How to create a magazine - Interview with Fontegrafica
If the mission of Frab's is to give space and contribute to the growth of the independent publishing of the future, in particular that which can remain and become a collector's item in the age of technology, we believe it is useful to go where the paper product is physically born to make us tell the creative hard work of those who combine paper and ink to assemble magazines: the typographer.
With a useful technical intervention for those who want to better understand what's behind a magazine, between content creation and sales, we want to discover some secrets of "how to do it".
To do this in this first technical intervention we went from Fontegrafica, a graphic arts company from Cinisello Balsamo (MI), with a long tradition in the sector that has chosen to radically innovate and today it drives some very courageous editorial choices on the Italian market and beyond.
We discovered it at BASE in Milan at The Art Chapter in 2019, and a few weeks later we heard about it again in Ravenna. These weren't magazines, but two goosebumps publishing projects for paper object maniacs: Alkemica, the Alkanoids promotional book literally suspended in the air, and Perception by El Seed, the physical and book transposition project in a very limited edition (each book is a unique piece) of a mural at Cario. Two projects that strike in the name of a trend that is the basis of Frab's philosophy: very high product quality and an adequate price that allows it to withstand all the steps in the supply chain. Regarding the magazines, in our catalog are available, from the Frontegrafica prints, How much is Perimeter.
We asked Gianluca Craca to tell us a little about what is behind the printing of a magazine or an editorial product in 2020.
First of all, who are you and what is your role in Fontegrafica?
My role is to assist Corrado Musmeci, CEO of Fontegrafica, and to coordinate the company's cultural and communication activities.
How was your relationship with the world of independent magazines born?
Fontegrafica's main market has always been that of luxury, with customers who had large budgets to spend on very complex projects and with special processes that no other printer would have dreamed of. This has allowed us to expand our technical knowledge to levels never seen before, so as to position ourselves during the early 2000s as the best printers in the world through the Sappi award. Printer of the Year. At the same time, the culture of the press and its dissemination is very important for the values of the company, which has always promoted cultural activities such as exhibitions and conferences, as well as presiding over chairs in schools and universities.
I believe that this story of quality, culture and passion has inevitably attracted other virtuous examples in the world of independent publishing. This is how various collaborations were born over the years that have led to results we are very proud of because they are driven by values even before numbers.
How can a company like yours help someone who wants to start an independent magazine?
Our doors have always been open to anyone looking for a constructive comparison for the development of an editorial idea. Thanks to a history of over 50 years in the production of editorial projects, Fontegrafica is the container of countless virtuous examples that can be freely consulted by anyone interested in the subject. A good idea needs visual and tactile stimuli to be able to evolve in a conscious way with respect to the technical possibilities available.
For those who know very little about different types of paper and bindings, can you tell us which ones are most used for magazines?
The expressive possibilities are so many and it would be diminutive to list some of them, also because there would remain technical terminologies which, for those who know little about them, would not be of much use.
Instead, I recommend anyone interested in the subject to attend the increasingly numerous independent publishing fairs taking place in Italy and abroad. I find that today they are the most interesting and accessible phenomenon in the publishing landscape. In addition to having the opportunity to touch the countless types of quality editorial products, you can speak directly with publishers, authors and sometimes even printers! In addition to all this it is possible to participate in conferences and demonstrations that allow you to deepen the topic even more.
What "format" advice would you give to those who want to make a magazine today?
I don't think there is a right and a wrong format. However, I believe that, being a magazine intended for the reader's hands, it is necessary for the publisher to always keep this in mind when planning, designing and printing a book or magazine. As Paul Stiff said: 'Readers arrive first, second and third.’During The Art Chapter event at BASE Milano in November 2019, I, Corrado Musmeci (CEO Fontegrafica) and Catalina Zlotea (book designer) we wrote and distributed a manifesto which aims to be a first step towards greater awareness on the part of readers and creators regarding the use and creation of an editorial product (and therefore also magazines). In the section related to the "rights of readers" we say that a format appropriate to the purpose and nature of the journal must be considered. Its function (how it should be used and where it should be stored) and its content (its length, style and shape of its illustrations) should determine its size.
Furthermore, I would like to say that, in addition to the format of a magazine (or a book), there are many other factors that determine its final quality and that too often are overlooked as details. For example the reading of the written content, which should be simple and its use intuitive. The appearance and tactile sensation of the paper can also improve or worsen your reading experience. The paper of a book should be appropriate to its content and should even enrich its meaning by stimulating the sense of touch.
Risograph, lithograph, offset. What are they, is there more and how to choose them?
There are manuals of all kinds that delve into the subject adequately, so I am not going to make a technical and historical treatise on the subject. However, I would like to underline the fact that each technique has its own particular raison d'etre and to be exploited to the fullest you need to know its main characteristics.
For example, offset printing is the result of an industrial development aimed at producing thousands of copies in a very short time, guaranteeing very high quality control and quality. There are very high start-up costs which are spread over the high number of copies. Therefore it would be too expensive to use it for printing a few hundred copies. Techniques such as (for example) risograph printing are instead coarser in terms of precision and control, but these characteristics can become a strength if used correctly. Furthermore, this technique is able to give very bright and transparent colors at very low costs. Therefore it is very good for productions that do not require a high number of copies and perfect homogeneity.
But these are just two of the many techniques available.
What are the steps behind the physical creation of a magazine?
The steps are many and it is not easy to summarize them all. However, I would like to briefly highlight the main ones, so as to allow the readers of this interview to understand how much work there is behind a printed project.
Generally, when the designer / publisher has formulated a draft of the project, he comes to us (printer) and we discuss all the technical and creative aspects within the available budget.
In order to formulate a realistic estimate so that it can be approved, it is possible that we need to check the files by our prepress office. This is because unfortunately in the vast majority of cases, the file has nothing to do with what you want to create ... Often a proof is required to provide adequate estimates, therefore the prepress adapts the files for the creation of print proofs, color proofs or blank samples.
In any case, once the estimate has been approved, a job order is created which contains all the information necessary for the realization of the project. This information comes, as well as from the customer, from prepress, suppliers and so on.
Its function is very important as it communicates the exact information for their realization to all the people involved in the work.
At this point the necessary materials are ordered and possible suppliers are contacted for external processing.
The matrices are created based on the pre-press files and only at this point does the actual printing process occur. There can be various techniques and enhancements, therefore each file must be perfect to guarantee an impeccable register at each step.
The first step of printing is the start-up, a crucial moment as it faces an obligatory verification of all the previous phases. Very often the customer is invited to attend this phase (something not taken for granted for all printers), so as to perform all the small but necessary color calibration adjustments together with the printer. Once satisfied, the customer signs the copy to be taken as a reference for the entire print run and to be trusted as a real contractual obligation.
Finally, the printed and ennobled paper must be bound, trimmed and packaged, all steps that require great manual skill.
The variables during the processing of an editorial product are innumerable and it is very important to keep a watchful eye for the quality control of every detail.
What are the mistakes to avoid?
I think one of the biggest mistakes is not giving the project the right time. The haste that grips everyone's lives so much always leads to forcing processes and clouding the clarity necessary to make informed decisions, with the risk of stumbling even the most experienced professionals into mistakes that could have easily been avoided.
Today many people think that to print a product it is enough to click on a button. But printing is an artisanal process in all respects, with an incredible amount of variables.
Another aspect that I believe to be a common mistake is to give more importance to the costs of a project rather than its potential. Before even getting your hands on in terms of format and number of pages, time and energy should be invested on how to make the most of the content of the project through intelligent design solutions. This is why we believe that the aspect of collaboration and dialogue with the printer is very important, so as to generate a virtuous motion that can lead to excellent results but in line with the available budget. Not to mention the fact that today there are new promotion and distribution tools (such as social campaigns and / or crowdfunding) which have proved to be decisive for the birth of editorial projects.
What are those looking for today who turn to a company like yours?
Fontegrafica has always stood out for its quality assurance in all production steps and for the creation of very complex and experimental works. We like new challenges and we never back down, but we also think that a quality print can be within everyone's reach. In fact, we believe that the value of a product is not determined by the preciousness of the materials used, but by the intelligence in designing it and making the most of the tools available.
Experimenting means growing, taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them. We have devoted years, and continue to do so, to investigate the infinite possibilities of printing and to implement new techniques and creative paths.
We do it for passion, but not only. We also do this to offer our customers advice and solutions that can best enhance their ideas.
I think that the thing a customer looks for when coming to our company is the emotion of exceeding his own expectations.
How can a good printer help an independent publisher?
With transparency, courage and the desire to get involved to achieve the best possible result. The printer can no longer remain a taxable person who carries out the instructions given by standardizing any expressive possibility, but must increasingly take the risk of being an active role in the consultation, so as to allow the publisher to extricate himself from the innumerable practical possibilities and thus find the most suitable choice for the project. At the same time, however, I take the liberty of suggesting that the publisher should have a clear idea of what the intention of the project is and not leave anything to chance. The printer is the one who accompanies an idea towards its ideal form, not the generator of the idea itself.
How important is the relationship between printer and publisher?
I believe it is fundamental. Without communication there can be no good result. Too often there is misunderstanding and discontent that could have been easily avoided. Also in the manifesto that I mentioned in the previous questions there is a section in which we talk about the bookmaker's obligations in which among the various points we say that all the people involved in the creation of the book "... should constantly talk from the beginning of the process, understand mutual intentions and feed mutual knowledge. Making a book shouldn't be a linear process in which each individual works in isolation, but a constant collaboration. The printer and binder should understand the designer's intentions and the designer should understand the capabilities and limitations of the printer and binder. A successful book is the result of dialogue and the exchange of expertise between all interested parties.
To someone who has an idea for an independent magazine, what advice would you give?
To define the contents of the magazine in the best possible way so as to have a solid and engaging program. I think it is very important to be able to propose to potential investors or in any case to create a network of connections that will then become the support of the magazine itself.
Finally, a mandatory question: do independent magazines make sense in an already largely digital present and what future do they have?
Throughout history there have always been technological advances that have replaced more obsolete methodologies and, although it may be sad, it is right that it is. I think it would be useful to take advantage of this moment of crisis to reflect on the raison d'être of the press. For too long, he printed for profit alone, with no real interest in what he was doing. Digital is a tool with great potential, it allows us to facilitate the use of contents for which previously resources were wasted or which were not easily traceable. In fact, I believe it is right that, to give an example, advertising increasingly moves to the digital world, instead of printing tons of flyers destined to be thrown away shortly after their reading. However, digital cannot replace everything. This because a printed object does not communicate solely and exclusively through the content written in it. As I tried to explain in the previous answers, the communication that comes to us from the experience of reading is multisensory, many aspects of which derive from the physicality of the object itself. But to keep this complex and wonderful practice alive, it is necessary that people realize the value of this physicality and that readers demand quality as an essential value in the product they are going to browse. Personally, I am pleased to witness a constant growth of a critical sense regarding these aspects, even if in Italy things are always a bit slower than in other parts of the world. We are doing our best to be active protagonists of this cultural awakening and we hope to make a wing with more and more realities that think like us.