In this age of digital content distribution, most of us probably think about publishing as a clean digital process with sleek computers, mutable fonts and hi-tech reading devices, rather than a messy, dirty manufacturing process. In fact, even most modern manufacturing facilities aren’t messy or dirty, but clean and efficient. The dance of creating things in those environments is so often shielded from our eyes these days that we aren’t often connected to the process that creates the thing you purchase in a store or order from an online shop. In part, there’s a loss to this, since there is a real art in manufacturing, especially in printing. An excellent example of this is the YouTube video below, entitled, How Ink is Made, produced by the Printing Ink Company.
It was years into my publishing career before I stepped foot into a “real” print manufacturing facility. I qualify this by adding “real” because my first tour of printing facility was during my time at Haworth Press in the mid 1990s. At the time, Haworth maintained its own manufacturing facility, the space was more like a warehouse containing a very busy Kinkos than what might envision when picturing a traditional print shop. One of Haworth’s innovations was printing digital books and journals using a DocuTech Production Publisher Model 135 (DT135), which was simply a large, powerful digital photocopier. While the Haworth shop was efficient and flexible, it wasn’t what I had in my own mind of what a printer was like. It wasn’t until years later that I saw a massive working 4-color press with the massive rolls of paper lifted by forklifts. The scale and efficiency of the process was amazing. If you ever have the opportunity to tour a large-scale printing facility, I strongly encourage you to do so.
How many of us involved in publishing have any connection to the ink, paper and binding process of the great quantities of physical materials we produce? It seems that the manufacturing process that has for centuries been so central to what it means to be a publisher is fading into the background. Years ago, electronic production was an after thought. With journals, we very likely have made a shift and books are rapidly moving in that direction as well. Today, we may be entering a world where the print version is an after thought, something that is prepared for special occasions or special distribution. In this, something likely will be lost; more than just the feel of the paper, but the art of creating a beautiful object.
Though a few years old, video is an excellent reminder of the passion and precision that goes into manufacturing the printed items we still use and rely on every day. We might not always think about the detail that goes into every printed object we pick up, but often it is there. The same loving care for the process could be said of many of the editors, they typesetters, the binders and distributors who work behind the scenes in our processes. They deserve a bit of honoring from time to time.