Printing through the ages


Dating back to the second century, printing has transformed the way we live. Through the years, those in the field have seen firsthand how the industry has changed.

Originally founded in China, printers used wooden blocks, carved to print the letters or symbols needed. Now, most print design is all done digitally, the industry has been reinvented time and time again, leading us to the digital age.

The original printing press revolutionized the way we communicate completely. Now, we see a completely different way of doing something once considered standard.

Robb Carroll, a former pre-press manager with more than 20 years of experience in the field describes the printing process he used that now seems a lost art.

“When I was in printing, everything was done by hand,” said Carroll. “Everything from art boards, shooting each photo with a camera and developing each photo by hand, we mixed ink by hand, sent proofs to customers, after being approved, plates were made, again by hand to mass print the approved design.”

Printing and design was truly an art. Those hired had a skill and worked with their hands. Now, everything is done by a computer, the art in the process is being lost.

“Now days, everything is done on a computer. Small, independent companies are able to acquire large clients that used to require an entire team of skilled pressman. Now, companies are able to do everything all at once. One person can do the work that once took many,” said Carroll.

The industry has seen great change. It has come a long way from the days of hand carved wooden blocks. Print then moved to being cast in iron and pressed, similar to wooden blocks being pressed. After this, the press started to become more mechanical and advanced. Eventually paper on a roll was added, giving the process a more uniform and speedy process.

Moving from the press, typewriters entered the scene. Fast forward to today and we can design print materials on iPads no larger than a thin book.

This innovation and the slow removal of the art process has had some advantages and disadvantages.

Scott Carroll, vice president of manufacturing at a large commercial sheet feed printer, has seen the decline of hands on art in the industry and rise of new and improved innovation.

“Technology has brought many aspects to the industry such as computer-to-plate, computer-to-design, and computer-costing systems. In the past, design was done by hand on paste-up boards. Each page was planned and laid out before any printing. Although the need for true talent and individual craftsmanship has declined over the years, the industry has gained the ability for a quicker turn around on projects, reduction in waste and natural resources, as well as the ability for a green footprint,” said Carroll, referring to what is recently important to companies and consumers.

Those who have seen the many changes printing has taken still enjoy the experience and satisfaction of creating something by hand.

Carroll said he gets satisfaction from “taking a blank piece of paper and turning it into a device for communication, education, or illustration.”

The future holds room for more innovation, inspiration, and reinvention.

“I see continued growth in concept and design of e-books, e-publications, and e-education environments along with cyber marketing concepts to reach consumers at their point of need,” Carroll said.

Is the art form we are losing worth what we are gaining? Although innovation has brought about many advances and improvement to the way we communicate through print and visuals, there is an art that will be lost and forgotten in the process.


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