It is yet another benefit of nowadays being a part of the CRC Smartprint research centre that I can be totally independent of the commercial aspects of the printing industry, whilst still maintaining my enthusiasm for its activities.
I will start by telling you of the judging process itself. The task of examining a record number of entries in just two days, (although certainly hard work), has been honed to near perfection, and the techniques now employed ensure that each entry is given every opportunity to win one of the highly prized awards.
Many of you will have read some of the things that I am about to say in the past official judgesâ€™ report in the catalogue that accompanies the presentation of the awards, but in view of hard evidence, I believe that some of those words need to be reiterated.
The total adjudication team this year comprised twenty nine experts and was arranged into two teams of five judges each with separate senior judges, with another nineteen specialist consultants/ advisors available to the two teams to provide detailed expertise covering every category of the awards (the twentieth was unfortunately unable to be present). Members of the judging teams were nominated by their individual PIAA State organisations, and the invitation of the two senior team leaders (Graeme Barnes, and Bill Hicks), was yet another privilege of the Chair, as was the issuing of the invitations to the specialist consultants.
The reason for the two teams was simply to cover fully the large number of entries, and each panel had the opportunity to liaise with the other at any time.
The actual judging process was conducted at the RMIT Dawson Street campus, an excellent facility with plenty of space and good lighting, and entries from the thirty categories, coded by NPA staff to disguise the source of entries from the judges, were then arranged on long tables under the close scrutiny of that man for all seasons, National Print Awards committee treasurer, Graham Luke, prior to the judges examination. The two judging teams then did a first viewing of the entries, and placed a marker on those that particularly attracted their attention. The team then moved to another of the categories whilst the specialist consultants went over every entry with eagle eyes, (and a remarkable array of magnifiers from loupes to a small microscope), and identified every imperfection â€“ which was then carefully recorded on a yellow post-it note and attached at the relevant spot for the judges to view in further detail.
No entry however flawed (and some to my amazement showed glaring errors for such a prestigious award) received the attention of less than two consultants plus the judging team, so that my earlier assertion that every one got a very fair shake is right to the point.
Following the detailed examination by all, the judges and the consultants assembled the best of each category (and in several categories that numbered between twenty and thirty entries), and debated the merits of each, until consensus was arrived at regarding the best, then the judging panel awarded the gold, silver and bronze medals.
A slight variation was conducted for the web offset entries, as literally hundreds of magazines, catalogues and flyers were entered, (I would not even hazard a guess at how many pages that entailed the judges poring over). A separate panel of five experts (backed up as required by another two from the general consultant team) examined every entry, and then recommended a small number of the top entries to the judging teams for evaluation and the awarding of the medals.
My duties also included keeping the teams and consultants coordinated, adjudicating on whether entries were entered in the correct categories (surprisingly quite a number were not), and acting as a specialist judge for one category.
There were also three special awards, the Agfa award for the best use of imaging, which was selected from entries in any category independent of the main judging process by representatives of that company; the Australian Paper award for the best entry by a third or fourth year apprentice, which was judged from a remarkably fine collection of entries by the judging team; and the Heidelberg award that was selected by an executive of the Heidelberg company from the gold medal winners of all categories.
So that was how it was done, but well you may ask - what was the outcome?
The results will be available at the awards presentation on May 25 at Crown Casino during Pacprint, and are secret until then, so the good news I leave for the Chair of the National Awards Committee, Alf Carrigan, to announce, but just a few words on what was not what I expected.
The undoing of many lovely entries was in a word mis-registration.
The judges agreed that whilst the argument could be raised that clients may have been satisfied with the commercial outcome of many very nice pieces of work, for a printing company to present their work for comparison with their peers in open competition, surely such a basic fault could be identified and avoided. With the high-level technology available to the industry, one could be forgiven for thinking that the old registration problem was a thing of the past, but sadly this is not so. Registration problems beset every category, the exceptions being in one colour printing.
The next main culprit was colour variation and the related effect of page-to-page matchups in a two-page spread. The judges know how difficult it can be for a printer to practically meet the difficult design criteria of some layouts, and allowances are made for this, but control of colour across a print ought to be as good as the process allows.
And the trifecta is completed by rubbish. Hickies, paper dust, plate scratches, and in litho roller and blanket marks, and in flexo by tailing, comprise some of the imperfections that dogged far too many otherwise potential prizewinners.
I have forgotten how many times I have said it, but here goes again. The judges can only work with what they have presented to them, so make sure that what you enter is an example of the best of the run, as a check of such basic faults as I have outlined can be literally rewarding.