Contact Sheet: December 1997

Over the month of December we’ve been enjoying a retrospective on the special extended comic feature on Tiger’s Tale published in the December 1997 issue of WORLD OF MARTIAL ARTS magazine. We’ll be wrapping up this retrospective with a glimpse at the actual contact sheet developed for the production of that issue.

In the 90’s digital production was still in it’s infancy. With the first PDF file less than 5 year old, this magazine was still produced using four-color process film separation. While photo retouching and the layout of the magazine was handled digitally, those files would be loaded onto a CYQUEST cartridge and hand delivered to the color separation house which out-puts the films we would ship to our printer. To insure color accuracy we would also have contact-prints developed for t he magazine’s first and back cover as well as the occasional Center-Spread.

What’s a Contact Sheet?

Film set the photographic standard in more ways than one. The contact sheet, for example, once an essential aspect of the film process, has survived the transition to digital. Although it serves a slightly different purpose these days, in film photography, contact sheets let a photographer view all the images from a roll of film in print. Contact sheets get their name from the way they’re made: by placing negative strips directly onto a piece of photographic paper and making a print. In digital photography a contact sheet is like a photo gallery, but the photos are arranged in a standard grid format. Think of it as a page of thumbnails

What is CMYK print production?

CMYK printing is done by layering four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) on top of each other to re-create art or a realistic image with only four screens. You can print CMYK with both plastisol and water-based inks.

CMYK inks are applied in set patterns of tiny dots that appear to create a solid color … similar to the pixels on a digital image. Layers of these dots in different amounts of ink create any shade or color. In both offset and flexography printing methods, inks are individually applied in the order- cyan, magenta & yellow. Black is either applied at the very beginning or end of the printing process.

Digital images are typically generated in RGB, and have to be converted to CMYK. While these day a .PDF file can be used to make separate color plates for printing, in the 90’s this was more frequently done photographically. A film negative for each color would be made, burned into a plate using photo-sensitive chemicals the. Individually aligned onto the printing press. The paper upon which the image would be printed would be feed into the press and have a layer of each color applied to it in the method described above. It is essential that film/plate accurately represent color usage and each plate be aligned properly.

This is why a photo-contact sheet would be created first. So that color accuracy in the color-separated negatives can be checked and color accuracy can be assured by referencing the contact print. Upon completion of print production those contact sheets are usually returned with the negatives.

Unfortunately none of the magazine production negatives have survived the years. But it was fortunate I was able to hold into the contact sheet for this particular project and can share it.

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