I’m not just talking through my hat, printing is a strange and wonderful miracle. The printing press has been named as the most influential invention of the last two thousand years. The most influential invention of the last two thousand years–wow! Without printing, knowledge would be limited to a very small class of people. 99.8% of us would live in ignorance. Without the printing press none of the modern day communications would exist. Do you think the telephone and electric light would have gone anywhere without an educated public? How would the engineers, and scientists collaborate if not through the printed word? This computer I’m typing on at the moment, would never have existed in a world without the printing press. Think about it. We wouldn’t be much better off than the serfs in the dark ages without the amazing transformation made possible by the press.
As enamored as I am with the miracle of printing I live and breathe in the actual world of printing, and I’m here to tell you that keeping a printing press in good working order and producing excellent products is a challenge. I’ve heard a great many words spoken about presses other than miracle or fantastic. Those other words are known as printer talk. Printer talk consists of a wide range of impolite four letter words. You know the kind of language I’m talking about, don’t you?
If you see a press operator with a sprained foot and notice dents in the side of the press you can bet it has been a bad day for someone.
You’d think by now, the science and art of printing would have resolved all of the issues. You might think that, but you would be wrong. See, printing is a dynamic business. Things are always changing. Everyday there’s a new ink, a different kind of printing plate, and some exciting new paper that just came out. The varieties, colors, and weights, of paper can be daunting even for the experts.
The number one question I get from graphic designers is about paper. What kind? What weight should I use? Will it look good if I design this, that, or the other on it? I’ll tell you a little secret. The paper mills develop a new paper and send their mill reps out to promote it. The reps spend a lot of time getting the graphic designers stirred up about it. The designers go to the printer expecting to get the same results as the samples given to them by the mill reps, but in the real world, not the world of paper marketing, the designers have half the budget and half the time and they are often working with printers that have not yet experienced that particular paper and don’t have a clue as to how well it will print or what the challenges will be.
I remember a few years ago the rage was translucent papers. I was hired to produce a direct mail project for a prominent advertising agency. The artists were in love with the idea of a see-through envelope. The paper salespeople were excited to have someone order a large amount of stock for the mailing. I was going to get a good commission so it appeared to be a win-win-win for everyone. Wrong. No one knew just how brittle these new papers were. When they went through the mail, with the usual US post office’s normal careful handling, they looked like they had gone through a shredder. The agency was mad. Their client was mad. The paper merchant shrugged, and I somehow got egg on my face. I didn’t specify the paper. I didn’t manufacture the paper. I had never been involved in the printing of that brand of paper and yet I was supposed to intuit the immanent disaster. I’m not Jewish, but Oy Vey comes to mind.