Hairy soup is good! Most soups have hair in them!Or, how a small press publisher fights a battle with a printer (and wins!)
In spring 2021, I contracted the Lithuanian offset printing company KOPA in Kaunus, Lithuania to print a five-volume, slip-cased set of hardback books. Everything was going very well until I received the final printed pages (bound as book blocks) and discovered marks that looked liked imprints of fibers or hair. I had never encountered these in over a dozen years of publishing more than forty art books. And it was just not a tiny fleck here or there. There were over a hundred scattered across the set, sometimes multiple marks on a spread, sometimes a centimeter long or more.
Long story very short: they refused to reprint, so I hired a lawyer (very lucky to have found a quite extraordinary one) and sued for the return on my deposit, as I was forced to take the project elsewhere (to Kum Kang in South Korea who did an amazing job) so that it could be printed correctly and on time.
You may be able to deduce much of the story from the final statement below that I submitted to the court (judge, no jury). It’s perhaps quite useful to my fellow publishers (many of whom came to my rescue with advice, insights and even written, notarized testimony), but it is deep in the weeds. For a shorter narrative, read this parable I wrote to illustrate the absurdity.
After two years of litigation, the court ruled in my favor, requiring KOPA to repay my deposit with interest as well reimburse litigation costs. They appealed and, six months later, lost again at the end of 2023. I received the money they owed me earlier this month.
While my costs were recuperated, the immense time and toll it took will never be compensated. It was a very hard fought battle, but anyone who knows me knows I have zero tolerance for bullies, for gaslighting and deceit, for the smug and greedy operating with impunity. I guess the folks at KOPA just didn’t know me at all. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian legal system very clearly saw KOPA and deemed them guilty, twice.
statement to the court
June 5, 2023
I appreciate and thank the honorable court for allowing me this opportunity to submit a last statement in writing, and I thank you for your consideration of this case.
I originally prepared a different, much shorter statement for court today, but given both KOPA’s most recently submitted documents as well as the testimony in court, I feel a strong need to revise it.
In KOPA’s testimony, KOPA blames three elements for their poor printing job: the paper itself, the designer, and the artwork. KOPA further asserted that (1) the paper is solely to blame for the these marks and that (2) these marks are acceptable.
I’d like to first address KOPA’s underlying claims often repeated in court: (1) because there are no official, specific standards regarding these kinds of marks, any such marks, in any number, are acceptable; (2) the only way to get a mark-free print run is to request it in advance.
Both of these claims are as absurd as having to order hair-free soup.
Best practices and norms
Both the expert opinions and testimony from Siglio already in evidence and the new documents KOPA has just submitted reveal that even absent a codified standard, there are absolutely well-accepted norms and best practices in the printing industry. Despite the extraordinary variety of print products we encounter every day, there are common denominators that demonstrate a baseline of expected quality. One of these is a clean image.
We do not see these kinds of fiber marks frequently, or even rarely, in four-color print products. When you open a magazine with photographic spreads, you do not expect to see anything but a clean image. When you see an image of soup next to a recipe in a cookbook, you expect to see only soup. When you open an art book, you expect to see images of the art that are accurate in every way. It is very clear that we value images that are reproduced cleanly and that marks are recognized as flaws, when we consume four-color print products as readers.
The best art book printers—as KOPA claims to be—are specialists. They may also print other four-color books, such as gardening or cookbooks, but they know that art books have a higher production qualities and demand greater care. They are more expensive to produce and their retail price often reflects that. The best art book printers are experienced and adept in reproducing a very wide range of visual images. This is their job—to translate digital files that accurately represent the artwork into printed reproductions. That accuracy can be measured by correct color, but if the color is right, yet there are marks that disturb the image, then that is not an accurate reproduction.
KOPA’s contention is absurd that these kinds of marks are expected and not infrequent, but only certain kinds of artworks render them visible. Certainly the marks—when actually present—are harder to see on a page of text or a highly detailed image. But flat fields of color—that KOPA maintains are to blame for the visibility of these apparently normal marks—are not unusual. Quite the contrary: many of the most highly revered artworks in the 20th and 21st centuries utilize large fields of single colors: Ellsworth Kelly, Yves Klein, Anish Kapoor, Mark Rothko, Robert Ryman, Blinky Palermo, the list is very long. These works have been reproduced countless times in many contexts. It is clear that any kind of mark would be a recognizable flaw in the reproduction of the image. No museum catalog publisher would tolerate a single fiber mark in a field of Yves Klein’s blue.
Much of photography is the same. Think of a photograph of a landscape at night, or of a dark ocean (Hiroshi Sugimoto comes to mind): you will see large uniform areas of dark gray or black. A single mark such as these would not be acceptable on an original photograph developed in a dark room, so why would a mark on a print reproduction of that photograph in a book be acceptable? While my author is not quite so famous, his art work should not be degraded either.
The paper problem
It is also absurd to insist that it is the designer’s fault for not requesting a mark-free print run. The marks are the result of flawed mechanical processes, perhaps in combination with a paper problem. All of this is within the printer’s purview. The designer’s job, on the other hand, is to create a layout using digital images and digital design software that the printer can use to produce the book. The designer gives the printer “specifications” regarding the book’s material design: size, binding, choice of paper stock, and any other specialty extras like foil stamping or die-cuts. While sizes are standardized in inches or centimeters, and the majority of bindings are either perfect-bound or smyth-sewn, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of uncoated paper stocks to choose from.
But it’s not a designer’s inability to master an encyclopedic knowledge of all available papers that refutes KOPA’s argument. Rather, no papers—uncoated or coated—should easily release enough fibers to be problematic on press. When that happens, the possible assumptions are that the paper was trimmed with a dull blade, or that the paper batch is bad but not the paper type in general, or that the paper has too high recycled content for high-speed off-set printing, etc. No reputable paper manufacturer would be happy to learn that one of their stocks is consistently shedding fibers. In fact, they would want to know to see how pervasive the problem might be. That a designer should know which papers dust more easily is absurd, because no paper should dust easily.
Furthermore, printing houses offer “house stocks” that—because the printer buys and uses them in very high volume—their experience with them is vast. Clients depend on house stocks not only for their cost-effectiveness, but also because the client should be able to trust that the printer knows that stock so well that he can get highly predictable results. It is the height of absurdity for a printer to offer a paper stock that he knows is prone to dusting. If he said, “would you like the house stock that’s prone to dusting and may result in marks because it’s 15% cheaper?” I can’t imagine a single art book publisher would say yes.
I’d like to take a short tangent here to dig into the ISO 12647 standards here that KOPA submitted. These standards have been updated to reflect specific characteristics of paper stock: opacity and surface characteristics (like the degree of whiteness and what tone, the kind of coating, what weight/mass, etc.) so that there is guidance for the very technical specification for—very simply put—how to put ink to a specific type of paper. These are also important, visual and tactile characteristics by which the client and the designer choose the appropriate paper for the project—choices made according to aesthetics, concept, and budget.
But ISO 12647 did not include any measurements of how prone a paper stock might be to shedding or dusting, nor any parameters for how to print on papers with various degrees of shedding, or what the acceptable tolerances are. Look at it from the other side: when a client/designer looks through paper sample books and all of the many characteristics are given, there is none for a paper’s susceptibility for shedding fibers. Why? Because it is an undesirable characteristic. No one wants a paper that sheds fibers because that clearly can cause problems on press.
Samples and wet proofs
Clients also request samples of a printer’s work that share elements with their own print job—including the exact paper stock—so that they can evaluate the quality of prior print jobs. I was sent hardback books printed on the same uncoated “house stock” that was used for my project. Some of the shared characteristics I should be able to count on for my project on the basis of these samples are (1) the touch of the paper—how the paper feels in the hand—its weight, its color tone (white papers can vary widely), and the way it holds the ink when printed with this particular HUV process; (2) the nature and quality of the binding, how tightly the signatures are sewn, how well/flat the book opens, how uniformly the book block is trimmed and if it is trimmed properly (you can see this by looking at the location of the page numbers throughout the book), as well how the book block is attached to the endpapers and how cleanly and smoothly the endpapers are glued to the boards; and most importantly (3) how well the images are reproduced and whether there are any flaws in the printing—fiber marks like the ones in my project, but also hickeys, scratches, mottling, lack of ink density, poor registration, etc… KOPA maintains that one cannot use those samples as any kind of standard because the work reproduced is so different. But as I’ve pointed out, it’s not the nature of the artwork being reproduced that’s the cause of the problem. So there are oranges here to compare to oranges, because the samples have technical and material qualities in common with the potential project.
Those samples are a key aspect to judging the quality of a printer’s work, in general. But in order to assess the printer’s work in particular, a client pulls a wet proof, reproducing selected images that will be included in the book. This is how color is assessed, how to see how the paper holds the ink (dot gain, opacity, etc.), and to possibly locate any printing problems so that preventative measures can be taken—rather than having to reprint later. This wet proof also familiarizes the printer with the nature of the project so that he may troubleshoot for any possible problems—as any printer of “unsurpassed quality” would do. While it is true that not as many sheets run through a proofing press so that process does not imitate all of the conditions of the full print run as UGRA1 points out in the report KOPA submitted:
“It is an additional benefit, if a press proof reveals any printing or process problems before the actual production run. The information gained is then used to initiate appropriate preventive measures in the printing process so that an undesirable defect can at best be eliminated or reduced. Such a defect may be particles of dust from the paper that adhere to the printing form or blanket and may lead to imperfections in the print. For such a printing problem to occur, usually several hundreds of printed sheets have to be printed. The output of the proofing process is only a few make-ready sheets and final proofing sheets. Therefore it is not to be expected, that this defect is immediately apparent or even predictable in the later printing process.” (my italics)
KOPA would like to say that a wet proof is not definitive or representative with regards to the fiber marks and thus marks are acceptable even if the wet proof does not have them. This is what UGRA is actually saying: while these marks may not appear on a wet proof, they are defects.
In the service of the client
I’d like to point out that all of these norms are in the service of the client who hires the printer to produce a faithful reproduction of the digital files the client submits. It seems KOPA would like to be exempt from those norms so that they can justify any printing as acceptable, regardless of very visible flaws, regardless of a result that does not accurately match the digital files, the wet proof, or the general standard of quality demonstrated in the books sent as samples.
If, as KOPA maintains, the printer were the sole arbiter of quality in the absence of officially codified standards, then the customer has no recourse and must be forced to accept a flawed print run—as KOPA insists I do. In other words, unless I buy another bowl of clean soup, I must eat the hairy one, because I did not specifically order my bowl of soup without hair.
I’d like to return to ISO 12647 and quote the introduction:
“This International Standard addresses typical industrial printing under feasible economic constraints. The tolerance values have therefore been chosen to provide a reasonable balance between customer expectations (meaning small variations), technical production limits and production costs.”
Customer expectations (meaning small variations) are of primary importance. FOGRA2 says this too in direct regards to Siglio’s project. FOGRA assesses the “strong” presence of these marks as defects that are not expected in standard industrial print production and thus can lead to a complaint by the customer. In other words, from both the ISO standard and FOGRA’s assessment, some small variation should be acceptable to the client, but the client is well within her rights to complain about any deviations that are more than small.
This client and this situation
I’d like to walk through the process of my complaint and my attempts to get the problem of the marks rectified. During that process, I had no contact with the CEO, despite my request to communicate with him directly (which was denied). In court [last month] he maintained that the fiber marks were a result only of the paper, but had I requested a mark-free paper or print run, I could’ve had the clean print run I wanted. Nevertheless, he argued, a print run with these fiber marks is nevertheless acceptable.
That testimony from a man with decades of experience in the printing industry, who is a leader in the field in Lithuania is remarkable for many reasons. If you take that testimony into account with both the correspondence between myself and his employees and with KOPA’s correspondence with FOGRA, then it’s startling in how clearly it reveals that KOPA knew these marks were defects and that they wanted to find ways to justify forcing me to accept a print job they knew to be defective and substandard.
On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the technology specialist at KOPA reached out to FOGRA3. She wrote:
“Is this a problem of uncoated paper stock with these kind of dust/fibers in printing? We have a situation where it is way too much of them, but I know a slight amount is normal. What do you think, what could be stated as a red line starting this being a problem? Please see attached pictures.”
This short email reveals several important points.
- First, the technology specialist at KOPA seems quite unsure whether uncoated paper stock could cause these kinds of marks. Yet she and her colleagues asserted unwaveringly to me at the time—and KOPA contended in court in May—that (1) all uncoated stocks are capable of causing these marks, (2) these marks are not uncommon because you can’t control them on a high speed industrial press, and (3) these marks are acceptable.
- Secondly, she states that there were far too many marks—many more than what might be normal (and therefore, acceptable).
- Thirdly, because she wanted guidance as to where and how to draw a line concerning how many marks might be acceptable, this suggests that the situation was new to them, rather than an expected and normal outcome, and/or they wanted to manufacture a standard by which they could justify the proliferation of these marks.
This email to FOGRA was sent 19 days after I made KOPA aware of the proliferation of visible dust and fiber marks on Friday, May 28, 2021, almost three weeks after they insisted in every email and every meeting that this was a not unexpected result when using uncoated paper.
This same technology specialist replied quite promptly and confidently on May 28 to my concern about these marks—which I wrote at the time I had never seen before. She wrote:
“These kind of minor issues are normal due to the handling of uncoated paper stock. Paper can sometimes release some of the small pulp particles from the surface and this becomes attached to the cylinder jackets. These dust particles come and go during the whole process and can appear in different spots. Printing operator stops to clean out the cylinders from time to time but in this kind of a speed of printing machine it is not possible to catch everything unfortunately. We think there are some of them in whole edition.”
Essentially, she says there is nothing that KOPA is obliged or required to do because this is minor and normal.
Two weeks before writing to FOGRA, she reported to me, on Thursday, June 3, that six sets of books were examined and marks were found in all of them. In this email as well as during a video conference that same day, she and her colleagues told me again how difficult it was to reduce or avoid the marks given the high speed of the press, and that “the printing press has special automatic dust cleaning system, but current technologies do not allow to eliminate all dust during the process.”
They offered to reprint if (1) I paid for paper and plates (for a sum they did not disclose) and (2) I must agree to accept the results of the reprint, no matter the quality.
I said I could do neither—particularly as they expressed great hesitation and doubt about whether they could achieve a better result with a reprint. They replied that if I was not willing to accept the results of the reprint, then they would rather refund my deposit, and I could take the job elsewhere.
At no point did anyone tell me in email correspondence or during a meeting that I could have a mark-free print run if I simply requested it, as the KOPA CEO claimed in court. No one pointed out that a change in paper stock would solve the problem, as the KOPA CEO claimed in court. To the contrary, they insisted that all uncoated stocks could cause these problems and that there were limited measures they could take to prevent these marks during a high-speed printing process. They expressed no confidence that they could reprint and yield a clean print run.
I’d like to pause this timeline here momentarily.
If it had been possible, I would have much preferred to finish this project with KOPA and continue working with them in the future. I have been wanting to move production from Asia to Europe for many reasons, and I had hoped KOPA would have been the first step in that direction. When I brought this job to them, I made clear that I would like this to be the beginning of a long-term relationship. Long-term relationships with printers makes for predictably successful results.
With all printers, the test of integrity, trust, and quality is how they respond when a problem arises. I have found that giving printers the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to right a wrong can make for a much stronger and longer lasting relationship.
Back to the timeline:
Given the high quality (and mark-free) books KOPA had printed for my colleagues and sent to me as samples as well as the quality of the wet proof, and given the care they had demonstrated until May 28, I truly could not believe that they were not capable of producing a print run free of these defects. I could not imagine that they would want a poor quality print job to represent them in the art book world. And I really could not understand that they actually thought these kinds of marks were acceptable and fairly normal.
I assumed, instead, that they were simply dragging their feet in correcting what was clearly their error. Therefore, in that June 3 video conference, I told them that I sincerely believed they could do much better (and I did), and I hoped I didn’t have to move the job to another printer (which was also true). They replied that they would ask the paper manufacturer to replace at the manufacturer’s expense what seemed to be a bad batch of paper as they maintained the paper was the issue. This seemed a starting point. And I expected to hear back from them quickly so that the resolution to this issue—already a week old—could be found very soon. But no word on Friday, June 4.
If you refer to my September statement as well as the complete Siglio correspondence with KOPA that was submitted to the court, you can read these conversations in much greater detail. You’ll also remember that after that June 3 meeting, I surveyed many colleagues to see if they had experienced this problem with uncoated paper. Not one said yes. I also asked whether they thought these marks were acceptable. Not one said yes. In an email I sent to KOPA on Sunday, June 6, I posed KOPA questions, resulting from that research. I also asked again that they reprint at their expense and meet the obvious baseline of expected quality that is typical for art books as evidenced by my own experience, the experience of numerous other art book publishers I contacted, including publishers who had recommended KOPA to me (and had not encountered this problem with them—again, bewildering if all uncoated stocks run the risk of these kinds of marks).
After complete silence on Monday and Tuesday as well, I wrote to KOPA on Wednesday, June 8—almost two weeks since the problem was discovered with no solution in sight—to say that I was exercising the option they gave me the week before to have my deposit returned. I needed to take the job elsewhere as this was a time-sensitive project and KOPA seemed unwilling to communicate with me, much less solve this problem.
It is difficult not to conclude: that instead of taking responsibility for the poor quality of the printing job—as any other reputable printer anywhere would—and instead of actually investigating the real causes of these marks from the start (by perhaps writing to FOGRA immediately), KOPA asserted a number of outright falsehoods to excuse the defective print job. Instead of looking for a solution, they spent two weeks attempting to convince me to unequivocally accept a faulty print job.
They wrote to FOGRA a week after I moved the job to another printer.
In that email, not only does the technology specialist acknowledge that there are too many marks, she also clearly demonstrates in her continuing July 2021 correspondence with FOGRA that she knows not all uncoated papers result in defective marks.
She names qualities specific to this stock—the KOPA house stock—that she thinks might be to blame and enquires about testing the paper.
But FOGRA replies they are “not aware of any correlations between other paper properties and dusting.” They suggest that these marks may not be caused simply by the particular paper stock, but instead by a “dusting” problem in combination with the properties of the ink, the blankets, the machine pressure, or the water mixture—all processes for which KOPA is responsible.
No tests seem to have been made. Or if they were, KOPA has not shared the results.
KOPA has maintained throughout my communications with them and in legal documents they’ve submitted that these marks are natural, inevitable and acceptable. That they are not defects or flaws.
But it is now clear from the evidence submitted to the court: (1) these marks are in no way natural or inevitable results on every or even any high speed printing process, and (2) these marks are clearly defects resulting from a faulty or careless printing process.
In fact, all of the expert and professional testimony—from FOGRA’s official assessment of the books to their correspondence with KOPA, in expert reports from both UGRA and the Forensic Science Centre of Lithuania4, as well as in the testimony from consultants and colleagues that I submitted—describes these marks as unexpected and undesirable and thus problems to be avoided at best, solved at worst.
FOGRA says: “the intensity of the defects/deposits is quite strong and in a standard industrial print production, you would not expect such defects.” In their 2023 correspondence with KOPA, FOGRA also calls these marks a “print quality disturbance” and asks why not take the appropriate measures (e.g. increasing wash cycles) to solve a print quality problem?
The Forensic Science Center identifies the defects and their possible causes in a faulty process, for example, “incompatibility between the properties of the paper and the ink, such as excessive viscosity of the ink, too slow ink drying and excessive paper wetting, etc.” These causes imply that there is a correct viscosity, correct time for ink drying, and a correct amount of paper wetting that would NOT result “in fibres being lifted, pulled or torn off during the ink deposit stage of the next colour.”
Gordon Pritchard5 writes: “The most common sources of the debris that can causes defects in print are:
- Debris on the original paper delivered by the paper mill/vendor
- Improper or ineffective press maintenance/cleaning before running the job
- Inappropriate inks and/or blankets and/or impression cylinder pressure
- The use of previously printed/waste paper from a previously run job during make ready (press set up) instead of virgin paper”
All of this implies that there are correct and best practices: proper and effective press maintenance, appropriate inks, blankets, cylinder pressure, etc.
When asked directly whether these particular marks are defects, all of the experts agree that they are. Nowhere in the evidence—whether submitted by the defendant or the claimant—does any expert or professional say that these marks are not defects.
In all cases, whether directly addressing the marks in the book KOPA printed or not, there is much testimony that these marks are undesirable defects for which there are well-known steps to avoid or minimize them. All of the experts refer to problems that can be solved with better press work, a clean printing environment, correct printing calibrations based on an expert body of knowledge, and/or specific techniques specifically developed to reduce or eliminate the possibility of these marks, including UGRA (see the previous quote in 3.)
I find it telling that KOPA did not directly ask UGRA whether or not these specific marks are defects, and if they are solely the result of printing with uncoated stock rather than a faulty printing process. If they had posed this question to UGRA and the clear answer was “no, they are not defects and they are the expected result of working with uncoated papers, particularly on high-speed printing presses” then my arguments would be much more difficult to make and their case would be substantially strengthened. But KOPA did not pose this question. Or if KOPA did, they did not share the answer with the court.
These best practices and techniques are used with such success by printers worldwide that it is truly a surprise to see such marks in high quality art books. The appearance and certainly a proliferation of these marks calls attention to a lack of quality in the printing job. All of this evidence points to the fact that there are expected and well-known ways to avoid these defects, but KOPA did not take them. It is not for me to guess the reasons why.
Siglio has a reputation for publishing not only very beautiful books but also books that make a substantial contribution to the culture at-large. As a one-person business, I have worked immensely hard to get my books into the hands of art and book critics, to develop strong relationships with my distributor, their trade representatives, and booksellers worldwide, to cultivate an enthusiastic audience for every book I release, and to make my books essential to university library collections. I have earned their trust over many years. A project printed in the manner it was printed at KOPA would have broken that trust, tarnished my reputation, and likely incurred costly returns, because it would be clear to everyone who appreciates art books, and siglio books in particular, that the printing job was substandard.
This is the first time I have ever appeared in court in any capacity. I’ve been both the contracting party and subject to contracts in many situations during fifteen years of running Siglio. Even when I am not contractually bound, I operate with the highest standard of integrity, and any disagreement is successfully resolved with earnest negotiation and each party taking appropriate responsibility. Everyone with whom I work in creating these highly-esteemed books—authors, editors, designers, printers, etc.—is a collaborator, with a shared investment in achieving each book. In contrast, KOPA has operated solely in their own interest, with no commitment to their client and the job. Unlike any other process to realize one of my other forty-five books, this has been not only an expensive and time-consuming process but also, truly, a heartbreaking one.
Lisa Pearson, publisher
1 UGRA: Schweizer Kompetenzzentrum für Druck- und Medientechnik / Swiss Center of Competence for Print and Media Technology. This is the organization KOPA commissioned as an expert, yet KOPA did not submit any assessment UGRA made of the marks themselves; rather they limited the scope of UGRA’s expert opinion to explaining the purpose of a wet proof.
2 FOGRA: Forschung für Medientechnologien, a non-profit scientific research organization for print and media technologies. It is widely known, highly respected organization that many European printers belong to, including KOPA. I submitted the books KOPA sent to me for their evaluation.
3 The excerpt comes from email correspondence KOPA submitted to court (it did not serve their defense well).
4 The Forensic Science Centre of Lithuania was commissioned directly by the court to assess the books. It took many months, but they issued an extremely long and detailed report after examining the books in literally microscopic detail.
5 Gordon Pritchard is a highly experienced print buyer and consultant whom I was terribly lucky to find. I got a crash course in the mechanics of offset printing as well as some very supportive reassurance that I was not out of my mind.
✼ natalie’s upstate weather report:
October 25, 2022 — In the rearview mirror: I Will Keep My Soul has gone on press, the new website is launched, NY Art Book Fair hurricane has subsided. Now—finally—looking toward the horizon which happens, at this very moment, to be the blue on blue of California sky and Pacific ocean. But returning to the melancholia of fall and coming days of gray to read, read, read.[...]