Past Print Future - Print’s Triple X Digital Journey

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

The digital printing industry has been blossoming for many years but this year, 2018, marks an important milestone.

It is 30 years since Xeikon, one of the earliest pioneers of the direct digital colour press was founded. And it’s 25 years since the Xeikon DCP1 and the Indigo E-Print 1000 were introduced at IPEX, along with the Agfa Chromapress. The Chromapress was based on the Xeikon engine with an Agfa front end system and was one of the first integrated digital production systems on the market. The response back then to the whole idea of digital production printing was a mix of bemused fascination and outright disbelief. How far we have come!

Xeikon has invited Ed Boogaard and me to take you on a Triple X journey. Over the coming months, we’ll explore digital printing’s evolution and what it can tell us about the possible futures for media and communications, especially the printed variety. Through conversations with colleagues and leading players in the industry, we’ll traverse the graphics landscape of the last three decades. We hope to find insights and ideas for what to expect in the coming years.

Three pillars of DTP
In 1988 when Xeikon was founded, graphics production technologies were still predominantly analogue. However the desktop publishing (DTP) revolution was bringing page layout and production control to the masses, and reshaping the very foundations of the publishing and printing industries.

The DTP revolution was based on three fundamental technologies. Apple’s Macintosh was the first affordable desktop computer with a graphical user interface. It ran Aldus PageMaker, which would eventually be part of Adobe’s InDesign page layout software. The Mac’s raster image processing to screen and printer was handled by Adobe PostScript, the universal page description language, from which Adobe PDF is derived. PostScript provided device independent output for data files, initially driving the Apple LaserWriter at 300dpi and Linotype’s Linotronic 300 typesetter at 2540dpi. Soon virtually all digital typesetters were PostScript compatible, and data could be processed direct to output in diverse workflows. At first the output devices were typesetters imaging film, but the model soon extended to platesetters and to digital printing devices.

Foundations for progress
The rudiments of today’s digital prepress and media production models were all there in 1988. Within a few short years the market had multiple options for producing high quality colour output, direct to press, and these technologies continue to drive change in graphics supply chains. From textiles and packaging to 3D manufacturing, they support business models that did not exist all those years ago. From text messaging and email through to social media and of course print, the seeds of today’s communications models were sown in the graphics industry of 1988. Looking ahead digital data production is marching relentlessly forwards, incorporating ever more innovative media applications.

With a series of blogs and activities between now and November, Xeikon is celebrating not just its own 30th birthday. The celebrations extend to digital printing in general and its profound influence on our media landscape. From books on demand to bespoke variable data labels, modern graphics production applications are the output not only of digital press innovations, but also of the industry’s broader digital heritage. The technology will drive many more innovations, as yet unimagined. We applaud and embrace this exciting world, even if we do not yet know what it will look like. I am honoured and flattered to be included in this project and look forward to sharing memories and musings with you over the coming months. Remember that what’s past was once the future, and that the future is shaped with every moment of every day.

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