Three centuries after Gutenberg printed his Bible, the print industry is thriving and technically relatively unchanged, and yet that is all about to change. The Industrial Revolution of the mid-18th century (now referred to as Industry 1.0), saw steamships displace sailing vessels, hand-powered machinery replaced with steam or waterpower, and the growth of cities as industrial-based economies replace agricultural economies. For the print industry, this meant higher production speeds, the introduction of metal-constructed presses and, new prepress technologies that expanded the market for printed products.
The use of iron as a construction material for the printing press reduced the forces necessary to operate the press and allowed for an increase in the print area. Production speeds increased to 480 pages per hour. With the integration of steam power, print production increased to 2,400 pages per hour by 1818, The Times of London was first to adopt this technology in 1814. The presses were manufactured by a collaboration of Friedrich Koenig and Andreas Bauer in London, in 1818 they formed Koenig & Bauer AG in Würzburg, Germany and it remains the oldest manufacture of printing presses today.
While the use of metal and steam power increased productivity, advances in prepress opened the doors for greater reproduction quality. Chemical etching of a printing plate began to replace physically carving an image on the printing plate. Lithography, (first developed by a Bavarian actor in 1796 for the printing of economical theatre programmes), works on the principle that oil and water don’t mix. By drawing the image on a piece of limestone using oil, fat, or wax, then treating the stone with a mixture of gum arabic and acid which etched the non-image areas of the stone so water would be retained in the non-image areas and repelled the ink when applied to the stone plate. The image then could be transferred to paper in a conventional manner. Lithography is still used by artists today to produce limited edition fine art prints.
Cylinders had been used to apply pressure to the paper/plate sandwich for some time. The pressure cylinder rolled across the paper produced better image quality and faster transfer speeds. The next advancement in printing was the adoption of cylinder-to-cylinder printing.
The rotary press, invented by American Richard Hoe in 1843, and again, was first implemented by the Times of London in 1853. It required the image to be curved around a cylinder, which would rotate in contact with an additional cylinder, the substrate passed between the two cylinders. This new press design changed prepress/platemaking requirements, introduced new substrates that could be printed, and increased production speeds. These early rotary presses were called letterpress, a technology that would be used to print newspapers until the 21st century.
Metal press construction, chemical etching of printing plates, and rotating cylinder presses were all introduced in less than eighty-years. The winds of change are blowing stronger, and print is about to evolve even faster as the Second Industrial Revolution takes us into the 20th century.
Bio: Stan Carmichael is a photographer by trade who found his way into the pre-press automation business from 1981 through 2005. During this time he directed Canadian sales and customer service efforts for a variety of pre-press technology manufacturers including Crosfield, Indigo, and Xeikon.
Stan remains active in the graphics industry providing sales mentoring and coaching to select individuals as well as sales and marketing consultation to technology suppliers.
Bolles, Albert Sidney, 1846-1939, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons