Printing and Publishing circa 1989

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Looking back 20 years

While I usually like to keep my eyes gazing to the future, this industry changes so fast that it is sometimes fun to look back and see where the printing, publishing and prepress world has been.

When it comes to trade journals and magazines I can be a bit of a pack rat. A couple weeks ago while going through some things in my office, I ran across a Graphic Arts Monthly issue from September, 1989. Remember 1989? The Berlin wall came down. A gallon of gas was 97 cents, A postage stamp cost 25 cents. Batman and Twins were featured on the big screen, while MacGyver and The Cosby show glowed on the small tube. Homer Simpson got his own show. And Microsoft introduced the Office suite of software.

So as I look toward the upcoming Print 09 show in Chicago, I thought I would look back 20 years and share a few things I found in that issue of Graphic Arts Monthly that previewed the Graph Expo 1989 show.

The September 1989 cover of Graphic Arts Monthly featured a cool 3-D image of downtown Chicago. A pair of 3-D glasses was included inside. In 1989 the large building in the foreground was known as the Sears Tower, not the "Whatchoo-talkin'-bout-Willis" tower as it is known today.

The Outlook section where GAM looked at current and future economic trends affecting the industry claimed in 1989 that "Consumer income and Savings are rising and consumer debt is on the decline. Printing and publishing enjoys continued growth, outpacing growth in the overall economy. Newspaper output continues to grow (2.1% growth), as measured by the industrial production index." Wow, how times have changed.

As further evidence of a bygone era, I offer the 10 page article on color drum scanners that begins, "In today's graphic arts industry, the color scanner is widely seen as a symbol of scientific up-to-dateness."  The story went on to say "...there are around 2,400 color drum scanners in North America, with 150 more to be installed by years end." I wonder how many of those scanners are still around today? The article pointed out that the DS 757 scanner sold for as much as $384,500 (!!). How did we ever see a ROI on that? Of course, in 1989 there were very few digital cameras in use - everything was film or reflective art. Everybody came to printers and prep houses with their film because desktop publishing was still in its infancy. CEPS systems from companies like Scitex and Hell ruled the land and Adobe Photoshop 1.0 would not ship until February of 1990.
CEPS (color electronic prepress systems) were the way imaging and pre press production was done in 1989. This Kodak Designmaster 8000 system was featured in a GAM ad.

And speaking of desktop publishing, an article titled, "Design Software Comes of Age" pointed out that "Despite substantial improvements in computer hardware and accompanying strides in software, only about 10% of the design community has made the computer an integral part of its business." Looking ahead, the author wrote, "In the future, high computing power will be used to provide features now found only on half million dollar machines." The story outlined 1989 technical limitations to desktop publishing by adding, "To get an idea of just how much memory storage is required, consider that a single 3.5" x 5" full color, high resolution image alone can consume four to six megabytes (Oh my!). It is only comparatively recently that even 40 MB disk drives have been commonly available on microcomputers." Yikes! 20 years later, I have almost 16,000 times that capacity on my computer, and over 800 times that on my iPhone alone.

Raise your hand if you remember the Kodak Signature color proofing system. This system was one of the first proofing systems that delivered a proof imaged on the actual press stock. But it was a giant, multi-step process that never caught on (thankfully). The GAM ad that the image above ran in also hinted at the upcoming Kodak Approval system stating, "... and in the near future, true halftone direct digital color proofing products." were on the way. The Kodak Approval DDCP system would become a digital proofing standard for more than a decade.

Another article on New York City separation house Kwik International Color also pointed out how expensive workstations were the norm back then.... "A visitor cannot help but be impressed by Kwik's high-technology environment. The company has two complete Hell Chromacom Systems, supported by a room-filling twenty drive units each providing 300 megabytes of image data storage."

While many things have changed in the industry over the last 20 years, the specific art of putting little dots of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink on paper remains essentially the same. It is an analog, good-old-fashioned chemical reaction. Speed and quality have increased, presses are more automated, and the entire route the content takes from creation to the printed page has changed incredibly. Then there is this whole internet thing. In 1989, we were still about five years away from typing "www" on our keyboards for the first time.

Any guesses on where we will be in 2029?

Follow my tweets from the Print 09 show on Monday, September 14 @widenpremedia. 

Topics: Creative

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