The Printed Word, Part 1
With the advent of CD-ROMs, the Internet, and electronic publishing, you
may hear people say we’re headed to a paperless society. Not likely. While
researching a topic is fast and pretty easy on the Web, and the latest
sports scores and news can be downloaded, there’s nothing quite like curling
up with a good book. Somehow holding a palm-sized CD reader and flipping
“pages” with a button just isn’t as satisfying. That said, we’d
like to pay a short tribute to the printed word.
Books originally were written by hand on a variety of materials. Decorations
and illustrations were sometimes added, as with the beautiful manuscripts
from the middle ages. Unfortunately, most people didn’t know how to write,
so it fell to a very small minority to create these valuable treasures.
And doing all the work by hand took quite some time. Something had to
A pressing need
Printing, as we know it, began about 500 years ago with one of the greatest
inventions of modern man. In the mid-1400s, Johannes Gutenberg invented
the type mold to create individual alphabetic characters cast from metal.
From there, and along with his associates, he developed the process for
printing with movable type—the
now famous Gutenberg printing press. With this device, the type for a
page could be set once, then numerous identical copies printed. These
same pieces of type could be used over and over again, saving an enormous
amount of work.
It should be noted that Gutenberg wasn’t the first to produce printed
text. Long before his time, the Chinese and Koreans printed text and pictures
using carved wood blocks. They also developed a system of movable type
using porcelain and metal, but due to their complex alphabetic systems,
it wasn’t practical and the practice was abandoned.
Get in line
Gutenberg’s method of producing type changed little over the following
four centuries. Minor modifications improved the process, but it wasn’t
until 1884 that a major improvement occurred. Ottmar Merganthaler’s invention
of the linecaster machine was another revolution. It is better known today
by the brand name of the most popular version—the
Linotype. This device set an entire line of type in a solid piece of metal
called a slug. After they were used, slugs could be melted down for reuse.
The New York Times gave the Linotype its first major commercial use in
1886, but Merganthaler wasn’t content to rest on his laurels. In 1890
he introduced the Simplex Linotype, an improved machine, which became
a worldwide success. While various linecaster machines remained in used
well into the 1960s, another revolution stood the printing industry on
its ear in the 50s.
Take a picture
When Harris Intertype Corporation introduced the Harris Fotosetter in
1954, the pre-press process changed forever. Photocomposition, or phototypesetting,
was a major departure from the accepted form of typesetting. No more
cumbersome heavy type forms. No more danger from squirts of molten metal.
With this equipment, type and graphic images were projected onto photographic
film or paper. This lightweight, easy to handle material was then used
to produce printing plates. As this quickly evolving technology improved,
the speed of copy output increased to many times that of the Linotype
machine. And better still, entire pages could be created, not just individual
lines of type.
Many thought phototypesetting was the best there could be—until
cathode ray tubes, or CRTs, arrived on the scene. By 1974, printing houses
used this new machine to draft, alter, and print out “hard copy”
images. Scitex Corporation introduced an advanced system in 1979 which
produced complete page layouts in full color on a CRT with sizing, distorting,
typesetting, and electronic airbrushing capabilities. Other equipment manufacturers
followed, developing integrated systems that combined laser scanners to
digitize copy, produce color separations, as well as handle the same chores
as Scitex’s machine.
The mid to late 1980s saw another major change in the pre-press world—personal
computers. With the Apple Computer Company as the driving force, low cost
desktop publishing systems took hold. Thanks to Adobe PostScript, a revolutionary
electronic page description language, a whole new world opened up. This
important standard could digitally describe a page of text and graphics,
no matter what type of printer was used—dot
matrix, laser, or ink jet.
Where are we
Computers brought the world of pre-press composition to the consumer level.
Now, with a small investment in equipment and software, a customer can
create his own camera-ready artwork and take it to a print shop for final
production. Does this mean professionals are no longer needed for layout
and typesetting? Not by a long shot. Having a computer and an entry-level
desktop publishing (DTP) [A term usually used to describe the creation of printed documents using a desktop computer. These may be printed directly from the computer using a laser printer, or sent to a service bureau for higher quality output.] package does not a typesetter make. Even if you’ve
mastered the software, design and typesetting still take an artistic eye
and knowledge of the field. Look at a professionally designed advertisement—it
should be clean and easy to read, attracting the viewer without hitting
them over the head. Now look at one laid out by a novice—perhaps using
a multitude of typefaces and unrelated graphics, leaving almost no “white
space”[Areas on a piece which are free of type, graphics, and photos. White space is important in good design. It makes a piece more readable.] to give the eye a rest. Which would you rather read?
In Part 2, learn more about the various printing processes used
over the years.