What Impacts Have Computers Had on Printing?
A reader of this column in England
recently asked what impact computers have had on printing.
This is how I answered him.
I began my publications career in the
late seventies as a writer. Then I composed all my text
on a typewriter; now I use a computer and can write and
rewrite before printing a clean copy. I don't need to write
from beginning to end; I can work on whatever part of a
paragraph I feel inspired to at any time.
In the early eighties I learned to
set type on a dedicated typesetting machine. I then pasted
up the "galleys" (long strips of type) into pages.
Unlike the "WYSIWIG" copy of today (visible on
the monitor exactly as it will print), I couldn't see the
accuracy of the typefaces or sizes I had specified until
I had developed the typesetting paper. (This was a photographic
process based on a bright light projected through film images
of letters. A typesetting machine I used several years later
was based on a laser that exposed images of letters on resin-coated
In the late eighties the Macintosh
II was developed along with PageMaker, the Linotronic 100,
and the first generation RIP (a hardware raster image processor).
Although copy processed in PageMaker lacked the quality
and precision of type set on the prior generation of dedicated
typesetting machines: Mergenthaler, Compugraphic, etc.,
one could compose an entire document on-screen and immediately
see whether the words and design were accurate. Scanning
was not yet an option, nor was color. And the monitor was
not yet even gray-scale. The job eventually was still exposed
by a laser on photographic paper and then pasted up (in
one piece). Tissue overlays showed color breaks. The final
step was cropping and sizing photos.
Jumping forward fifteen or so years,
today one can scan transparencies and reflective media into
the system with accurate color, and hand off to the print
shop plate-ready electronic files. One can even send these
over a network. Once the printer has checked (preflighted)
these files, he/she can impose them and directly expose
full eight-page flats. These files no longer need to be
printed to film as an intermediate step. It is possible
to image directly to plate, and on some presses (such as
the Heidelberg Quickmaster DI), you can even expose plates
directly on the press.
Computers also run the presses now.
An operator can automatically hang the plates and preset
ink fountains based on computer profiles, drastically reducing
waste and make-ready time. Once the paper is running on
press, computers provide feedback and then self-correct
to ensure the mechanical accuracy of the job.
So in every area from controlling ink
and color fidelity to making sure the mechanics of the process
run smoothly, computers play an increasing role. I think
the influence of computers started in writing, moved to
design and then prepress, and then moved to press work.
Now computer automation and control are gradually migrating
to the finishing processes.
Unlike many of my peers, I do still
believe that printing is an art and a craft, not a commodity.
I consider the computer to be nothing more or less than
a tool used by skilled artisans to facilitate the production
of quality presswork.
Using More Than One Black Ink
Let's say that you have designed a
book cover with a few black and white photos knocked out
of a solid black background. If you run the ink heavily
enough to get smooth, even coverage on the background, the
halftones look muddy. If you run the ink light enough to
bring out the detail in the halftones, the background looks
anemic. What do you do?
Consider running two press units of
black, separating the photos from the background and putting
each on its own plate. It will cost a little more, but you
will be able to control the different amounts of ink needed
for a rich, even background and the detail of the halftones.
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]