Wednesday, 30 March 2011
How to speak publisher - B is for Black plate
The black plate is not what you eat your dinner from if you are either super-stylish or have been naughty. It's all to do with printing. Yes, you do need to know about printing, even if it does all happen in some mysterious way in India, China or eastern Europe.
If you never write picture books or any others that have any colour in, you don't really need to read this. If your books are novels, printed entirely in black, you're let off - you can go now. Otherwise...
A colour book is printed using four colours of ink: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key), which gives us the letters CMYK. Each colour is separately printed from a printing plate with the parts of the page image that will be in that colour. Extra colours are made by overprinting the four basic colours in different proportions. When you did art at school you learned that all colours can be made from the primary colours red, yellow and blue, didn't you? Well, cyan is blueish and magenta is reddish, but this is about speaking publisher, it's not about optics so you'll just have to take my word for it that it works.
It's expensive to print a page four times (one for each colour). When a publisher produces a coedition of your book in a foreign language, they obviously need to reprint all the text, but they don't generally change the pictures. This means they only need to reprint the black bits - as long as all the text is black. They can print any number of copies of the book using the cyan, magenta and yellow inks and have a pile of pages with no text but lots of pictures. They can then pick a batch of these pages and print the text in black in English. And they can pick another batch and print the text in black in French, or German, or Spanish or any other language. But they can only do this if ALL the text is on the black plate - the printing plate used to produce the black image. (If you want to know more about plates you'll have to wait until we get to O is for Offset litho - sorry.)
This is why you can't have pictures with coloured text in, or (usually) use colour to make bits of the text stand out. And if your book uses photos, it's why the publisher won't be keen to use photos that include text (like posters) or screenshots. Text in photos won't be translated with the text of the book, and will be intrusive in coeditions. So - to look professional, don't ask for text in colour and don't include text in illustrations which would need to be redrawn for a coedition.