Archives for category: Book printing

Printing Impressions has a video in which Frank Romano, a well known name to anyone involved in book printing over the past few decades, reports from The Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass. of which he is Chairman and Executive Director.

Mr Romano believes printing has a bright future, but he sees it as likely to be less involved with ink on paper, as with ink on almost anything else. This prediction is also made by Mark Hahn whose Target Report (on mail-order printing) at Printing Impressions emphasizes the trend towards personalization in print too.

For the time being, however, we are living through a time of high demand for ink on paper printing — for books. Books are selling well, so all publishers are scrambling for such book manufacturing capacity as remains. Paper is in short supply, too many plants have closed down, and the remaining capacity is stretched thin because, in a time of surging demand, like so many businesses, printing is finding it hard to coax people back to work after coronavirus shutdowns. And it’s not just printing: it’s harder and harder to find space in a shipping container. We keep being told we are short 600,000 truck drivers in the U.S.A. (the union says 1.1 million) — so even if the books do get made it’s almost impossible to get them shipped in a reasonable time. Cynically one might anticipate an easing of these labor shortages as well-deserved support measures for out-of-work workers come to an end over the next few months.

Risograph is a brand of digital duplicator made by Riso Kagaku Corporation and first released in 1980. This printing technique is a stencil duplication process, analogous to mimeograph. A digital file may be uploaded or an original scanned in and this digital information is used to “burn” tiny voids in a master sheet, one per color used. As with silk screen printing, ink is forced through these holes to create the printed piece.

Digitalartsonline has a good introduction to riso printing featuring the work of four artists, who all emphasize the importance of learning to make the limitations of the process work for you.

Risograph print by Rope Press

“Riso printing is a high speed, low cost alternative to screen printing. This process combines the ink-on-paper look of traditional screen printing with the speed and affordability of Xerox printing. Perfect for flyers, books, zines, brochures, artist editions, cards, 7″ jackets, cassette & cd covers, and much more.” — From Oddities Prints.

Oddities Prints, of Kansas City, are quite upfront about the limitations of riso printing. They show this graphic, and suggest if register like this will upset you, that you rethink you printing plan. They also illustrate the tendency of the roller which advances the sheet through the printer to smudge the ink it travels over. But it is cheap and cheerful.

Joel Quadracci obviously knows the printing market a lot better than I do, but I can’t help feeling that in this particular context it’ll be a matter of both-and rather than either-or when we get past this virus business. Quad seems to be betting on a digital future for those supermarket brochures advertising sale items and pushing other inventory. Printing Impressions brings a note of a Milwaukee Business Journal story which lives behind a paywall.

I avoided supermarkets for months during the pandemic (in New York supermarkets tend to squeeze their aisles rather close together because of the cost of real estate). In this I was hardly unique, and I expect the handouts were scarcely needed. Now that we are all opening up again I see they are still there, and no doubt justifying a bigger print run than they would have six months ago. Of course, as I rarely look at the grocery-store circular anyway, I’m probably not qualified to judge whether the option of seeing it online will mean that the paper version becomes redundant. Having exited the book business Quad continues to close plants, while at the same time acquiring the contract for providing an on-line grocery circular. Perhaps their on-line circular bet is allied to a gamble that on-line groceries are going to be the way we go in future. Delivery services have been great, and I can’t imagine we’ll never use them in the future — they are especially good for heavy stuff! — but so much about food buying makes you want to see what you are buying before you put it in your supermarket cart, and this I think will prevent grocery shopping going fully online. Maybe they hope we’ll all be walking through the store with our phones in hand rather than looking where we are going.

We are used to this sort of encomium being directed at Gutenberg’s Bible, but Edward Burne-Jones, not totally disinterested it’s true — he did the illustrations — when he spoke of “a pocket cathedral . . . the finest book ever printed” was referring to The Kelmscott Chaucer.

The University of Delaware has organized an exhibition, which is available online here, to mark the 125th anniversary of the book’s publication on 26 June 1896. There are events worldwide, and a comprehensive list may be found at The William Morris Society’s website.

This prospectus describes the binding options for the book, and offers copies at prices which of course startle today’s readers. Notice the warning about the ink used: a full year’s drying was required before the sheets would be safe for folding and forwarding!

William Morris established the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith in January 1891. Between then and 1898, the press produced 53 books (totaling around 18,000 copies). After an age which had ushered in mass production, Morris wanted to demonstrate that the craft standards of the past could be repeated – even surpassed – in the present. Kelmscott books reinvigorated the ideals of book design and inspired better standards of production. Numerous other presses were set up to perpetuate Morris’ aims, including the Doves, Eragny, Ashendene and Vale Presses. Fine arts printing is important of course, but we had to wait till the 1930s for the practical application of these design principles to “normal” books. Stanley Morison was central to this design revolution. Today’s book buyer has to thank William Morris that today’s production values aren’t even worse than we’ve allowed them to become.

I have to confess that William Morris, socialist though he was, was always a bit of too much for me. Earnestness is of course important, but it can be a bit wearing. Remember the fashion for Morris wallpapers and furnishing fabrics: too intense. And books to my mind do benefit from white space. Still, a great, energetic and good man.

Oxuniprint is to close. Well, with a name like that, carrying on must have been daunting!

The Bookseller informs us that Oxford University Press is closing their Kidlington plant, Oxuniprint Ltd., which represented the last remnant of OUP’s long printing history in Oxford. This started in 1478, with a book with a typo in the date of printing! Oxuniprint produces flyers, booklets, brochures, newsletters and magazines for internal and external clients. When this plant goes, on 27 August, twenty people will lose their jobs. The Union, Unite, is understandably displeased. The Guardian and Print Week provide a little more information.

This news comes on the heels of the announcement of the closure of OUP’s warehouse in Cary, NC. Warehousing functions in the U.S.A. will now be subcontracted to Ingram. Lots of other kinds of work went on in Cary, and a search for new offices is underway. Many other publishers, including Cambridge University Press, have already taken this road. Ingram becomes ever more central to our book industry. Ingram may turn out to be the answer to Amazon*.


*Actually, let me say I don’t really see why we need an answer to Amazon. The question posed by Amazon is I suppose, “How do you feel about half your books being sold by a single retailer”. My answer would be “Might be nice if other retailers could do even half as well, but as long as you sell ’em we’ll keep on making them”. Yes, of course, a powerful retailer like that can demand bigger and bigger discounts: but if someone else was doing as good a job, they’d be the ones seeking the discount. And discount demands can only go on until the absolute bottom is reached: if you will lose money on the sale, you’ll quickly decide to withdraw from the market. I say, as long as we make our margins, keep on rolling old man river.

Also, remember that to “compete” with Amazon you don’t have to eliminate Amazon. A few sales direct to retail customers will sugar a lot of pills.

Translates literally as plate glass, which because of shop-window associations we might better render as glass plate*. This name gives some idea of what cliché-verre is. Cover a plate of glass with an opaque coating and scratch a drawing into it, or alternatively paint an opaque design onto a transparent plate, and there you are, ready to make a photographic reproduction by exposing the plate onto a sheet of photosensitive paper.

Early adopters in the art world of the mid-nineteenth century art liked to experiment with photography. Cliché-verre was one of the earliest techniques they came up with — I guess to some, combining the traditional with the modern has an attraction. The process was superseded after a couple of decades when more effective methods were developed.

Corot: obscurity achieved by two different chemical routes.

You could play around with the output: here (above) the same cliché-verre plate has been printed using different chemicals, but more dramatic contrasts could be a achieved by printing with the paper in contact with the drawing, or in reverse with the exposure being made through the thickness of the glass. This would result in a spreading of the lines, imparting a sort of foggy blur which might occasionally be considered an asset. Here’s an example by Millet. His signature may tell us which one he was going for.

As you’d expect, because of the accent, our word cliché, meaning a trite, overused expression, comes from the French, where cliché means (in printing) a stereotype block or a printing plate, and (in photography) a negative. It’s basically the past participle of the verb clicher which just means to make a metal reproduction of type (to make a stereo). The leap from the printing house to critical discourse seems unlikely without the intervening step of the photographic negative, from which obviously many, many repetitive prints can be made. So while clichéd may be taken as a negative epithet, it is actually really truly negative.

The Clark Institute in Williamstown recently had an exhibition reviewed here by Antiques and the Arts Weekly. The prints on display come from Quarante Clichés-glace, published in 1921 by Maurice Le Garrec. Apparently in those days they were called ice plates. The exhibition site describes the production as “Portfolio of clichés-verre, gelatin printing out prints”. Unfortunately the exhibition closed on May 16th, but there’s a lot of information at the Clark’s site.


*The temptation to translate as glass print should be avoided as this term has, we are told by Wikipedia, already been taken by a process which sounds almost unbelievable. Allegedly a glass print is made as follows: a print is glued face down onto glass, and the paper is then carefully rubbed off to leave only the ink film on the glass. This process, whose very existence I wonder about, has now in any case been rendered redundant by our ability to get an inkjet printer to print photos directly onto a primed glass. Artmill has a good description, and assure us that acrylic or plexiglass is a better option than glass itself.

Via Kathy Sandlers’ Technology • Innovation • Publishing comes a link to this story from New Atlas about a process for turning paper into an interactive surface.

This piece of paper has been printed in such a way that it can function as an electronic keyboard. Photo: Purdue University.

Ramses Martinez of Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering, isn’t giving away the secret sauce when he tells us “We developed a method to render paper repellent to water, oil and dust by coating it with highly fluorinated molecules. This omniphobic coating allows us to print multiple layers of circuits onto paper without getting the ink to smear from one layer to the next one.” They claim that printing is quite cheap and can be carried our with conventional printing techniques. Perhaps we can expect early adoption in the printing of food packaging, where the technology might be used to signal freshness.

Professor Martinez reports that a sheet of paper printed by their technique can be made to function as a music player, as may be seen in this video.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

We recently received a booklet from Sephora which includes thirteen transparent, Band-Aid-shaped labels with a strip of a tacky (no value judgement in this usage) perfume sample under them. Peel back the label and the scents are released. I wondered who printed this, and how.

No way to be sure, but Sixth Scents is a New York company offering a variety of methods of getting scent samples to your customers. The first method, ClearBurst, looks like the one Sephora used. As Sixth Scents puts it “ClearBurst labels are a patented, scent sampling device that delivers encapsulated oils held between two layers of film substrate. When the consumer peels back the top ply, it ruptures the microcapsules delivering an accurate rendition of your scent. ClearBurst labels can be sampled multiple times as the encapsulation heals itself when the ply is resealed. Unopened, the scent has a shelf life of at least one year. There is no pre-scent until the label is opened.” The system seems to be working fine, but there’s a fading risk in something, like a book, which would have a longer shelf life than an advertising piece. In fact after week, some of the Sephora perfume samples have become rather faint. Presumably the perfume sample is printed like a spot varnish. I wonder how hard it is to mix the perfume-carrying “ink”.

The most familiar smell-printing technique is no doubt scratch-and-sniff, where scent particles are carried in a varnish printed onto the page. Scratching releases the scent — which obviously will wear out over time. As far as I am aware this never caught on in a big way for book work, though there are of course quite a few children’s books which have used scratch-and-sniff technology. The sense of smell is a much more powerful sense than we acknowledge. It was “our” first sense, and perhaps for that reason, operates almost entirely autonomously. As a consequence we have never managed/bothered to develop a vocabulary specifying this or that smell: we describe smells almost entirely by simile. Maybe our devaluing of smell-data is what explains our/my reaction to the idea that such smell patches might have a place in a novel. Years ago people spoke about “smell-o-rama” in cinemas. Apparently it was only used once for a 1960 movie called Scent of Mystery. There’s a surprisingly full and informative entry about Smell-O-Vision at Wikipedia. As far as I’m aware nobody has proposed such a thing for adult book use. Is this an innovation just waiting to happen?

Getting ink onto paper is a bit more complicated on a modern printing press than it was in the olden days when an apprentice had to thump a pair of leather ink balls into a pool of ink, bang them together to smooth the film of ink out, and dab the ink onto the type awaiting on the press. Jeff Peachey, a local bookbinder and restorer, has made a couple of such ink balls. He includes at that link a nice illustration of the objects in operation in a 1588 picture of a playing card — one of the earliest categories of printed goods.

Printing ink is rather viscous (thixotropic) and tends to gloop out from the ink reservoir: rollers take charge of it and by turning it this way and that through a series of at least ten rollers, thinning it out and distributing it evenly over the breadth of the roller set. This is perhaps the most important quality bottleneck on an offset press. Recall that lithography works on the basis of the mutual incompatibility of water and oil (represented by the greasy ink), and the balance between the two is of absolutely key importance.

Of course ink rollers are necessary on any letterpress, gravure, silk screen, or offset litho press — and even if you are printing a linocut. Here’s my ink roller:

OK, it needs a better cleaning. In the video at the link about lithography, you can watch a printmaker rolling out the ink on a lithographic stone with a slightly more industrial-scale roller than mine.

The following video is short, and will at the very least introduce you to the ink rollers on a Heidelberg XL106 press.

If you don’t see any video please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

You can read a little more about it all at Heidelberg USA, whence cometh this video. If you want the full details, PrintWiki will fulfill your wildest tech-happy dreams.

Photo: Donald Judge

The Oxford Companion to the Book makes less of a meal of this term than do most reference sources seem like to. They define printer’s devil simply as a “Jocose term for young apprentices in a printing office, so called because they often became daubed with ink when removing sheets from the tympan”.

Atlas Obscura brings us this photo and others in their article, “Printer’s Devil, York, England”. Although in the early days of printing Stonegate was where Yorkers would go to find a printer, times have brought change, and the printing shop is now an old men’s clothing store. They have wisely retained the old printer’s trade sign. Although an old guy who uses clothing I am surprised that this is a business model that seems to have thrived. “Old Guys Rule” was established in the USA in 2003 as a tribute to surfer Doug Craig of whom this remark was made after some cunning surfing move. The company expanded to England in 2008.

Apparently printer’s devils were originally called fly boys. One of the alternative explanations for the devilish name does have an apparent basis in logic of the PR variety: if there was a devil in your workshop this would obviously account for any typos that might be made: couldn’t possibly be you who got it wrong could it? — Frank Steinman, wiser perhaps, attributes these errors to God not the devil.