Offset Printing with J. S. McCarthy

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We spent 2017 honing in our idea. Deciding what a print publication would look like as we designed alongside Danny Gugger. Seeking out stories and finding contributors to work with. By the time we were ready to send our 1.9 GB Adobe InDesign file to press, we thought our work was done. Shortly after the files uploaded, we got a message from J. S. McCarthy with our press date, asking if we wanted to oversee the operation. We jumped at the opportunity to watch our idea come to life, but little did we know, the craftsmanship of our publication was far from over. 

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We sat in the conference room in anticipation, sharing stories from our editorial adventures and hearing about other projects J. S. McCarthy had perfected. The door swung open and one of the press operators announced there would be a one hour delay. He said the blacks weren’t at 100%. This didn’t mean much to us at the time. We continued our conversation. After a quick hour, he returned and slid two sheets onto the table. The difference was stark. While I was impressed they were able to achieve a richer black, I was blown away that the press operator caught this with his eyes as the papers flew off the press.

We headed out to the press to sign off on the sheets, giving the operators the go-ahead on the run. My eye caught a poster on the wall reading, “Zero Defects.” It is J. S. McCarthy’s commitment to each client that they execute each job at the highest quality and with zero defects. We knew we were in good hands.

That was the first of many moments where we knew J. S. McCarthy was just as committed to Maine the Way as we were. 

Recently we sat down with Michael Tardiff, VP of Marketing at J. S. McCarthy and part owner of the family business, to hear more about the legacy of J. S. McCarthy. “I get called Mr. McCarthy often enough,” Michael laughs, but he doesn’t mind. In truth, it was Michael’s father Rick who bought the business from the McCarthy family in 2000. Before then, the Tardiffs had a printing company of their own in Hallowell.  Rick Tardiff was just getting ready to buy a new press to expand his building when he was approached by The McCarthy Family, looking for another family interested in taking over their business. It ended up being the perfect option for the Tardiff family and has allowed all of Rick's children to work in the business.

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When we first announced to friends and family that we would be creating a print publication, whether jokingly or with slight concern, we often heard the phrase: print is dead. How has that affected J. S. McCarthy, we asked, and Michael was quick to share that through diversification, they’ve been able to not only stay afloat but grow steadily. When they saw the decline of commercial print and newspapers, they invested more in their packaging offerings.  They've always been committed to innovation, or as Michael says, “We like to stay on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge.” By investing in new presses and technology they've been able to streamline the printing process while also meeting the needs of the most demanding clients (us included!).

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While Michael stresses the importance of diversification, he also mentions that "holiday cards are the golden ticket." He goes on to explain, “When times are good, people are celebrating more and sealing it with a card. When presents aren’t in the budget, people will at least send a card. We do our best to pay attention to what’s going on."

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Given how little we knew about offset printing when we set out on this endeavor, we thought you, the Maine the Way readers, may have some questions for Michael or our team.  Here they are:

How did you pick J. S. McCarthy to work with?

MTW: Cam had previously done some print design and loved working with J. S. McCarthy. We reached out to his contact there with our new idea, and it was well received by their team.  After our happiness with the first issue, it hasn't been a hard choice.

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How did you pick your paper-weight?

MTW: It took some deliberation.  We wanted something that not only felt substantial in the hand but also wouldn't show dark colors on the opposite side of the page.  In the end, we went for the thinnest paper that we felt met our criteria. We also went with uncoated paper as we feel it really shows off the work on the pages.

What surprised you the most?

MTW: I think we were most surprised about the quality and feel of the first copy of Maine the Way we actually got to hold in our hands.  Obviously we had looked at countless proofs, and even seen the covers and the inside sheets running off the press, but that moment we got to hold a Maine the Way in our hands was magical.  Getting to feel the emboss on the front cover, the weight of the magazine, the crisp and bright colors on the pages.  Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised that it looked and felt nice, but it was a real shock to see something that had only existed in our minds and hard drives for a year turn into a real, tangible product.

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When would you use an offset press vs. a digital press?

JSM: Offset presses use aluminum plates and blankets to transfer ink onto a sheet of paper.  Cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink are laid down to build identical images on each sheet of paper.  Our offset presses print on paper up to 28” x 40” so smaller items are generally nested to fill up the entire sheet and then items can be cut down to individual size during the various bindery and finishing stages.  

Digital printing is generally smaller scale shorter run work, and the equipment does not utilize plates like traditional offset equipment, so each piece can be personalized. If you wanted it to say Michael Tardiff’s personal issue of Maine the Way, you could do that. People do that for postcards, campaigns, or programs. Every piece can be personalized and unique. That goes from names, mailing information, images, and more. We did a welcome packet for incoming freshmen to a college that not only had each persons name, but their dorm information and their freshman advisor, which was different for each student. 

Digital also has a place in the world as people are starting to cut down the length of their print runs and sizes. Our digital equipment offers comparable quality to offset, in a budget-friendly package.

Where do you see the future of printing going?

JSM: The world of digital printing will continue to grow. The technology has evolved so fast, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. I think we will continue to see new digital equipment that can handle larger sheet sizes and, just like offset presses, the quality and efficiency will continue to improve.

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In partnership with J. S. McCarthy, we’re happy to bring you an inside look into our printing process and are excited to announce that we recently won a design award. Thank you to those who have invested in our independent publication. It’s an honor to be recognized for the quality of Maine the Way — noting everything from the content to design and especially the print craftsmanship!

Christine Reighley