Printing Contests — Judging is Art and Science
“On the first look, I’m going to look at the technical things—the folios line up, the densities, all the usual suspects on our objective rating list to ensure they’re all in place,” he says. “Then, there’s that emotional piece where you say, ‘Wow, the printers, the designers, the client—look at what they did.’ It worked, which means there was a lot of effort that went behind the piece.”
The effectiveness of a piece and the printer’s ability to execute the expectations of the designer and client can enable a small-budget piece to tower over a multi-million dollar effort, Ingram stresses.
When the competition is whittled down to a small core of finalists in a given category, what are the subtle differences that can nudge the winner ahead of the rest of the pack? For Captain, the degree of difficulty in executing the final product is a telling sign, especially in a category such as fine art books.
“One year, there was a $500 book about Antarctica,” he says. “The photographs were taken by a husband and wife team, and they shot film instead of digital. You had to consider what it took to put that book out—the subject matter, planning, execution, printing and packaging. It came in a wooden case. It was really something to look at.”
According to Fogel, each judge tends to weigh heavily the execution of the production element that falls under his or her given area of expertise—in his case, photography and digital imaging on the prepress end. Thus, as the pool of entrants shrinks, he’ll become even more critical of areas including reproduction quality, contrast, shadow and highlight detail, the existence of banding and coverage consistency.
In fact, overall consistency helps establish an entry from the rest of the field. “It doesn’t represent a printer well if they have a great printing job but the binding is lousy, or the glue is sloppy, or the folds are in the wrong place,” Fogel says. “Those are the kinds of things that trip people up. We want to see a consistent level of detail, where every member of that print production team is holding up their end of the bargain.”