SMAC! Web Magazine

MANGA INSIDER MAYU #14 –LET’S GO TO THE PRINTING FACTORY!

Hello everyone!

For this week’s episode of Manga Insider, I’m going to be jumping right out of the office!

Just the other day, the apprentices of the ComicZENON & SMAC! Editing Teams had an opportunity to tour the company which does our printing, and learn a little about the printing process!
I went along with Dai, Mr. Yokoyama, Mr. Yamanaka, Mr. Imazeki (my arbeit co-worker) and the editors Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Watanabe.

So, this week’s theme will be the Manga Printing Process!

This is just going to be a brief explanation, but I’m proud to be able to introduce some of the people besides the editors that support the manga industry.

I also want to thank the staff of the Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. for giving us this opportunity!

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Toppan is one of the largest printing specialists in Japan. Besides printing books and magazines for publishers, they have broad range of specialist outputs such as printing of stock certificates and credit cards, advertising printing, package printing, creation of industrial materials and electronics research.

Additionally, in the Bunkyo ward of Tokyo, they run a “Printing Museum”. (Link to the official site: http://www.printing-museum.org/en/index.html )

Here, you can see both the history of printing technology, and some of the latest gadgets. They also have “hands-on” exhibits where visitors can actually experience printing using an old style letterpress (this used to be the primary method of printing in Japan).

It’s very close to the Tokyo Dome, so if you’re interested in the history of printing, I recommend paying them a visit!

Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. has factories in various places all over the world. The one we visited was in Itabashi in Tokyo. This particular factory specializes in printing for publishers.

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This is the view from the entrance. Inside the premises, there are many buildings all crammed together. For our tour, we got to see the image retouching and printing facilities. Let me explain in order…

Image retouching is done before creating the final plates for printing. Since it directly affects the appearance of the final prints, it’s a very important job.

First, they took us to the room where they do the retouching. This was a huge area, twice as large as our offices at Coamix, completely filled with DTP (Desktop Publishing) computers. Seeing all those computers lined up like that was quite a dramatic sight!

And sitting in front of each computer was an operator manually correcting the images. It looks like a tough job!

The process differs slightly depending on whether the manga was created digitally or on paper.
If the manga was drawn on paper, then it first needs to be scanned into a computer. From there, smudges and blurs are erased, and the image is tidied up digitally.
On the other hand, if the manga was drawn digitally, the density of dots that form the screen tones might need adjustment so the shades of grey look smoother in black and white images.
In both cases, the images are touched up to improve the visual presentation as much as possible.

Let me show you an example.

This is a page from Comic Zenon’s “DD Hokuto no Ken (Daft Deformed Fist of the North Star)”. Both printouts are exactly the same, save for one small difference. Can you spot it?

The answer is in these panels!

In the picture above, an unwanted side effect, a lattice pattern has appeared over the image. This pattern is called a moiré. Regardless of what kind of printer you use, when two repeating screen tones overlap each other, there can be a problem like this. That’s why, before the final printing, each image need to be touched up by the operator.

After the image is tidied up, the dialogue is inserted into speech balloons. Once that’s done, a proof printed on a DDCP (Direct Digital Color Proofer) is sent to the Editorial Team for proofing.

Do you remember this photo, from Manga Insider Mayu #8? These proofs were sent from the Toppan Printing!

The editor’s check takes place as explained in Manga Insider Mayu 8 (The Red Sheet of Doom!!)

The proof is then returned to the printers and once again touched up based on the editor’s instructions. Any problems with the dialogue or image are corrected, and then another proof is sent out.

For this second copy, special software is used so that you can see at a glance exactly what was changed. I wanted to post a picture, but since this technology was uniquely developed by Toppan Printing, the details are an industrial secret! The only thing I can mention is that the changed parts are highlighted in red, which makes you easy to tell.

Another check is carried out on the final proof. If everything is okay, then all the pages are ready for print. All that’s left to do is the actual printing.

By the way, when doing this final check, “stereopsis” is considered to be a very useful skill! Stereopsis is when you lay two pictures down side by side, look at each with a single eye and then “overlay” the two images in the middle to check for differences. It’s not something everyone can do. Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. actually has a qualification that you can earn if you have this ability. Can you guys do it?

Try looking at the picture on the left with your right eye, and the picture on the right with your left. If you get the hang of it, you should see a picture in the center of the two images. Me? I can’t!!

Moving on, let’s look at the printing process.

At present, the main method of printing is called offset printing. With this method, the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. With this method, vibrant colors can be printed at a low cost.

(By the way, the name “Toppan Printing” is Japanese for “relief printing”. This name is a remnant of an older method of printing that was used at the beginning of the 20th century. In reality, Toppan Printing no longer uses the toppan method.)

Comic Zenon is also printed using offset printing. There are two types of offset printing. One is Sheet-fed printing, and the other is Rotary printing.

In Sheet-fed offset printing, which is used for printing the cover of Comic Zenon, quality is prioritized over speed.

Here's a diagram of sheet fed printing!
Here’s a diagram of sheet fed printing!

Here a single sheet is fed into the machine, and black, cyan, magenta, yellow and “spot colors” (special colors like gold or neon pink) are transferred onto the page (in that order).

It’s really eye-opening to see a picture that was originally very dull come out in bright and vibrant colors.

In this process, a special powder is used on the paper so that the ink won’t stick to it. So even though it’s a printing factory, there’s powder everywhere! You might not be able to survive here if you have allergies…

On the other hand, Rotary offset printing is used for all the other pages in the magazine. This method of printing prioritizes speed.

Look at all those rolls! They’re the sheets prepared for the rotary printing.
Here's a diagram of Rotary Printing!
Here’s a diagram of Rotary Printing!

Paper is fed into the machine from a giant roll, with each page straightened out, printed on, dried and then folded. In this way, you can print 200 sheets per minute! Each “sheet” contains 16 pages.

This line makes a roaring noise that reverberates throughout the factory. It feels very intense!

While in use, the machines play electronic music, which lets the workers know that they’re running smoothly. In this kind of operation, it’s easy to neglect routine work. Japanese companies are well known for regarding security, and this is one kind of method they use in order to maintain the worker’s security. Still, it really gave me a fright when the machines suddenly started playing Beethoven!

After printing, the pages are bound into a book, and then sent to the distributors.  It’s not something that usually crosses our minds when we pick up a book, but every book went through a really long process to get to us! We tend to take books for granted, but it’s thanks to the hard work of a lot of people that we have them!

After taking this tour, I felt a new sense of responsibility towards my job. For everything to be on time for a book’s release date, and to not cause any trouble for the people involved in the process, I have to work as efficiently as possible!

One more thing!

These old models were on display at Toppan Printing!

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You can see a miniature letterpress and replicas of some of the tools that were used with them.

In the old days, they would use these copper pieces to do the printing!

On the next Manga Insider, I’m going to introduce the process of taking your manga to an editor for the first time!

For those who want to become a manga artist, this is a really big step, but how specifically do you go about meeting an editor? Please look forward to it!

In Japan, printing is almost like a form of art. What is printing like in your countries? Or are there any industries that are especially famous in your country? Please, voice your opinions below!

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Mayuna Mizutani