Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Paean to Printers

Book artist Xavier Antin has created an edition of 100 books printed with four machines from four technological eras.

Four printers sitting on different-height tables
Called Just in Time: A Short History of Production, the book is printed in the usual process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), but each of the colors is applied by one of the printers as the sheet of paper drops into its paper feed.

The oldest printer, an 1880 stencil duplicator (known to us oldsters as a mimeograph) was used for the magenta; a 1923 spirit duplicator (again, the trademarked name we know is ditto) printed the cyan color; a 1969 laser printer did the black, and a 1976 inkjet laid down the final color, yellow.

Color page from a book; it looks funky and out of register
You can see the result doesn't look like commercial printing, nor is it intended to. I'd love to see one in person.

Dittos and mimeos hold a special place in my memory. I can still remember the smell of a fresh ditto; I imagine those solvents were responsible for the loss of a few of my brain cells. The mimeo were patented by Thomas Edison (I didn't know that!) and licensed to the eponymous A.B. Dick in 1887. It was Dick who trademarked the name "mimeo."

The irregular newspaper I edited my senior year of high school in the late 1970s was first printed with purple dittos; we were thrilled to be upgraded to mimeos after a few issues. It was even more special when we got access to the electrostencil machine, which made it possible to draw artwork and have it burned into a stencil, rather than trying to draw on the stencil.

Mimeos were completely supplanted by photocopiers after I left college. According to the Wikipedia, they're still common in developing countries because they're cheap, easy to use and fix, and can be run without electricity. Sounds like a good reason to bring them back here, too. Here's another cool fact: the sheets were made from waxed mulberry paper.

I didn't see my first laser printer until 1985. Because I was accustomed by then to phototypesetting machines, which made a symphony of clunks and clicks as they set type, I almost couldn't believe it when the laser printer silently spat out a sheet of black type without the aid of photochemicals. I knew then that the end of typesetting was in sight.

via Boing Boing

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