Reflections on print production

Published:  September 24, 2012
Matt Hird
Reflections on print production

Much has changed in the last 25 years in the world of pre-press and print production bringing significant implications for designers and agencies, and the way they work.

With the rise of digital processes and technological advancement of computers and software, increasingly more backyard designers have emerged much to the dismay of print production departments. The graphic reproduction trade has had to reinvent itself numerous times. Sadly this has not happened without losing those businesses unable to afford the cost of evolving with the times.

All across the world pre-press trade houses have been transformed from stand-alone businesses to small departments within larger printing companies. Now with technology at the level it is at, turnaround from the time a design is approved by the client to the completion and delivery of printing, is astonishingly quick. But it wasn’t always like this.

Let me give you an idea of how it used to be back when I started in pre-press in the late 1980s. All artwork received had to be carefully considered and thought out by the designers as any changes after the pre-press process had begun, incurred massive costs. Pre-press was actually an additional cost to design and printing.

Back then we would receive art-boards with four colour transparencies and scamp drawings with swatch and colour breakdowns. The pre-press team would need to shoot the artwork on a vertical or horizontal camera then the images/trannys would be mounted on a drum scanner and broken down into four colour separations. This would then be hand planned together on clear foils using sticky-tape, opaque paint, tints and ruby lith. All colour trapping needed to be considered and was achieved using different exposures on film (spreads and chokes). Once the job was ready it was combined using a process of various light exposures on film to give you the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black Film for the printer to then impose up on plates and thus print the job. Depending on the complexity of the design it could take up to a day to produce the four-colour film for an A4 ad and weeks for more complicated magazines. I still remember being locked down in a darkroom shooting planned up sections and halftones for days at a time.

Back then there were very few last minute copy or image changes let alone full redesigns and if there was, the cost implications were staggering. In those days the designer was a true visionary using sketches and drawings to sell out the vision of a campaign.

Some may argue that technology has made designers lazy or less committed to their vision of design, changing things last minute and tweaking jobs right up to the time of hitting the press, but I don’t think this is the case. Computers and software developments have made our life a lot easier to realise the vision of design and to get artwork into production. This has enabled designers to push their own boundaries by exploring multiple concept options and to find the best solutions to difficult design problems.

While designers are now able to explore different layouts and concepts with ease, printers are also able to handle a lot more work with smoother and more streamlined efficiency. Direct to plate and PDF workflows combined with the latest imposition software, digital and offset printer technology means more affordable and higher quality printing than ever before. As an example you can now combine variable data files with offset quality digital printing for short runs at a price that was never realistic before.

The marketing potential that is now available to small businesses through print media is unlimited especially when you start combining it with online, but that’s another story.

One Response

  1. I don’t particularly think designers have gotten lazy, however clients have – often not proof reading or checking work before sending it through to a designer and always changing their minds right up until work is on the press and even after. That is the most frustrating thing.

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