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  • Writer's pictureShawn "The Magazine Guy!"

Why does the ink smear on the page in so many high quality magazines, such as Wired, Vanity Fair, ec

Actually, the ink shouldn’t smear in any of those magazines that you listed! I’m confident that all of those publications utilize a “heat set” offset press to print their publications. Most magazines with significant print runs (10,000 or more) will use an offset press (also referred to as a 4 color press - Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) to print their publications. I won’t go into detail about the offset press process here, but “heat setting” is in reference to the paper of an offset press passing from the ink rollers, after impressions have been made from the “plates,” to an oven that dries or “sets” the ink on the paper so that it doesn’t smear when touched. After the ink has dried, the paper can be handled and moved to the next stations in order to be stitched (most commonly saddle stitched), trimmed down to the final trim size and then packaged according to the magazine publisher’s specifications.

Bear in mind that those magazines are printed on coated glossy stock paper, as opposed to newsprint which is uncoated. Coated paper has a low “dot gain” index and this is one of the main reasons why it’s used for magazines; in addition to the obvious aesthetic benefits that it offers. “Dot gain” is in reference to the rate at which a particular substrate (in this case paper/paper stock) absorbs ink. The higher the dot gain, the more ink the paper stock will absorb and the lower the dot gain, the less ink the paper stock will absorb. An easy way to understand this would be to take an ink pen and put a drop of ink on a regular sheet of (non coated) white copy paper used for copying machines. After the ink is placed on the paper, the ink drop will slowly increase in size as the ink is absorbed by the paper. This is dot gain. Uncoated paper has a very high dot gain and can smear easily when touched. Glossy paper stock, on the other hand, has a very low dot gain and, as a result, it allows for the utilization of higher ink densities (more saturated colors) and more vibrant colors than uncoated paper like newsprint. It is also a lot harder to smear! All this to say, the ink on magazine pages, like the ones you mentioned, should not normally smear unless, of course, it gets wet.

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