The year is 2015 and I sit here wondering what Johannes Gutenberg and I might have had in common.
- Gutenberg’s year of birth is not precisely known but was most likely around 1398.
- Around 1439, Gutenberg was involved in a financial misadventure making polished metal mirrors.
- It was in Strasbourg in 1440 that Gutenberg is said to have perfected and unveiled the secret of printing based on his research, mysteriously entitled Kunst und Aventur (art and enterprise).
- In 1448, he was back in Mainz, where he took out a loan from his brother-in-law Arnold Gelthus, quite possibly for a printing press or related paraphernalia.
- By 1450, the press was in operation, and a German poem had been printed, possibly the first item to be printed there.
- It is not clear when Gutenberg conceived the Bible project, but for this he borrowed 800 guilders from Fust, and work commenced in 1452. At the same time, the press was also printing other, more lucrative texts (possibly Latin grammars). There is also some speculation that there may have been two presses, one for the pedestrian texts, and one for the Bible. One of the profit-making enterprises of the new press was the printing of thousands of indulgences for the church, documented from 1454–55.
- In 1455 Gutenberg completed his 42-line Bible, known as the Gutenberg Bible. About 180 copies were printed, most on paper and some on vellum.
- Gutenberg died in 1468 and was buried in the Franciscan church at Mainz, his contributions largely unknown. This church and the cemetery were later destroyed, and Gutenberg’s grave is now lost.
Fast forward 565 years, and the world of print has evolved exponentially. From hot metal type ludlow composition, letterpress and wooden furniture locked up in chases, the very essence of what every pressman dreamed of, decades and centuries ago is alive and well today. Mainstream commercial offset establishments stay ahead of the curve by investing in equipment every 4 years, a huge chunk of the industry no longer deals with people in the old conventional way of communication. Almost all transactions are performed online through a consortium of cables, up-links, keyboards, screens and pixels. From point and click to secure online purchasing, uploading to a FTP site of artwork, to dropping prepress files into a hotfolder and assigning it a profile and process of output through devices.
Almost sounds like a foreign language, doesn’t it! But this is where the printing industry has coursed through the years. From exposing negatives and positives in a darkroom, masking out non-image areas with opaque and rubilith tape, placing golden rod for grip, and exposing light-sensitive UV coated aluminum, developing plates with what might be considered toxic and lethal today, hanging plates on presses, making adjustments, twisting plates, 3 flats to a mm, hand adjusting ink keys, without the use of a densitometer, removing hickies with your thumb off the plate surface while the press rumbled along, to hand mixing PMS colors and special order inks on a scale next to the press. Where make-readies on an old Roland Size 6 press would take 4 hours, from hanging plates to running up to color – yes those were the days!
The dynamic of change in the printing industry is one that has seen the biggest shifts from manual processes, requiring 6 people to run a press…
- 2 people on the feeder (alternating between throwing loads, maintaining sheet feeding (meant non-stop running) and offloading at the delivery (also meant non-stop running)
- 1 person assigned to the units for ink replenishment in the ducts, and topping off water units (general dogs body/grunt/fetch and carry)
- 2nd pressman at the delivery end of the press, pulling sheets and checking color, register, hickies, scuffing etc. and performing any other ancillary operations deemed fit by the obnoxious uncouth yelling of the 1st pressman
- 1st Pressman (usually just sat at the front of the press reading the newspaper, eating a sandwich and drinking coffee while yelling commands to the crew)
…to 2 people in unison running a 40″ press, working the feeder, delivery, units and console. Presses come with all the bells and whistles you can think of today. From automatic ink dispensers, to reticulated water units, IR driers, inline static eliminators, Direct to Digital Image laser functionality, and full good to go make-readies from the moment a file is RIP’ped from Prepress to the Press, and sellable within the first 30 sheets, in register, keys set, up to color in no less than 6 minutes.
This is where it began for me many years ago, on a Heidelberg GTO 46. I remember initializing the press with my name and the date I completed my apprenticeship, and wonder if it is still there today?
Today I celebrate my 30th year in the printing industry, and what a journey this has been!
Thank you Johannes Gutenberg for realizing your dream of transferring ink to a substrate, even though you had a hard time, with bankruptcy, lending sharks and every other economic woe of the day – you afforded me a career in an industry that I love, and have running through my veins.
This has been quite a trip…thank you CMYK and the beauty you little screen dots make when combined together!