and thus, correct gray balance as well. When the plate curves are not matched to actual press performance, press operators will resort to making density changes in a effort to visually match the proofs, resulting in imperfect results and destroying any chance of building long-term improvement.
  6. Personal Communication: Good presswork requires teamwork between press, prep, proofing and plates; and teamwork requires communication. Everything comes together at the press, so the press operators are in a good position to know what is working and what isn’t, yet it is all too rare for that information to find its way back to the areas where other team members could make changes to help on press. Opening channels of personal communication can do a lot to contribute to effective press work.
This entry was posted in Plating, Prepress, Press, Process Control, Teamwork, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The 6 P’s of Presswork (It’s not just the pressman)

  1. Rich Apollo says:

    The 5 P’s that I’ve discovered in the pressroom are the problems that pressmen encounter; the reasons that a job has gone awry. They are:


    They’re not English majors.

    • glenn says:

      Right. Most pressmen have never been given the opportunity to give feedback to other departments, so they are limited to grumbling in their beers. With process tracking in place, they can point out legitimate problems to the people who are responsible for that part of the process.

  2. Robert Godwin says:

    As for proofs…
    You have seen the proofing I have done. It was controlled (G7) to a Delta 1. I tested this with four different printers and received “acceptable” results. But in the end, the proof is a Delta 1 process, and the press is at best a Delta 5 process. The variance from the beginning, middle and end of run remains. What is lacking is not the pressman’s fault; it is the lack of knowledge on the part of many print buyers; or admin assistants that are sent to the press check in their stead.

    Though a vanishing breed, pressman in a good shop can pull a great sheet, but the press, the best of them, have (compared to the proofing systems) generous tolerances. Anything otherwise would result in costly waste numbers.

    So a blind eye is cast once the ‘great sheet’ is signed off; and the mystery of print continues to be sold. As one of the best print sales people has told both of us: “Sell the sheet, not the proof”.

    • glenn says:


      Entertainment buyers work mainly from emotion, which can’t be quantified, so many printers fall into the very expensive and inefficient process of doing color editing for an uninformed buyer on a multi-million dollar press instead of on a color workstation where it belongs.

      Packaging buyers, in contrast, are responsible for maintaining brand identity, including corporate color, and they do it with measurement, not emotions (And get an overall better price and better product in the bargain). I’ve written a blog post on this:

      In the end, art direction at the end of a press is wasteful and unsustainable. Like so many of the seemingly indispensable things we used to do, it will end as well, and printers and buyers who have adapted to the reality of proofing AND printing to standards will be the winners.

  3. Pingback: The 6 P’s of Presswork (It’s not just the pressman) - Printing Impressions

Comments are closed.