A Broken Record
Beyond “husband” and “father,” Steve has held many titles throughout his career. See if you can spot a theme among them: Pressman, table stripper, scanner operator, retoucher, color manager, packaging color manager, color specialist, director of color technology, corporate director of color engineering.
“I really believe if you broke his head open and looked at his brain, it would resemble a CIELab color space,” jokes Joe Tuccitto, FTA’s director of education, who has known Steve since the turn of the century. Back then, Steve worked at Vertis Inc., the last company he’d be employed at before starting SmileyColor & Associates.
It was also around that time his name began to appear fairly regularly in association with the Association: Steve chaired the FFTA Prepress Conference—a precursor to FTA Fall Conference—in 2002, and Forum sessions in 2006 and 2016. Discounting those three years, he has spoken at either Forum or Fall Conference (sometimes both) every year going back to 2001.
Steve chaired the Color Management Subcommittee for the second edition of FIRST, which was published in 1999, and—with a title that includes the words “specifications” and “tolerances”—you can believe he has been intimately involved with each subsequent revision. He has chaired the FIRST Communication and Implementation Subcommittee as well as the Flexo Quality Consortium (FQC) and now is a part of the latter’s executive committee. He is FTA’s and flexography’s representative on the CGATS Color Reproduction and Process Control for Packaging Subcommittee.
In March, there was an issue with which FTA needed a substantial amount of help from someone with Steve’s technical background. “I called him,” Joe remembers, “and he immediately said, ‘What do you need me to do?’” Then, with less than three weeks until Forum 2017, a second situation arose. Joe says he phoned and said, “Steve, I need another favor.” And he replied with, “of course, I’m here to help.”
In bestowing his namesake award on Steve in 2006, FTA President Mark Cisternino wrote of the new FTA Hall of Fame member, “Steve has long been a speaker on various color related topics and has an amazing skill of masterfully communicating some fairly involved, complicated concepts in a manner that is appropriate and comprehensible by whatever audience he is speaking to.” In the pages of FLEXO Magazine, he has articulated those topics and concepts time and again, planting the seed in the minds of readers seeing them for the first time, and hammering them home for readers still resisting change:
- In 2001: “A priority is to implement simple workflows to simulate press conditions with any proofing device with ICC (International Color Consortium) technology. Also, we must endeavor to enable industry use of color management tools to produce press ready files, implement systems that stabilize and improve processes…”
- In 2003: “ANSI CGATS T012—the document produced by the CGATS SC-4 Committee on Color Reproduction and ProcessControl for Packaging Printing—outlines responsibility for consumer products, prepress providers, printers and suppliers for process control throughout the process. It is the most powerful document we have ever had. This tool ties offset, gravure and flexo package printing together with common verbiage and tools for process optimization, fingerprinting and process control. Using this document, allows us to work together as real partners with all required steps to make color management work successfully…”
- In 2006: “As I was getting on a flight after the Foundation of Flexographic Technical Association Forum this year, one of the leaders in our industry asked me to answer a question, in simple English: ‘Why does my eye make a closer match to a brand color than when using a spectrophotometer?’ There are several reasons, some simple and some not…”
- In 2011: “CxF data provide all the information the ink manufacturer needs to match your brand color across substrates and printing processes. CxF data also defines the expected tints and TVI curves required from the press…”
- In 2015: “The aim for printers is not their custom press profiles, but the characterization data delivered in the PDF/X, per ISO 12647-6. Proofs can be made anywhere in the world. The printer can print every day to the same proof, not custom proofs made by fingerprints which isolate one point in time, one operator and one set of environmental conditions. As printers’ jobs in the supply chain get easier, they now need to communicate to their suppliers which Characterization Reference Print Condition should be used. This eliminates the use of—literally—millions of custom specified profiles…”
“This guy is always there to support us, to help get anything done,” Joe says. “He lives and breathes flexo.”
Smiley & Kevin Legend
Kevin Chop knew of Steve, in the way Larry Bird knew of Magic Johnson. The two were competitors, Steve working for Blanks Engraving, Kevin a small trade shop, and both had seen success doing film and plate separations. Their first meeting—their 1979 NCAA National Championship, if you will—took place sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s at Clemson University, where the two were separately invited to speak about standards. In the days before the ICC even existed, a time before optimization and characterization were words used in package printing, “to be honest,” Kevin says, “it was a lot of intuition.”
Much like “Magic” and “Larry Legend” wound up having plenty over which to bond, it was away from the podium at Clemson where Kevin says he and Steve found a shared passion: the common goal of trying to make the industry better. “In the early 1990s, that was unique,” he recalls. “There were a lot of people out for blood.” And so, like the basketball greats, they too became friends.
But while they bonded over things like CxF and color standards, and their adoption and use, Kevin admits he wasn’t buying what he was selling, stubbornly refusing to fully convert. “It was my own pigheadedness,” he says, explaining he wanted to keep the “voodoo” of building optimization curves to himself. In contrast, Steve was in favor of standards that were open and could be used by anyone, a belief that led some to brand him as “giving away our leverage.”
Kevin would eventually come around, admitting to himself nobody stands to gain from proprietary systems and that openness is better for all of packaging. “I always tell Steve, ‘You are ahead of me,’” he says. “He’s thinking 10 or 15 years ahead of everyone else, and it’s just the way the guy is built.”
That push for standards decades earlier pays dividends now. Kevin, today the principal packaging and graphics director, innovation R&D at Diageo, relies on printers being FIRST or G7 Certified, or adopting CxF or ISO, to give him confidence everything will match regardless of where a press is located. He talks to Steve weekly, to catch up and get advice on any obstacles he is running into. As Kevin puts it, it’s better to learn what he needs to know now, than wait to figure it out down the road.
“When Steve and I used to speak at Clemson, it’d be funny. There’d be sessions where we’d go in and I’d be preaching, ‘Go left! Go left!’ and Steve would be preaching, ‘Go right! Go right!’ and afterward I’d say, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you? Why give all this stuff away for free?’” Kevin recalls of his early encounters with the new FTA Hall of Fame member. “But a year later, I’d be preaching, ‘Go right! Go right!’ And it wasn’t because I heard Steve speak and drank the Kool-Aid. As I walked the walk through my journey and career, I’d run into these obstacles—these things Steve foresaw—and go, ‘Son of a bitch, he’s right!’”
Open Mind, Open Heart
Recalling when she first met him about 20 years ago, Jean says Steve was “relatively quiet” about color, standards and the like. But, it was evident even then: “He was obsessed.” To turn those abstract concepts into something an audience could understand, the duo would do things like tune a pair of guitars to demonstrate calibration. Today, that jargon is familiar to many, and for those to whom it isn’t, Steve can communicate regardless of their roles. “He can talk to a president or a pressman,” Jean says. He demonstrated as much with Dr. Sam Ingram, a professor of graphic communications and department chair at Clemson University, on a two week tour through Europe in 1998 which they christened the “Unweaving the Rainbow Tour.” The trek took them through England, Switzerland, Germany and a number of other countries to examine what, at the time, were developing color technologies.
“Steve has always had an open mind when it comes to learning, and an open heart when it comes to sharing,” Sam says of the new FTA Hall of Fame member, something which is as true now as it was then. “And everyone benefits from that.”
But recognizing something is beneficial and actually utilizing that benefit are two very different things. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, there may have been times Steve felt like he was losing it. “He has spent his entire career trying to improve an industry that resists change,” FTA Hall of Fame Member Mark Mazur surmises. “Virtually everyone agrees we need standards, but then everyone explains why standards do not apply to them.”
Against unfavorable odds, he has persevered, in defiance of Albert Einstein’s famous quote about going crazy and armed with a topic about which few were excited to learn and even fewer were prepared to praise.
“It takes a special person to champion a subject most find arcane and boring. Compound that with an environment where you receive almost no positive feedback and you have to label that person a rebel,” Mazur adds, before turning to one of the literary greats to validate Steve’s mission. “To quote Mark Twain, ‘Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.’”