Kurt Wolf’s Digital Print Journey

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

Few people associated with the rise of digital press and print, have such a breadth of hands-on experience as Kurt Wolf.

“After 11 years as cameraman for letterpress, gravure and offset and 22 years in sales for graphic arts film processors, scanner previewer and page make-up systems I started in 1989 as editor for Deutscher Drucker.” When he retired, Kurt was perhaps Deutscher Drucker’s most respected editor. Over the years he has seen much change and many revolutions in graphics technology, both through his work with the highly respected trade magazine and in his consulting career.

In the desktop publishing years and in the early forays into digital printing, Deutscher Drucker was slow to appreciate the implications of what was happening in the market. But Kurt understood how prepress was changing and its likely effect on the industry. “The invention of the personal computer, the development of the pixel-oriented color monitors, and the move from desktop publishing for offices to typesetting and color reproduction for prepress in offset and xerograhic digital printers” were profoundly important advances. They meant that traditional prepress would never be the same but “I had not foreseen that this routine prepress would break down. I only saw it for typesetting.”

It was the Seybold organisation that encouraged companies to focus attention on the possibilities of open systems. When Seybold started testing imagesetters and screening technologies, it became clear that both were advancing at an astonishing pace. Kurt told us that “In 1993 there was the realisation that Hell, Crosfield and the rest had a problem and it took only three years from then that Linotype went bankrupt.” Today the very concept of typesetting is alien to many people. We don’t need it because we output direct to plate or printing press. We don’t need it because layout tools such as Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress take care of composition for us.

Kurt understood early that software and computing languages were key to getting the most out of hardware. Kurt says “The development of PostScript and PDF by Adobe Systems [are the most innovative applications of the past 30 years]. The separation from computers to printer or imagesetter with Postscript was the most important invention. Without that DTP would not had have the chance to enter the conventional printing market.”

Today’s digital production systems have their origins in early front end systems development. Kurt remembers that “When Microsoft came out with a pixel orientated system the entire world could do graphic arts pages and print it out in good quality in direct printing. There were no films or plates so this development changed the world … every computer could be used to produce film for offset or gravure.” This wasn’t all good news however because “The computer and the development of digital text- and image production has ruined the traditional prepress suppliers of scanner and page make-up systems … the development of the complete digital workflow from the customer to computer-to-plate in offset printing has made offset printing more efficient and economic, but it has ruined more than 35 percent of German printing companies.” There have indeed been many casualties in the print industry. But there have been many success stories as well because new technologies create opportunities for digital printing entrepreneurs.

Today there is room in the market for many, many digital printing technologies and applications, however they mostly fall within one of two categories: xerographic and inkjet. Kurt reckons that, “Each one has his own applications. Xerographic or fotoelectric printing uses mostly paper sheets in A3 or A4 oversize. This allows to print a brochure, magazine or other documents from the first to the last page in one printing step. Especially short run jobs are more beneficial and faster produced than in high volume offset.” He adds that “Ceramics, textile the professional textile production that used to be in the hands of a few rich companies that is now available for normal printers.” This continues a process that began in the early days of Xeikon, with the idea that print could be produced more cheaply and conveniently.

Kurt ”experienced the development of prepress and printing from craft in the 1950s to digital and automated color reproduction in the 1980s, from manual typesetting to phototypesetting, from letterpress to offset printing. ” He believes the industry “will continue to generate money with a professional printing service… because we have such bad memories”.

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