When you start working on a project about how print started its digital journey 30 years ago, the first question that springs to mind is: what were you actually doing, back in 1988? For me, it was the start of my final year at the School of Printing and Graphic arts (today called the Mediacollege) in Amsterdam
Fascinated by ‘full colour’
I had entered this school with no printing knowledge or background, but simply became fascinated and intrigued by the combination of creativity and technology I had seen at one of its Open House events. I vividly remember being explained ‘full colour’ – a concept completely unknown to me – and feeling eager to find out more about print. (That, and the promised prospect of a secure job in what was considered a future proof industry.) It proved love at first sight – right from the moment I held my composing stick in my left hand, setting my first line of type with my right.
Our one-day school-visit to Drupa in 1986 stayed with me mostly for by the scale of it all: both impressive and confusing at the same time. But the advances in technology that must have been on show there, started to catch up with us pretty soon, as learning how to enter code into a brand new phototypesetting system replaced the lessons in composing type by hand in my second year. And while we were still having classes in computer programming (‘if/then/else’), we were invited to have a look (‘only look, don’t touch it’) at the very first Apple Macintosh computer that had been set up at our school – a glimpse of what was about to change the industry I was about to enter. But no mention of ‘digital printing’ just yet.
My first look at digital printing
Honestly: Ipex 1993 and the introduction of digital colour printing went passed me completely. Working at a printing house that seemed to be expanding its business continuously, I tried to put all I had learned at school to practice and getting educated on the job at the same time. However, I do remember seeing ‘digital printing’ in action for the first time. While visiting the national print exhibition Grafivak in Amsterdam, looking for equipment to expand the capabilities of our GTO presses, a colleague and I curiously stop at a crowded booth. We see – what must have been – an Indigo press, printing twelve different full-colour sheets in sequence, producing a complete calendar in one go! We just could not quite get our heads around it and failed terribly to see what this technology might bring – despite us handling very short runs in full colour every day and always trying to figure out ways to produce of a broad range of business cards in a more efficient way.
On a journey in print
Fast forward to 2000. I have just changed career by joining the editorial team of the weekly trade magazine Graficus. Drupa is coming, the ‘Digital Drupa’. And I’m invited. I get to see under the hood of the Nexpress. Dicoweb gets unveiled. Xerox has a complete hall to itself, showing the Futurecolor behind a curtain. Xeikon and Indigo are absolute ‘must sees’. Digital printing is set to change this industry, and it is going to be the main theme I cover for the next seven years during my time at Graficus. And it still is today, now a freelance writer and journalist, focused entirely on the graphic arts industry.
For the past thirty years, my love for print never faded. The same goes for my curiosity about the technology, the people and the business behind it all. Back in 1988, the foundations were being laid for what is now defining the future of this industry. I look forward working together with Laurel Brunner on this ‘Past Print Future’-project, tracing the digital journey of print. I sincerely hope you will join us, sharing your stories, successes and expectations – not just to stroll down memory lane but to also celebrate the present and explore the roads to the future of print as well.