Manroland 700 printer at Scotprint
Manroland 700 printer with paper being fed into the printer off a roll

In what could be considered to be one of the stranger decisions of a publishing student, I ventured eastwards out of Scotland’s capital to Scotprint to observe the modern day printing process. You may be asking why this is strange? Well, firstly it seems that this most vital part of the publishing industry, that of actually printing the item you have worked on for a large period of time, seems to be forgotten about. After all, doesn’t the publisher just send the files to the printer and then a few days/weeks later a pile of books come back? Well many would probably be led to believe that that is how the process works. After all, surely the process can’t be anymore difficult that hitting Command+P and waiting for the printer to spew out the relevant number of pages times the relevant number of copies. I.e. fill in the print dialog box, go and grab a cup of tea and relax. This of course bares no similarity to the way an offset lithographic press works. With these, everything is different. It is even cheaper to buy new ink supplies than a whole new printer.

Offset lithography printing is a process that involves printing each of the four colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) separately, and not necessarily in that particular order using aluminium plates. These plates, transfer the image onto a blanket and then this image, which is now ‘gnidaer gnorw’, is then transferred onto the paper (hence, offset). These printers can also achieve speeds your inkjet printer can only dream of, and can make the internet seem slow, when they are pushing out 12,000 sheets an hour, or just over three pages a second.

Apart from the printers, there are also the printers and all the other people who keep the printers working, from estimating to prepress, to folders, to guillotiners, to binders, but the printing process is in someways the most fascinating, due to its use of chemistry and the very fact that a machine can run at 12,000 sheets an hour, all the while printing four colours (plus a sealer) on one side, flipping the paper over, and then printing four colours (plus a sealer) on the reverse.

My time at Scotprint, was most invaluable, as it gave me an insight into the part of the industry that actually has to produce the finished product and shows the problems that printers can face due to poorly prepared artwork on the designers side. It shows that when designing something for print, you have to think about the medium that is being used to publish your message and the limitations it provides. Just because InDesign®, Illustrator® and Photoshop® will allow you to do things, doesn’t mean they can be easily reproduced when it comes to the printing side of things. After all, it is not the designers job to work out how their book will fit onto a sheet of paper and how the pages will be imposed so that page 1 follows on from page 2(!)

When it comes to publishing, we should give more praise and thanks to the printers (and here I use the term to refer to the whole printing process) who actually turn the pixels on the screen into dots on the page.