David Gardner & Ansel Adams (date unknown) copyright Dual Graphics
This is one in a series of on-going articles to help photographers understand a bit more about the design and printing intricacies that eventually leads to a creative book object.
I recently had the opportunity to work with the design and printing team at Dual Graphics (Brea, CA) for my recently self-published artist book, Bluewater Shore. I will have to admit that after relocating to Southern California I was already aware of their Fultone® printing processes, developed initially for Black & White photobooks, which was legendary. I have always wanted to have my Black & White photographs printed in a book by these folks as they are the equal in quality to any book printing organization in the world. And especially for me, or anywhere in the western U.S., they are local, thus the opportunity to meet with them, finalize my book design (they had some really good ideas that were incorporated into my artist book) and able to complete an evaluation of the final hard-copy proof-checks on-site.
So let’s get into the interview with Kevin Broady (see his bio below)
Douglas Stockdale (DS) Hi Kevin, thank you for meeting with me to discuss your experience working with the late David Gardner and his innovative Fultone® Black & White printing techniques at Dual Graphics. This printing process has an important and lasting impact on the publication of fine photographic books, especially those that illustrate Black & White photographs. First, could you tell me about how you and Gardner met and your relationship with him?
Kevin Broady (KB): When I was in High School our printing class went on a Field Trip to Gardner/ Fulmer Lithograph (editors note; the predecessor company to Dual Graphics) and I was amazed by the quality of printing that I saw there – that was back in 1976. After Graduating from Cal Poly in 1985 I went to work for Gardner/Fulmer Lithograph. Orbie Fulmer hired me after the first interview. I was hired as an assistant production coordinator and after a few weeks David Gardner had me work on a few of his printing projects. He saw that I had extreme interest in what we did and he sort of took me under his wing. He was also into sports and when he found out that I was a competitive runner he drew even closer to me. When going over color and during press checks Gardner would make sure that I was at his side. He showed me what he was looking for in an image and how important it was to make the reproduction as close to the original as possible. He along with Orbie Fulmer became my mentor.
DS: What is the Fultone® printing process at Dual Graphics?
KB: The Fultone® process came as we attempted to refine techniques utilizing duo-tones and tri-tone off-set printing to give Black & White photography the extra pop to mimic a photographic print. After years of experimenting and refining the off-set process, we wanted to create a trademark that differentiated it from other duo-tone work. The name Fultone® came from Gardner meaning a full range tone within the printed image. The end result of a well-executed Fultone® delivers a printed image that provides extra density in the shadows without compromising any loss of detail. It also adds a level of clarity to the subtle details in the mid-tones and highlights.
When I started working for Gardner/Fulmer Lithograph in the spring of 1986 the Fultone® was already in the early development stages. Jim Gronwall (who currently works in sales at Dual Graphics) was in charge of the scanning department and was deeply involved in the early stages of color management. Basically the goal (in the beginning) was to make a photographic reproduction look as close to the original image as possible with a laser scanned image. Taking the customer’s original, dissecting it and then putting it back together on an off-set printed sheet with as much accuracy and care as possible is what our process is about. Since the early days we have fine-tuned this printing process more and more, first on the big off-set presses, now on the digital lithography press. Being able to broaden the tonal range to get increased levels of highlight, mid-tone and shadow range is what we are after. The actual off-set press (Editors note: six-color Heidelberg off-set presses) we print on has an equal share in this as well. We have tested different inks and continue to do so making sure that we are able to maintain the deepest densities that we can while keeping all detail open. Getting the two colors (Black & Gray) to work together to create the tonal range and hue that the original photograph demands is what the Fultone® process does.
DS: How did the creative printing techniques develop that led to the Fultone® printing process? Was that development process a bumpy ride?
KB: We were one of the first to actually use a digital scanner to produce these Fultone® plates. The negatives coming off the scanner lost a little more of the shadow information than we cared to lose so we actually scanned positives and then contacted them into negatives. The Fultone® process evolved over time and is still evolving with our recent work on the HP Indigo 12000 for digital lithographic printing. Proofing a Fultone® is a difficult process because it is so press dependent.
DS: The development of the Fultone® Black & White printing process eventually led to the relationship with the photographer Ansel Adams and the printing of his Black & White photographic books. How did that occur?
KB: We were working with John Sexton to produce a brochure for his Owens Valley Workshop that he was leading and organizing. Roger Wright (a pressman at Gardner/Fulmer lithograph) would bring Sexton copies of Picture Magazine that was printed at Gardner/Fulmer. Sexton was amazed at the high quality of the printing of that magazine. Gardner found out about this and offered to print the Owens Valley Workshop brochure for him and gave Sexton a really great deal on printing the brochures. Sexton, who was an assistant for Ansel Adams at the time, subsequently showed his brochure to Adams and thus began the adventure with Adams.
Roman Loranc on-press with Kevn Broady at Dual Graphics
DS: From what I understand, there are a lot of variations for the Fultone® printing, can you explain the different options that a photographer should be aware of?
KB: The process starts with an interview of the photographer about his work and how he wants it portrayed in print. Options include tone (color) in the highlights, mid-tones and shadows as well as levels of clarity. Considerations also need to be made for paper type/finish, whether the substrate (paper) is matte, luster gloss, coated, uncoated and the varnish techniques, such as full spot or a dot varnish.
The main thing that the photographer should be aware of is that the Fultone® is designed to reproduce their images. There are many photographers that are looking for a certain look – which is represented in their photography. The Fultone® will give them that look. If there is something extra or if there is a deviation that the photographer requires – that can be done as well. It really starts with getting a feel for what the photographer is looking to do. If it is simply “match our images” then that is what we will do. The substrate (paper) has a huge impact on the images. We will listen to the photographer, provide recommendations and have a clear understanding of the goal before getting started.
DS: I assume that what was learned by implementing the Fultone® printing process carried over to the color printing?
KB: Our job is to understand the photographer’s vision and reproduce those images using all of the color separation, color management and print techniques available in combination with each other. Each job utilizes different techniques to deliver a result that falls in line with the photographer’s vision. I think our reproduction techniques are more artistic than mechanical.
With our ability to increase the range of Black & White printing we have also been able to increase the range of our four color process printing. The understanding and implementation of color management has also allowed us to expand the color palette available with our printing techniques.
DS: I am sure that there are other printing and binding innovations that Gardner helped to shepherd thru the printing industry that benefit photographic books that most photographers are now aware of? Can you tell me about those?
KB: Yes, Gardner and Fulmer were in front of many printing innovations. They posterized images and used metallic in the images to form silver-liths prints. They figured out how to print on Mylar for calendars and on other printing substrates. They developed a way to print on uncoated paper with great success.
DS: The book printing industry is very dynamic today, such as the recent development of the Print-on-Demand books. What creative developments do you foresee for the near future that photographers can look forward to?
KB: Absolutely. At every level we continue to work on the Fultone® process. Going direct to plate for the lithographic as well as using a staccato screening we are able to fine tune and improve the off-set printing even more. We are always looking for opportunities and we see a huge one in the digital short run arena, such as with the HP Indigo 12000 digital lithographic press (Editors note: my artist book Bluewater Shore is the first book printed with the Fultone® process on an HP Indigo digital press. My goal with the Fultone process was to create wonderful mid-tones values consistent with visual intent of an “aged” photograph). We are currently testing this digital press and now have very promising results. We recognize the need to provide high quality short run printing projects, such as small volume photographic books, whether it is one or 700, and are working to meeting the photographic industry requirements.
DS: Any last thoughts?
KB: One of the things that Gardner taught me is how important it is to get the reproduction right. If you compromise the reproduction you are compromising the photographer. He said one of his best quotes he ever got from Ansel Adams after viewing one of his images printed “I have no problem with image enhancement – this looks better than the original”.
DS: Kevin, thank you for your time and sharing with us your experience working with Gardner and how the printing of fine photographic books is evolving.
Kevin Broady (Los Angeles CA, 1961) Broady has over thirty years’ experience in the printing industry, from shop-floor running lithographic presses, bindery equipment, pre-press separations to estimator, operations management and President of Gardner Lithograph. Currently he is the Plant Manager for Dual Graphics, Brea, CA. He has a degree in Printing Technology form Fullerton College, Fullerton, CA and a B.S. degree in Graphic Communications from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA.
Note: Below are interior page spreads from photobooks printed by Dual Graphics, including Penny Wolin, Descendants of Light; Michael A. Smith, A Visual Journey; Joe Deal, Between Nature and Culture; Brad Cole, The Last Dream; and Linda Butler, Inner Light.