Behind Geyser Park is one million square feet filled with the information we consume, long before it ever hits the Internet or our doorstep — an exclusive with Heidi Klum, a column by author and political analyst Mark Halperin, a feature on Tiger Woods.
The Quad/Graphics plant is a massive footprint of modern printing press operations. It takes nine minutes to drive around the sprawling facility, longer than it takes an assembly line inside to print thousands of copies of Newsweek, the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, People, and so on.
Its operations began in rural Wisconsin more than 40 years ago and have grown to 40 printing facilities across the nation, and in Europe and Latin America. The printing company began with operations in offset printing, but now includes so many different services
in each of its megaplants that everything from the photo spread you see in a magazine to the individualized route of your mail carrier can be printed in one place.
“This million-square-foot footprint houses everything from the creative side all the way through to shipping the final product out,” said plant Director Dan Frankowski.
He knows the Saratoga Springs plant backward and forward, and can explain the details of the complicated printing process that one rarely thinks about while thumbing through the glossy pages of the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly.
“Megaplants allow for greater efficiency,” he says, leaving a room marked “Pre-Press” that is full of Mac computers, color swatches and busy employees working computer programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.
“There’s not a lot of handoffs within the process,” he said. “That was always the model for growth here. Everything from the start of photography to OK, now we have the images, but how do we get collaborative with our clients on the creative look and feel of color management, airbrushing, retouching.”
The Saratoga facility is a hub that’s connected to all of Quad/Graphics’ imaging facilities, from New York to Boston to Atlanta. So when an image or a photo spread is finished in another location, it can be easily exported to the Saratoga network where it then hits the plate room.
Frankowski puts on his safety glasses before going through a door with blinking red lights above. The lights indicate to employees driving forklifts that someone is about to enter the plant.
But this is just a crossing point. For a moment, it sounds like any warehouse would, but on a grander scale: The hum of assembly line machinery far off, a beeping forklift, the muffled shouts of employees wearing ear protection.
Frankowski quickly skirts into another side room, the plate room. Here is where individual pages of Newsweek are being prepared for the printing process.
“You can see we’re running a total of eight pages in this cycle, and this is the layout based on where the page is going to fall in the magazine,” he says, pointing to a table with an inside spread of familiar faces in politics.
The content Quad/Graphics prints is confidential client property, so no cellphones are allowed in production.
A light-colored impression of each page is imprinted onto a plate in this room.
“The imaging areas is where the ink will stick, so the clear areas [are] water. The whole process of printing is that water and ink don’t mix. It’s called offset printing, and that’s how it transfers onto the page.”
Dwarfed by paper
Frankowski steps through the door to the humming plant again. This time, he walks for nearly 10 minutes to reach the back of the maze-like plant.
He looks miniature surrounded by giant paper towel-like rolls, which are actually stacks upon stacks of 6-foot-high rolls of glossy print, each weighing about 5,000 pounds. The “no-pedestrian zone” stores 50 million pounds of paper.
Wandering out of the maze of rolls, he makes his way to machinery stained in black, magenta, cyan and yellow hues. Wet ink drips below each of the three inking units, where individual pages are sent through and each hue mixes to create the soft pinks, grays, bright oranges and other colors glossy magazines use.
When the inking process is finished, machinery then grabs each page up into a ventilation system resembling a giant toaster oven. The ink dries here, with temperatures reaching 400 degrees. Pages are then sent through a cooling system.
“We have water that runs into these rolls that gets real cool,” says Frankowski. “So the paper runs right over the cold water, and it gets the heat out and helps lock the ink onto the sheet.”
It’s Raymond Introne’s job to examine the pages and adjust color where it needs adjusting to meet the client’s standards. If a hue is off, he has a computerized color control system that he can manually play with to get a color just right.
Color management is critical in the printing industry. Quad/Graphics’ research and development team has developed camera technology to scan a web of pages and read how thick the ink is. It then makes adjustments if need be, so the color is accurate immediately.
On this March day, Introne is working with the bright pops of color seen in the next issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids.
“I’ve been here at Quad for almost 18 years, so it’s just experience you know,” says Introne, a Saratoga resident. “It’s like anything, sometimes things don’t run as perfect as we want them to, but you’ve got to know how to deal with things like that.”
Robotics fold the pages, and stack them on skids, which employees use forklifts to lift and store on shelves before they make their way to the finishing department.
If the main floor of the Quad/Graphics plant appears busy, just look up. Overhead are assembly lines of machinery and a second story where the exact same process occurs.
“The process is identical on the top and bottom,” says Frankowski. “And so older presses, they all used to be one level, so the footprint was much longer and by putting them on top of each other it controls the process better and makes a much better quality page.”
The Saratoga plant churns out upward of one billion magazines a year. In one 12-hour period on just one press, it puts out 600,000 magazines.
Through another door is a much brighter, open facility. The finishing department has windows that let in natural light, a perk that offsets the constant smell of hot glue.
What Frankowski calls a signature — a 32- or 64-page booklet from a single press run — is combined with other signatures to create a final product. They’re loaded onto a stream feeder, where each signature lands on top of another to build the book. Lugs push the book down the assembly line, where it reaches a “rougher.”
“The rougher takes the signatures and roughs up the backbone, creating paper fibers so the glue can get in there,” he says.
Hence the smell.
The books travel slowly along a winding line at hip level, giving the glue time to cool. At the end of the line, an inkjet individualizes each one.
“We have control of your book and can make your own individual book,” says Frankowski. “The inkjet puts your name and address on it. But we can also make every cover different. So if Dan likes football and you like basketball, your Sports Illustrated cover can have basketball on it.”
Not far from here are a series of sharp knives that sound like repeated slamming of a three-ring hole punch. They trim off the color bars that stick out from each book, sending each strip of shredded paper up a blue tube where it goes out for recycling.
At the end of the line, the books are wrapped, bundled and ready for shipping.
This used to be the end of the process for many printing facilities. But Quad/Graphics takes it one step further, says Frankowski.
“We get them sorted right down to the carrier route that the post office guy on your street delivers,” he said. “So for example, if you get Elle Magazine and you get Sports Illustrated, it will be in a bundle based on your street. We know his route. These books get delivered based on his walk sequence.”
From a set of stairs leading up to the plant’s second floor — where client meetings take place and employees grab lunch or work out in the facility’s own gym — you can see delivery trucks out the window. They pull into delivery bays, where the latest issue of Redbook or Popular Science or Newsweek heads off for its final journey.