Printing An Industrial World That Never Stops

May 8, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The next time you hear some computer geek say “Print is dead,” try not to laugh too loudly.

Printing happens to be one of the major components of this region’s economy and it is a business in which change is cascading like a white-water river.

In printing, as in all industries, the computer and ever more sophisticated software — not to mention the Internet — has had an enormous impact on everything from pure capability to employment and from quality control to logistics.

Computers have given printers the means to do what they love best: to have their expensive presses rolling 24/7 while producing an ever-higher quality product with fewer and fewer people. And as in so many other industries, Internet job shopping for and placement of orders has become a fairly standard procedure.

Part of the change in the industry has to do with the highly specialized galaxy of tasks called pre-press work, referring to everything that must be done in order to put a job on a press and to push the start button.

In some segments of the industry, pre-press work has virtually disappeared. What a graphic artist does on a Macintosh in one town can go instantaneously via Internet to a printing press on the other side of the continent, greatly reducing delivery as a cost.

Pre-press light tables certainly haven’t disappeared from the industry yet. But they seem to be on the way to becoming as rare as the Linotype — the ponderous technological advance in hot-lead casting which revolutionized printing in the 1890s, and which now is a museum piece.

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