Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Visit to Opal Print

Yesterday I drove over to Opal Print in Midsomer Norton to check out their facilities and see what they had to offer. We had met a couple of guys from there a few weeks ago when they visited uni to show us their stuff and I was very keen to see their huge litho press in action.

As soon as we arrived we given refreshments and invited to look at some of their latest work. I was particularly impressed with this architectural document, which was something like A3 format and used a new type of "lie flat" binding:



Another really impressive publication was this one for a company that leases private jets:



The editorial design of the pages wasn't particularly exciting but the level of finishing was. The book was bound in a white faux leather, that we were assured was at least as expensive as the real thing. It was softer than any leather that I had ever felt. It was then presented in a beautifully-crafted box, which Opal farm out to a specialist craftsman. Turns out that each of these books costs about £100 to produce, which is fine when you consider the market that they are in. I guess they would only give them out to people who have a genuine interest in leasing a jet though!

After drooling over these fancy books, we were shown around some of the amazing kit that Opal use. First up was the machine that turns artwork files into aluminium lithographic plates:



I must say I didn't fully understand the process to begin with but they were kind enough to make up some plates and talk us through it, step by step. It amazes me how fine a print they can produce using the seemingly primitive principal of water and oil repelling each other.

Next we were taken down the shop floor proper, where the massive print machines chugged away:



This beast had six separate elements - one each for C, M, Y and K, one for spot colours and one for special finishes. We were told exactly how it all worked, and it was fascinating, but I will not go into detail here as I am sure all the information is freely available online. Suffice to say it was fascinating to see how each litho plate was put onto a roller, then the paper whizzed through from the far end, getting inked by each of the colours in turn before popping out in beautiful full-colour at the other end.



We were then shown around some of the other amazing machines, including this beautiful old press that they still use for die-cutting:



Back in a quieter part of the building, we saw the machines that were used for creasing and saddle-stitching (stapling), as well the foil blocker and laminater. Basically all the fancy stuff that I would like to use on every job but will rarely be able to afford!

After our tour we went back to the office and I got the chance to spec out a few jobs that I required quotes for. It became abundantly clear that you really need to involve the printer at the very beginning of a project. It turned out that the concertina leaflets I had designed for the Bath Uni science brief were too long to be printed digitally at Opal (I think their max page size is B3). Printing them litho would probably be too expensive so I will need to rejig them to make them fit.

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