The Changing Definition of "Printing"

The Changing Definition of "Printing"

Summary: Will we see the death of the commercial printing industry the way we saw the death of the typesetting industry?

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Doc goes way back to the days when the term "printing" referred not only to the process of putting ink on paper, but also the process of composing pages using typesetting and other graphic arts tools. So I was intrigued to read an article by Frank Romano titled "The Day the Typesetting Industry Died" over at What They Think. That would be in 1984 when the Apple Macintosh was introduced.

It took a few years and lots of supporting technology, but the Macintosh did, in fact, kill the traditional typesetting/printing industry, by putting page composition tools in the hands of graphic designers. Prior to desktop publishing, the mechanical and creative sides of page composition were two completely different processes.

Why is this important? Well, for one thing we're starting to see digital technology take over what's left of the printing industry. Inkjet and toner-based printing processes are making it possible for more printing to take place on site where it is being used. This will only increase as technology gets more sophisticated.

But will we see the death of the commercial printing industry the way we saw the death of the typesetting industry? Doc thinks there will always be the need for large-volume commercial printing, but more and more printing output is going to take place at the point of use, or as part of a manufacturing process (as with packaging). Seems the definition of printing may change once again.

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2 comments
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  • Agree .. for the most part

    The packaging industry will always require some type of printed type and imaging - whether that be digital, traditional ink-base or otherwise.

    As for books, magazines and office-based, printed materiel? Well, that's 50/50 .. they said the paperless office was arriving 'like yesteryear' ... yet the typical office environment is using as much (if not more) printed material / documentation as it did before the common, day-to-day advent of office computing.
    thx-1138_
  • Death of Printing? Nope.

    I don't believe commercial printing will die the way the typesetting industry did. As the first person who commented noted, there's packaging, for one thing. For another, the amazing and eye-popping special effects both in printing and finishing can only be done on commercial offset and digital presses and finishing equipment. Companies need to differentiate their brand materials to get noticed. Gorgeous print materials are key, regardless of the immediacy of online tools. I don't see companies investing in the kind of equipment needed to get these complex results, nor should they. Sure, the printing industry is contracting. In the end, there will be fewer printers across the country, but they won't disappear.
    Margiedana