My introduction to printing

My introduction to printing came in 1980. I was just starting high school and I took a class called Freshman Shop.  Freshman Shop was a mix-up of all the shop classes offered by my school at the time.  You got to ‘sample’ them for a short period to decide if you wanted to take any of the advanced ones later.  The rotation consisted of Electric Shop, Auto Shop, Drafting, Metal Shop, Wood Shop and Printing.  You did 1/6 of the year in each and then moved to the next one.

My first class was Electric Shop.  The more advanced classes made lamps and small machines with doors that opened and closed electrically and more complicated stuff.  Freshman shop got to solder some resistors to a pre-printed circuit board that would turn on a little LED when we flicked the switch.  Oooh!  Was not very engaging or fun.  The only interesting part about MY particular class was watching the teacher.  It was this old white guy with a porn stache and curly hair who also happened to be the coach of the girls basketball team.  Well my class was the first one of the day and twice a week one of the black girls on the team would come in and go to his office while he was talking to us. After about 20 minutes we were set loose to solder and build stuff on our own while he went into the office and closed the door.  You can guess what was probably going on.  Made for good stories at least, and we all got A’s for that part.

Metal Shop was an interesting one for me.  I liked it, but was not good at it.  We made a metal trivet with curved pieces of metal that we welded together.  My curves looked like crap and I burned myself with the welding rod, so I kind of figured that as much as it was interesting to me, there was zero aptitude there.  Although I recall the teacher liking my welds. Next!

Drafting almost called me to a profession.  I really liked it and took to it well.  I had designs in my head that I could never quite put on paper because I can’t really draw or anything.  With drafting it was all t-squares and curve templates so freehand wasn’t something I had to worry about.  I did well and even took drafting the next year.  For some reason it just didn’t call to me after that and it didn’t go anywhere.

Wood Shop was so uneventful that I can’t even remember what it was we were supposed to make.  I seriously have no clue.

Auto shop was the funniest.  I swear the guy was running a chop shop there at the school.  There were 2 cars there that the advanced classes were building.  They weren’t hotrods or anything but those were theirs and us lowly freshmen couldn’t touch.  For us there were 3 other vehicles there.  We got split into smaller groups and then took turns.  One group got to take apart the brakes and then put them back together. The other two groups got stuck on the ‘other’ cars and just took things apart.  Seriously for 3 or 4 days of the week all you did was take cars apart and not worry about putting them back together.  You put all the pieces and parts into a bin and the next day that bin was gone.  Yup, chop shop.  While I wanted to learn more about cars, this class gave me zero confidence in taking the next class.  Hell I was hoping they would teach me things like changing oil, spark plugs and general maintenance.  All they taught me was how to take apart things.  Oh, I did learn how to use a tire machine where I was able to put tires on and off of a rim.I  learned that from some senior who was in the class at the time from one of the advanced classes. If I ever work at Discount Tires they won’t have to teach me that part of the job.

The last one for me was printing.  Let me tell you how different it was compared to today and when I started in the printing business in 1992.  Today, if you want to create a business card you would open a software program ( most likely InDesign or Illustrator), create your layout and then print it to a copier or digital press.  You would then cut it out from the full size piece of paper and you would be done. If you wanted to make business card sized piece that said “HI” on it, it could take as little as 3 minutes.

When I started in 1992, it was similar but not as fast.  You could still open the computer program (back then it was most likely Pagemaker or Quark Express), but the printing options were a bit more limited.  Color copiers were around but expensive, slow and didn’t like cover weight papers. 1 color copy could take a minute just to print compared to a few seconds now.  IF it would print on the cover stock.  Somewhere in the mid 90’s the machines stopped being so picky and came down in cost to make digital printing become a bit more affordable. Your other option at the time was offset printing of the card.  That meant creating the card on the computer, making a super high resolution laser print, talking that print to your press camera where you either made what was called a paper plate or a negative.  The paper plate would take about 7 or 8 minutes to process, then the press operator would take the plate, put it on the press, ink the machine up, spend a few minutes aligning the plate to be straight and print the sheet. You would go the negative route if you wanted to make a metal plate.  Most of the time no need for that unless it would be a recurring job or was going to be 40,000 or more impressions. The time to go computer to finished with the paper plate would be around 25 minutes before you got one sheet.  if you went metal you could up that to about 45 minutes.  Around 1997 we got a ‘direct to plate’ system which allowed us to print from the computer right to the plate maker.  This saved time as well as allowed us to get more detail in our designs as nothing got lost going from computer to laser print to camera to plate.

In 1980 Freshman Shop, printing was done with what is called HOT TYPE. Our project was to make a business card.  While I know there was better tech available at the time, we didn’t get it.  We got a little metal frame the size of a business card and a box of metal pegs with letters on the end (like little stamps) and spacers and you placed them into the frame and arranged them to say whatever you wanted.  Just trying to find the type and space it out so it said “HI” in the middle of the card could take 30 minutes, IF you could find enough spacers. The printing process was also ancient, more like the old mimeograph machines people my age knew about.  You put your frame on the machine and it inked your mold, then took paper, one at a time, and pressed it against your mold to imprint the paper.  Yeah!  Model of efficiency!  I can’t remember just what my card project said, but I can tell you that every guy’s card was some sort of pickup line to hand to the ladies.  Every one.  We would probably get suspended for such a thing in today’s PC climate.

So there was NOTHING about that high school experience that would have led me to believe that I would spend almost 30 years of my life doing printing.  I used to wonder at people who grew up in 1920’s experiencing things like computers and cell phones.  Things that might have seemed like sci-fi to them when they were younger they got to experience when they were older.  I have seen printing go from hot type to offset press plates to digital presses that can fit on my desk. Color copies from their introduction at $3.00 each and running about 4 per minute to as low as $.19 each and doing 75 a minute. Full color business cards used to cost over $200 for 500 back in 2005.  In 2019 they cost $50. (I can get them for $15!)  Such was my introduction to being pissed off at printing.

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