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Shop Talk: The Force Is with Us

(February/March 2019) posted on Thu Mar 21, 2019

Print has come a long way since Gutenberg’s celebrated invention.

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By Andy MacDougall

I read an article recently on the website Owlcation about one of the patron saints of print. “Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press: Social and Cultural Impact,” written by Amanda Littlejohn, included a link to a video where you could watch a replica of the original press in action. (It reminded me a bit of Ye Olde Transfer T-Shirt Shoppe in the mall.) And from this contraption, we are all somehow connected. Bet you don’t find that on

I have to confess, I didn’t know much about the guy. A fascinating and familiar story: Had a good job. Became a printer. Died broke. 

Oh yeah, he also changed the world. Time magazine named him “Man of the Millennium” in 1999. That’s our guy, ladies and gentleman. Go, printers! MVP! Yay, team!

It’s not ancient history. What we do remains important today for more reasons than just putting ink on paper. It’s the action of printing – making multiples by transferring one material in a liquid form onto another material, which then forms a newly created product. Traditionally, it was a graphic image like a book, but now it could be a T-shirt, a solar cell, a beer can. Printers make things. 

If there was a system of classification similar to biology, and manufacturing was a kingdom, then print would be a phylum. Print then gets broken into classes. The Big Five:

• Relief, or letterpress – like Gutenberg or a Japanese woodblock (or a Mark Andy flexographic line)

• Intaglio, or gravure – where the surface is etched or engraved and the ink goes in the depression (This is what they are referring to when they try to lure you upstairs to see etchings.) 

• Lithography or offset – where the (stone) plate uses the interference of oil and water (In its modern, mechanized form, the offset press is still the world champ of print volume.)

• Screen printing – where ink is forced through a stencil held on mesh (In primitive form, stencil patterns predated Gutenberg and the other classes identified above. Modern screen printing is only 100 years old, as we all know.)

• Last to the party is digital, the newest class of printing – where ink is spit or released from an array of nozzles directed by a digital signal (Some might argue digital is more of a phylum than a class.)  



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