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Author Topic: RPI Printing Good Experience  (Read 5655 times)
TonyLB
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« on: January 21, 2005, 12:48:54 PM »

By contrast with Luke's experience with Express Media, I just had a spectacular start-to-finish printing experience with RPI Printing.  I was referred to them in this post and went with them largely on the prompt, courteous and relevant service provided by the customer service rep I reached (Rick Good) when I cold-called them.

The Service

I can't say enough good things about Rick.  I don't know whether he took a shine to me for some reason, and made it his personal mission to shepherd my book (and its ignorant creator) through to happy publication.  It sure felt that way.

I always got him within two rings on the telephone (except for the day that Seattle was snowed in, and nobody was in the office).  And after the first two calls (well before I'd given them any money, or even indicated that I definitely would give them any money) all I had to do was say "It's Tony" and he'd enthusiastically say "Great!  I've got such-and-so new information for you, and now you need to make thus-and-such decisions..."  By the end of our time working together on the project, I would just say "Hi Rick," knowing that he'd know my voice.  I'm not saying I'm putting him on my christmas card list, but it was a solid professional relationship, and I felt confident that I could count on him, not only to do what he'd been told, but to apply his judgment and act as my representative.

He built this trust the way you have to build trust:  He made promises, and then scrupulously kept them.  I was particualrly struck on our second or third call:  I was outlining my schedule (when I would have material complete, when we would do a proof, when I needed final copies).  It was a tight schedule, both on his end and on mine.  After I outlined it he said (paraphrased) "I would have to ask you to get us the material for the proof... let me see... three days earlier.  I know it's hard to compress the writing schedule, but we have a big job going out right on the days you'd want us to be making you a proof, and I'm not confident I could get you the turn-around in our normal time."

This struck me at the time as someone who was being very careful to promise only what he was sure he could do.  And my experience bore out that this was precisely how he operated.  If he said he would call me at a specific time, the phone rang precisely then.  If he wasn't sure what time he could call, he would say "I may get it tonight, but more likely tomorrrow, and I'll call to get you a better fix on the time when I know more."


The Process

I operate exclusively in vector PDF, which may have cut out a lot of steps of the publishing process, in terms of not having to calibrate grayscales on interior bit-maps.  I don't know.  The process was long, and it took a while before I really felt like I could see the end of it.  But the RPI folks kept me focussed at every step on the next thing that had to happen.  This worked (best I can remember) as follows:
    [*]Rough page count from me, rough quote from them.  This was also when we discussed my schedule, and they made sure that they would have the manpower and capacity at the right times to make it happen.
    [*]Get some initial sample pages to them so that they could make sure our file formats weren't fighting each other tooth and nail.
    [*](Skipped at my request, for speed) I could have then evaluated the printouts of those sample pages.
    [*]Final page count from me, final quote from them.  They also gave me the predicted spine measurement (for the spine art on the wrap-around cover) at this time.
    [*]Send the entire document, and cover art.
    [*]They return a proof (~4 days to my door from the moment I clicked "send email")  It looked very pretty, but the color calibration on the cover was not what I wanted... looked good on screen, but on paper it didn't pop enough for my taste.  Entirely a "my fault" thing, since I hadn't pantone calibrated.
    [*]I went and bought myself a Pantone color-guide, and recalibrated the colors.
    [*]They printed a proof of just the cover, but never sent it to me.  Instead, Rick called me up and said "Something's going wrong here... I can tell from what you've said that the colors are not looking like what you wanted".  We talked it through over the phone, and when I understood my screw-up (too embarrassing to even repeat) I got him a new file.  He had another cover proof in overnight mail to me before the close of business.
    [*](Skipped by my request, over Rick's obvious concern and mild protest)  A second proof of the whole book to make sure that all of the (fairly major) additions that I'd made since the previous proof were well integrated into the document, and not causing trouble.
    [*]At this point they accepted my credit card number and billed me.  Up to this time I think I could probably have said "You're not doing what I need" and walked away without having paid a cent.  That's gutsy of them, but with the quality they're providing I don't guess that they lose a lot of sales in the final hours.
    [*]They printed my hundred copies, packaged them up and sent them out by UPS.
    [*]The copies just arrived, within half an hour of the time I put on my schedule in the first step (the "margin for unpredictable delays" I'd put in the schedule having been eaten precisely by the issue of cover color calibration).  Half an hour early, actually, if it makes a difference.[/list:u]
    The Product

    I am entirely content with the book.  Is it perfect?  No... I've spotted two pages where the transparency on the art isn't applied the same way it was in the proof (because, I assume, different machines do the proof and the final).  I sort of wish I'd known that might happen, because I could have flattened the transparency into a grayscale that I suspect both machines would have handled the same way.  But that's a very, very minor quibble, and I seriously doubt whether it will ever (even for a moment) detract from anyones enjoyment of the book.

    In a book where eighty or more pages have complex layouts, intricate art, or (most often) both, those two very minor errors are all I can spot.  There may be more, but nothing that I can catch on a pretty extensive first read-through.  And there are plenty of things (particularly art) that came out looking much better than I'd ever seen them before (either off of my home laser-printer or in proof editions).

    I love the cover with a passion that borders on avarice.  I may well have emotional difficulty parting with the first few copies I sell.  To get across the feel of four-color comics, the color saturation needed to be so thick that you could practically swim in it, and RPI delivered (once I got my act together to tell them the appropriate Pantone colors to use).  There isn't even the faintest hint of ink fading out or banding in any way, and that's with really huge swaths of solid, identical color.  I am hard pressed to think how a printer that could do this would go wrong with any other image, so long as it's properly pantone calibrated.

    When they shipped the books they took precautions against damage that were... let's leave it at saying they were elaborate.  I learned things about how to ship something when you really, really don't want anything to happen to it.  I'm fairly sure I could have gone after the exterior boxes with a baseball bat for ten minutes, and still not have managed to scuff any of the books.  They arrived in perfect condition.


    The end conclusion

    If this report seems insanely glowing then I've gotten across how pleased I was with the experience.  I went into the printing process with a fear that very nearly turned me away from producing the game at all.  Having been through it, I now half-seriously entertain the notion of writing another book, not because I have anything to say, but just because working with these printers is a genuine pleasure, worth paying money for all on its own.
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    LordSmerf
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    « Reply #1 on: January 21, 2005, 02:40:12 PM »

    Tony,

    Thanks for the report, it's great to hear that you had such a positive experience.

    Just a couple of questions: What in the world is this "Pantone" thing?  I try to keep up with most of the threads here in Publishing, and I have not seen any prior references to it.  Additionally, while I believe I have some sort of idea of what differentiates a Vector PDF from a non-Vector PDF, I'm not entirely sure.

    Explainations of these two concepts would be greatly appreciated.  Since I know that you're not really busy (what with launching your first book and all, which I hear takes no effort) I'm sure you'll be able to answer these questions.

    Thomas
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #2 on: January 21, 2005, 03:24:01 PM »

    Okay, Vector vs. Non-Vector is easy.  Say you want to describe (to a computer) how to draw a circle.  Bitmap says, for each pixel "This pixel is black, white, or some shade of gray" and thereby creates an image of a circle.  Vector says "Here is the formula describing a circle, of radius so and so, centered here", and demands that the computer generate all the pixels depending upon what resolution it is printing or displaying at.

    Vector is much more of a p-i-t-a (ahem) to create.  But it does not suffer from pixelation as you go from the low dots-per-inch measure of a computer screen to the much higher dots-per-inch measure of the printed page.


    Pantone is trickier to describe.  Basically, different quantities of ink (75% blue, 25% transparent/white) do not change the perceived color at the same -rate- as different quantities of light (75% blue, 25% white).  I'm not real talented at this, but my eyeball estimates indicate that almost all of the visible shifts in color for a screen happen somewhere between 20% and 80% of full saturation.  Once you get into the outliers between 0-20 and 80-100 you're either looking at black or white, respectively.

    By comparison, much of the visible change in -ink- happens in that middle percent.  You can really -see- the difference between 97.5% transparent/white and 98.2%.  It's -very- visible.

    The end result is that you can't look at a computer screen and say "This is the color that will be on my page".  So Pantone (an ink company) makes a big chunk of little pages, each of which has a variety of colors on them.  All in all they have every color that their inks can reasonably combine to create.  It's organized so that with a little flipping you can get to the color you want.  Then you put that color in on your computer and marvel at how much it doesn't look like the color you actually want.  Then you send it off to a printer, and a few weeks later it comes back to you and, lo and behold, on the page it looks just like what you wanted.

    It's my first experience with Pantone, and it was a lot like trying to navigate a swamp while blindfolded, holding only a brightly colored little stick to tap with.  But I'm pleased with the end results.
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    Matt Wilson
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    « Reply #3 on: January 21, 2005, 04:06:39 PM »

    It's also worth noting that Pantone booklets cost like a gajillion dollars.
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #4 on: January 21, 2005, 04:09:19 PM »

    Well, I got mine for $60, which is more than I wanted to pay, but less than I would have.
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    Tav_Behemoth
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    « Reply #5 on: January 21, 2005, 04:18:52 PM »

    Glad to hear it, Tony! Can you post some details about the job they did - is it perfectbound? Interior color or B&W? What lamination did they use on the cover, and how did it turn out?

    My technical printing vocabulary is failing me at the moment, but any info will be appreciated.
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #6 on: January 22, 2005, 03:49:15 AM »

    Perfect-bound, interior B/W, cover stock 12 pt. C1S (whatever that means... seems partly but not wholly glossy).
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    Michael S. Miller
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    « Reply #7 on: January 22, 2005, 06:52:04 AM »

    You should also be aware that there are different books for Pantone Process colors and Pantone spot colors. I'd imagine most of you will want the one for process colors--that's made by a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. The spot colors are done using ink that is specially formulated to print as *that* color.

    Remember also that even Pantone process looks slightly different on different machines. Luke Crane has used a number of different printers for his Burning Wheel stuff and when he lines them up next to each other, even I can see the difference.

    For those who wish to avoid the cost of a Pantone swatch book, I might also suggest going to your local print shop and saying, "I need to take a look at a Pantone swatch book for a print job I'm considering. Is there a charge for that?"
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    Thor
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    « Reply #8 on: January 24, 2005, 08:02:03 AM »

    C1S - Coated one side - is the gloss coating on one side of the stock. I knew that all those years in the printing industry taught me something.
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    Brennan Taylor
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    « Reply #9 on: January 24, 2005, 09:06:33 AM »

    I was the one who referred RPI to Luke in the first post, and I want to second Tony's impression. These guys are really good at customer service, competitively priced, and the production guy I used was also a gamer! He knew exactly what the book should look like when it came out.
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    GregS
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    « Reply #10 on: January 25, 2005, 10:49:47 AM »

    Absolutely excellent "review", Tony.  Thanks!

    Couple more questions for you, though.

    1)  What was your print run quanity?

    2)  How did the quote for cost match up with other places you checked?

    3)  How long did it take them to print?

    Thanks again!
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    TonyLB
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    « Reply #11 on: January 25, 2005, 11:21:12 AM »

    (1) 100 books
    (2) Noticeably higher (I seem to recall a figure of 20 cents per book difference, but I don't have the numbers to hand)
    (3) Five business days, then five to ship UPS.
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