Labels & Packaging
Welcome to the musings of an industry writer who has been asked to provide some insight into developments in the wider printing world (hence the title of this column).
I do of course have my own publishing arena with Print Business, operating across all channels as one has to these days: LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, email, website and paper. Each has their strengths and all can sit alongside and complement each other when their different merits are recognised. I happen to prefer paper, partly because this suits a journalist best, but also because I believe it offers the most immersive and, therefore, the most valuable means of communicating. Others may have other opinions - let’s hear them.
The main point is that the advent of all the new channels has not destroyed the old. The cliché is that television did not destroy radio, nor has YouTube destroyed television come to that. The news website has not yet destroyed the newspaper or magazine; the Kindle has not destroyed the printed book; electronic billing has not replaced the credit card bill. What the explosion of digital media has done is opened up choice, allowed consumers to choose how they prefer to absorb information. This is no hard and fast rule: for fast facts, the internet is hard to beat; for explanatory articles, a newspaper wins out: a searched for item can be found on myriad web sites; serendipity is best served via paper. And so on. People will use whatever combination of media suits them best at any particular time.
Ultimately as the landscape clears, each channel will find what it is best at and will concentrate on that. And again there will be no straight line, but an overlap and a constantly changing border.
The wider history and experience of print demonstrates this brilliantly. A generation ago litho printing swept all before it, wiping out an industry that for 500 years had worked and refined letterpress printing. But no matter how good letterpress had become, it could not compete against litho’s ability to print colour, offer low costs of production and speed. Today, litho is being challenged by digital technologies which offer advantages in terms of viable run lengths, speed of response and versatility. Likewise screen is fighting a losing battle against wide format inkjet.
But not so fast. Letterpress is back. A chap I know has supplied hundreds of ‘@’ symbols to letterpress printers this year; a film “Linotype: the Movie” is nearing completion; in a Guardian interview film director JJ Abrams extols the virtues of the letterpress set up that his office has. Letterpress may be the steam locomotive to digital’s high speed electric trains, and like steam, everybody loves letterpress. And it has found a proper place in the modern world.
The only business cards to be seen with are ones printed by letterpress. Likewise top notch stationery (the orders of service, invitations and so on for a certain wedding a couple of months ago were printed by letterpress). All at once we have recognised the virtues of a process that has soul, whose slight imperfections run counter to the precision of digital operation. Letterpress is never going to print newspapers again, but it has found its place and will go on, celebrated for its intrinsic qualities.
The same will prove true of screen printing. At the moment digital has all the cards and seems to offer so many advantages that the older process seems doomed. But watch. No process ever disappears completely. Certainly it changes and at some point its real virtues will be recognised. Screen printing may become the perfect way to print solar panels for example. Whatever happens there will be a future for screen, it’s just hard to predict where through the hype-haze created by inkjet.
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