The Printing Industry Presses On: With the Advent of the Personal Computer and Expansion of the Internet, It Has Become Popular to Proclaim "The Printed Word Is Dead." but This Death-Knell Is Far from the Truth

By Cutshall, Sandy | Techniques, March 2002 | Go to article overview
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The Printing Industry Presses On: With the Advent of the Personal Computer and Expansion of the Internet, It Has Become Popular to Proclaim "The Printed Word Is Dead." but This Death-Knell Is Far from the Truth


Cutshall, Sandy, Techniques


The printing and graphic arts industry has been transformed--not replaced--by new technologies. The coming decades hold exciting opportunities for those entering the field of graphic communications and great challenges for those educating this new workforce.

Think about how many times a day you use printed products such as books and magazines, newspapers, direct mail and advertising circulars, manuals, catalogs and calendars. Now add to the list: T-shirts, buttons, posters and banners, and software and CD packaging. A quick review reveals that--even in the computer age--we are still surrounded by printed products in our schools, offices and homes.

According to Alexandria, Va.-based Printing Industries of America (PIA)--a graphic arts trade association promoting the interests of more than 13,000 member companies--printing is America's third largest manufacturing industry, employing more than 1.2 million people in more than 47,000 establishments, and selling over $160 billion annually.

In fact, PIA says there are more printing plants in the United States than all of the McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell establishments combined.

Printing is a widely varied industry. Commercial printers--which print newspaper inserts, catalogs, pamphlets, and advertisements--make up the largest segment, accounting for 36 percent of employment and 50 percent of shops, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Newspapers make up 29 percent of printing employment. The other one-third of the industry includes other miscellaneous publishing, such as books, business forms and greeting cards.

Despite its prominence, the printing industry is dominated by small- and medium-sized local businesses--most employing fewer than 20 employees. Small print shops are often referred to as "job shops," because what they print is determined by the needs of their customers.

What it's All About

When Johannes Gutenberg began building his printing press in 1436, he probably never guessed he was giving birth to a form of technology that would revolutionize human communication and forever change the path of history.

While the Chinese actually invented printing in the eighth century, it was Gutenberg who developed the first Western movable type press system that worked. His achievement was so significant that Life magazine proclaimed the printing of Gutenberg's Bible in 1455 as the most important event of the entire millennium.

Today, printing has evolved into a highly complex and technical field requiring a diverse array of workers such as writers, editors and sales personnel, as well as many specialized production occupations rarely found in other industries.

The printing process can be divided into three stages: prepress, press and binding (the postpress phase). Specialized jobs exist in all of these areas.

Traditionally, prepress workers prepare the material for printing presses. They may compose text, design page layouts, photograph pictures and make printing plates. Graphic artists fall into this category, as well as workers who operate cameras and scanners, those who cut and assemble film, and those who perform other jobs in the process of making a printing plate.

Printing, like many other industries, continues to undergo radical changes as new computer technologies transform how work is performed. Many processes once done by hand have become automated. Today, instead of cutting and pasting articles, publications are produced on a computer with desktop publishing software. Typesetters, platemakers, paste-up workers and film strippers are fast being replaced with graphic designers/desktop publishers and others who have mastered the electronic aspects of the various printing processes.

According to the BLS, nearly all prepress work is expected to be computerized by 2010.

When material is ready to go to press, printing machine operators install and adjust printing plates, mix fountain solution, adjust pressure, ink the presses, load paper and adjust the presses to the paper size.

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The Printing Industry Presses On: With the Advent of the Personal Computer and Expansion of the Internet, It Has Become Popular to Proclaim "The Printed Word Is Dead." but This Death-Knell Is Far from the Truth
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