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Industry Tribute - Andrew Tribute

July 14, 2012

LOOKING BACK: 50 years on printing's cutting edge

My career in this industry has been one where I have been closely involved with almost all the industry changing technologies, often one could say at the "bleeding edge."

I first entered the printing industry in September 1961 when I started my degree course in Printing Management at the London College of Printing (the UK equivalent of RIT). When I entered the industry my strategy was to end up as CEO of a printing company. Following college my first job in the industry was with the largest UK printing group as a member of its management development program, and this appeared the best approach to achieve my strategy. I found however that opportunities for building a long-term career in the industry were not good if you did not want to spend most of your time in sales.

This brought about my move into the IT industry and luckily back in 1967 ICT (now ICL) the UK computer company was setting up a special team to sell computers to the printing and publishing market. This started the career that I have now followed for 45 years of developing and implementing digital solutions for the industry.

There were two technologies I was involved with in my early career that had a huge impact on changing the printing industry: phototypesetting and color scanning. I did my graduation thesis on the subject of electronic color correction. The first company I worked for also was one of the first users of color scanning technology. At that time it would take between 20 to 50 hours of work using cameras and special films to get a CMYK image balanced for printing.

Phototypesetting greatly speeded up the process of typesetting vs. hot metal. A further major benefit in addition to speed was that the output was ready for offset platemaking whereas hot metal output had to be converted via a camera into film for platemaking. Phototypesetting and color scanning were the major factors that caused the printing industry to switch from letterpress to offset lithography. The switch to offset also pushed a move to color printing, as offset was a better process for such work. The first company I worked for put in one of the first four-color presses in the UK. At that time the choice was only between Roland and Crabtree. Heidelberg at this time did not make any offset presses.

At the time I started computer input was only by punched cards or paper tape. In 1968 at ICL we introduced our first visual display terminal purely for correcting punched paper tape. Such display terminals were just starting to be used connected to large mainframe IBM, Univac and Burroughs computers, but I think we had the first such terminals for printing applications. I was very lucky in this job as I was involved in designing systems for use by newspapers and magazine publishers throughout the world, and this was the start of my world travelling.

Following five years helping newspapers and magazine publishers redesign the way they operated through the use of computers I started working with databases linked to very high-speed CRT based phototypesetters for handling the typesetting of products like airline timetables, library catalogs, reference publications, etc.

Imaging has always been a great interest and in the late 1970s I was responsible for the marketing of the world's first laser imagesetter, the Monotype Lasercomp. The term imagesetter showed the real change that this brought about as now for the first time complete pages including pictures could now be set in one pass. It took time for this to happen, as at that time there were no systems that handled page make-up, and stripping multiple pieces of typesetter and camera output together did all page assembly. The introduction of the Lasercomp was the technology that started the move to full page make up, and later into output directly to printing plates with CTP.

Color was still complicated and expensive. Color scanners had improved incredibly since their introduction in the early 1960s, but they only handled a complete picture. Any editing of the image was still a manual retouching process. In 1979 I attended the Italian GEC printing exhibition and managed to get into an invitation-only demonstration by a new company, Scitex. Here I saw the future of color demonstrated by the charismatic Israeli genius Efi Arazi. On a large color display terminal he showed what was amazing image editing to introduce electronic airbrushing. What he showed in five minutes was the same as we used to do in the first company I worked for by manual dot etching that could take in excess of 50 hours. Overnight the world of color publishing and printing changed. Soon it was not just Scitex in this area of the market but also Crosfield, Dainippon Screen and Hell. For the next ten years high-end color workstations for image editing and page assembly were the tools that changed the color market.

All of the above however were systems using proprietary hardware and software, but at this time another revolution was taking place with the arrival of the personal computer. For the publishing and printing industry this was to have a huge impact particularly with the Apple Macintosh. Some years before the Mac appeared I had been sold on the concept of graphics user interfaces, mice and high-resolution graphic displays. I first saw this on a Xerox Alto workstation at MIT in Boston. The Xerox Alto was the workstation developed at Xerox PARC and which had convinced Steve Jobs that this was the future of computing. Before the Mac was released I also worked on this technology on a Perq workstation, the first commercially available graphics workstation. When the Mac was announced I was completely convinced this was the future, and have been a Mac user ever since. Therefore the arrival of desktop publishing (DTP) using the Mac, Adobe's PostScript, and Aldus Pagemaker software showed me the future of the industry.

DTP was the culmination of many proprietary technologies that I had worked up over many years, but running on standard low cost hardware and software. The output was on laser printers whose operating technology used many of the concepts Monotype had introduced with the Lasercomp. I was lucky that I had just started my consulting career when DTP was announced and I became the DTP 'guru' in Europe. I was also lucky to link up with Seybold Publications working as their international editor alongside my consulting practice and this opened up huge opportunities. The 1980s and 1990s were a key period in the way new technologies were being introduced to change the market, and Seybold was the accepted worldwide authority. I was in on the ground floor of developments of desktop color that killed off the high-end color systems. I remember working with one of the national newspaper publishing groups in the UK implementing the first full page assembly using Macs and replacing its major Crosfield color studio with an all desktop color approach. Doing this allowed the newspaper to change pages with full color images and have them on the press within 30 minutes, compared with three hours for the early system.

Digital color printing was another area where I was lucky to be in at the very start of the market. I had worked with monochrome digital printing in the early 1980s with the Xerox 9700 and later the Xerox Docutech. One thing I remember was what I think was the first ever personalized digital print done by Elanders in Sweden in 1983 on their Xerox 9700. Despite this early start today only a small proportion of digital printing is personalized. In 1992/93 I consulted for Indigo in helping plan the launch of their first press at IPEX. I also wrote the first full evaluation of the Xeikon press in time for its announcement also at IPEX.

Over the past 50 years I have seen and been involved with massive changes in the printing and publishing industries predominantly brought about by digital technologies. These changes are not stopping and in fact such digital technologies are now key in shaping the future of the industries though a merging of electronic and printed information delivery. I have been privileged to have been involved in many of the changes that have redefined our industry throughout my career in this industry that I love. I'll definitely miss it but I now look forward to enjoying my retirement and the opportunities that creates.

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