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Printing Just Got Personal: The Evolution Of Print

Evolution of print

Modern technology can feel like a fresh set of clothes compared to the tools we used even a few decades ago. Yet the history of print – reflecting social and scientific change – is pretty fascinating, when you get down to it. We love looking back on where the industry’s been; it leaves the future of printing so much more enticing, as if we can’t ever predict what the next 10, 15 or 20 years will bring.

We’d like to share with you how, after centuries of development, printing got personal, and what paved the way for digital techniques we’ve come to rely on…

The first steps to mass industry

Although printing has been traced as far back as 2nd Century China, its contemporary form made its way West during the 1800s-1900s. Manchester-born Samuel Simon was the first to patent the screen printing method in 1907. He began making sharp, economic print runs for the rich and powerful. To this day, screen printing remains the fastest and cheapest option for large, low-grade batches.

Lithography – that is, printing based on a stone or metal plate – has been around since 1796, primarily for publishing cheap copies of play scripts. The ability to mix several colours was refined in the middle of the 1800s, and boosted the production of (amongst other things) accurate English maps for commercial use.

Expressing the establishment and counter culture

The advent of propaganda, radical art movements and dissident youth sub-cultures from the 1920s-1960s upped the level of mass-produced graphic prints substantially. Images were rolled out for war propaganda and student marches; the American Silk Screen Unit of FAP/WPA was established in 1939, specifically to fund the production of pro-democratic flyers and poster works.

The 50s saw the quality and clarity of lithographic equipment jump to another level. It became the dominant method for big, ‘clean’ batches of corporate and consumer printing. It would eventually spread to most CD covers, book jackets, t-shirts and anything else that requires vivid results on a mass scale.

Refining towards the digital age

While lithographic techniques always rely on the interplay between water and oil, they’ve only gotten better, and more accurate, with the advent of the computer. Digital machines are just one innovation, like rubber and aluminium components, that’ve made a litho print so accessible, efficient, and suited to deep blocks of colour over wide surfaces.

Fully digital prints, however, are climbing ever closer to the top of the mountain, in terms of what businesses and customers want i.e. bespoke designs. The first digital agency was called Indigo – no relation! – which, in 1993, launched the inaugural printer of this type. The company was acquired by HP in 2001, evidencing how much faith was put into this amazing, ultra-tailored style of print production.

First, you build the image of a programme; then, using highly complex formulae, pixels are directed onto the fabric, stationery or paper/cardboard material, telling the ink where to rest. For short print runs, it’s an unbeatable solution – the turn-around is very swift, and there aren’t any setup fees involved! You can therefore be more flexible with your concepts, changing them as you wish.

Indigo Lithoprint draw on the expertise honed by generations’ worth of printers to help you decide what’s best for your requirements. Contact us to see how far lithographic and digital printing have come, and how personalised print can up your brand’s game no end…