Thursday, 30 September 2010

My Little Apple Museum . . .

I've been a fan of Macs from the very beginning. Illustrated above is my small collection.
1. Apple Mac II
2. Apple Mac 7100
3. Apple Mac 7600
4. Apple Mac 8600
5. Apple Mac G3 Aqua
6. Apple Mac iMac G3 Graphite
7. Apple Mac iMac
8. Apple Mac Macbook
And just to make up the numbers, iPod and iPhone. Once upon a time I also had a Mac Plus SE (twin drive), but the hard disc melted!

Monday, 27 September 2010

An Application for Everything . . .

When the Apple Mac first appeared the choice of applications was limited to just a few. Aldus Pagemaker, Aldus Freehand, Cricket Draw, Adobe Illustrator 88, QuarkXpress. Pagemaker and Quark competed to be the standard and, at that time, each had its advantages. Pagemaker was easy to use but a bit coarse in positioning text and by embedding images made for large file sizes. Don't forget that floppy discs were the order of the day. Quark was more precise, a little more complicated to use, but used links to images.

Over the next few years Quark was on a mission to become the industry standard page make-up programme and leapt ahead of Pagemaker. Adobe entered the arena, needing a page make-up application they merged with Aldus, improved Pagemaker a little, and then developed InDesign, which eventually superceded PM.

Freehand and Illustrator were used for drawing logos, graphs, charts etc. Again, Adobe obtained Freehand but eventually opted to concentrate on Illustrator and allow FH to return to Altsys.

Quark, InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop have now been developed to the max. They are all probably easier to use and more intuitive, than their predecessors and now there is an application for anything from print to animation and web design.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Little Killer . . .

This is the little devil that started it all in January 1984. Like the small mammals that were around when the dinosaurs ruled, this small, but beautifully formed creature was going to be around long after the archaic methods of typesetting had long gone.

It was like the big bang - suddenly you could see what you were setting as you were setting it. I got my first bite of an Apple in Mid 84. Gestetner were distributing the first ones and I knew a man who was selling them. At first it was DTP (desktop publishing), and it turned everyone that could type into typesetters. The first Macs (named after America's favourite apple, the Macintosh) could only print A4 . . . but what you could get on your A4 - text, headlines, images, runarounds. It was wonderful. But with any major advance, there would be casualties. In my case it was the Compositor/Typesetter. Suddenly there was no need for paste-up artists. The Reading Room was disposed of because of the spell-checker. Soon, when the next development was to link up the Mac to a photosetter there would be no need for film planners, scanner operators, plate makers.

Between the mid 80s and the mid 90s the Apple Mac became the industry standard input device. Its development continued at an astronomic pace. The first Mac had 128k of RAM and an 8Mhz processor, the latest has 3GB of RAM, rising to 32GB and a processor speed of 3.33Ghz.

The print trade union suffered greatly from the new technology. The NGA became the GPMU, already over the years it had merged with SOGAT and SLADE, and finally it was to merge with Amicus and then Unite. No printers - no union. The industry contracted. No trade typesetters as typesetting became affordable. Instead of hundreds of thousands of pounds for Scitex or Linotype or Monotype systems a few thousand would get you a top line Mac and all the software you needed. There were a few companies supplying film but these to would soon dissappear in the digital age. Graphic design studios came and went. One man could now design, typeset, scan, read, colour correct and proof. Colour proofs using Matchprint or Iris soon went and now with digital presses and CTP (computer to plate) there is no need for film. Turn round times shrank. Days became hours, hours became minutes and now minutes have become seconds.

After a Little Downtime (ie Redundancy) . . .

MG Reprographics eventually folded and I found myself experiencing a little downtime. Although, it wasn't long before I was back in the game with Detheridge, a graphic design studio in Cardiff. They had a Linotronic 300 system with a Pageview screen (pictured above to the right). This was good for seeing what you had set, but that's all you could do. You couldn't make any corrections unless you went back to your floppy disc. Again, this machine produced bromides for paste-up up to 72 picas (305mm) wide and was command driven ie a command for the width, leading, for font size, indents, tabs, etc, etc. It was bad enough proof-reading your work let alone proof-reading your commands. Within 6 months I was running the Typesetting Department and developing a good working relationship with the Studio. The Linotronic and other digital machines were now becoming more common but hiding just around the corner was the Mac and my time at Detheridge was to come to an end in 1991.

The Next Step . . .

When I left Qualitex, in 1978, my next job was for a trade typesetting company, ECG Reprographics Ltd. They used Linocomp 2 machines. I had used a Linocomp 1 when on block release at the School of Printing, Australia Road. The Linocomps were desktop phototypesetting machines producing bromides for paste-up. However, they were restricted in that the only view you had of your setting was a small marching screen of about 50 characters. The Mk 2s were only a little more advanced than the Mk 1s. They were fair workhorses at the time but the film strips used tended to scratch easily and pick up dirt which seriously affected the crispness of the type.

ECG became MG Reprographics in the early eighties and the directors decided on purchasing a Berthold TPS6000 system. This meant spending two weeks in 1982 in London training at Heidelberg in Chiswick as the Falklands conflict began.

The Berthold was similar to a Monotype caster/Monophoto, in as much as it was noisy due to it being electro-mechanical and used glass matrix grids through which the font was exposed. It could hold up to 7 fonts plus a ruling grid. The quality of the output was exceptional but you were restricted to producing either A4 or 300mm x 300mm bromides. Again, the main drawback was that you couldn't actually see what you were producing unless you had the extra page view screen. The total amount of setting was 100 lines of text and the 7 inch floppy disc.

I operated this equipment for the next eight years.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Loud Clacketty-Clack . . .

I spent the last two years of my apprenticeship getting to grips with the Monotype keyboard, enabling me, eventually, to touch-type. The Monotype keyboard was pneumatic machine which punched a wide paper tape, making the calculations for justifying each line of type. The spool was then put on the caster where it would read the last punch first and set itself, ready to cast each line of type.

The keyboard was made of heavy cast iron with 7 keyboards (roman upper case, roman lower case, italic upper case, italic lower case, bold upper case, bold lower case and small caps). By depressing a key the paper tape would be punched and a pointer rise up a spinning ready-reckoner drum which would indicate the combination of keys to be pressed for the justification setting. When the job was finished the spool would be taken to the Casting Room where it would be placed on a caster. The caster would read the tape, last perforation first, set its word spacing, and position the matrix case over the metal injector to receive the hot metal and push the type character by character, line by line out of the side and onto a galley.

Both machine rooms were noisey places, the Casting Room being particularly hot.

For a large general jobbing printer, like Qualitex, the Monotype system held distinct advantages over the Linotype/Intertype systems. Individual characters could be replaced so that a job would not need to return for a complete line to be reset, although one disadvantage was that a galley of Monotype was quite a bit more unstable and many a galley found its way onto the floor, especially if it was incorrectly spaced and then "locked" into a chase.

As Qualitex became more and more litho orientated the need for hot metal diminished and the Keyboard Room shrank from some 14 machines to a couple, which were moved to the loft. By the early eighties hot metal Monotype became obsolete and in 1987 all production of new hotmetal keyboards and casters ceased. A quick demise for a typesetting system that had not changed significantly since its invention towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Exploring in the Dark . . .

When you were deemed proficient in your craft one of the more awkward jobs was to make corrections on press. Qualitex printed a book for the Guild of Graduates, so this involved climbing into the bowels of one of the larger Heidelberg flatbed cylinder presses (I seem to remember Qualitex having 5 flatbeds in total, 3 small and 2 large). The job itself was a small book, about A6, with 32 pages at a time imposed on the bed. If, for some reason, the type took a bash or was just badly worn, then you had to replace the bad characters in the chase. Invariably, the type that needed replacing was in the back of the press and in the dark. So you had to print the text onto your hand and try to work out what was what.

These flatbeds were generally regarded as being on the cutting edge of letterpress printing and, even in the mid-seventies were producing quality print. However, it wasn't long before developments in litho printing overtook these big cumbersome beasts and reduced them to cutting and creasing work, which they still do today.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Another Printer's Devil . . .

Comping stick, tweezers, blunt knife, typescale and apron - the essential equipment for a Hot Metal Compositor. Your stick was the most expensive piece of equipment the apprentice had to buy. There were a few different makes available and Cornerstone was regarded as the best. I had an Adana which I still have. I never subscribed to the dust coat or apron and was always covered in ink and lead.