Sunday, January 30, 2011

Printing Prep: It's Complicated ...

... Sometimes: Maybe even usually. Printing has always been a field of landmines, especially for those unfamiliar with the territory. In the "old days"--maybe fifty years ago--the industry was fairly stable but staffed, by and large, by journeyman typographers and pressmen who needed significant training to do their jobs. On the other end, publishers and editors were professional middlemen between the printers and authors. Beginning in the fifties, things began to change, slowly at first.

Printing technology began to change from the centuries old "hot type" systems (so named for the way in which type was created out of molten lead) to "cold type" systems that created type on paper and film. The upshot was that you didn't need a four-year apprenticeship to engage in sophisticated in printing. You still needed talent and training, but parts of the process began to be handed over to publishers and editors.

With the advent of computers and phototypesetters, editors (or production staff within publishing houses) could create their own pages of type, paste them up the way they wanted them, correct them as needed and send them off to the printer, where the pages would be turned into negatives, set into forms, and installed on offset presses.

Adobe's development of the Portable Document Format (PDF) has enabled editors and publishers to bypass the pasteup process entirely, giving them more control of the process. Even amateurs, using common programs like Microsoft Word and PDF creators less expensive than Adobe Acrobat, can create printable documents, albeit with less precision and more difficulties.

Digital printing, basically copyprinting, has made short-run and on-demand printing both possible and economical for many publishing applications, including authors publishing their own books. (Traditional printing methods require much waste in the "makeready" phase of the process, which makes printing of 100 books, never mind a single copy, uneconomical.)

Add to that, the reality of people now doing much of their reading--of websites, books, or magazine--on electronic devises and we have seen a revolution in printing and publishing in our own lifetimes.

However, I have seen something like a circling back to "expertise" in the very recent future. Digital printers, a key instrument of publishing access to DIYers, are becoming more demanding in what they expect from publishers (be they "traditional" or "self"). The interface between author/publisher and printer, which had been becoming easier, is showing signs of becoming more difficult. The process increasing requires upgrades in hardware (to the latest operating system), software (to the latest publishing and PDF creation software, which will run on new operating systems and meet printer's and/or electronic distribution standards), and the ability to keep up with accelerating developments in both printing and electronic publishing technology.

This may or may not be a conspiracy of sorts between the makers of operating systems, the makers of publishing software, and printers and distributors.

But it does seem to be a fact. --The Publishing Pro

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