Stop the Press: How the Industry's Future Reminds Us of the Past
The moments that define a career are precious. Often, they can be traced to a memory, a person or an experience that become the data points along the path taken. When I sat down to write an article about what printing means to me, I didn’t think I’d end up watching the highlight reel of those moments. But, as I started to type, they were obvious.
As a child, morning after morning, my mom or dad would take the time to drive me to middle-school at the crack of dawn so that I could hang out in the Industrial Arts lab before classes started at 7:15 a.m. It was the one place in the school where I felt at home. There, we got our hands dirty with unconventional projects like building a CO2 race car from balsa wood, making t-shirts, typesetting, developing photographs, making film separations, burning plates and silk screens with a xenon arc and, my favorite, running the printing press.
Coincidentally, some of the t-shirts I printed back then are in the “Good Morning America” time capsule in Times Square. If you’re around in the year 2100 … you can check them out!
Thinking back, I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for those early mornings and dedicated parents who recognized that I was really into something.
Speaking (or yelling) the words “Stop the press!” in any printing facility is rarely a good thing. I vividly remember the first moment I heard them as my eighth grade Industrial Arts teacher, Mr. Bauer, dashed through the lab over to our ATF Chief 15. I was running the school’s ensemble “Annual Program” cover and was about half-way through the fourth pass, laying down the black ink for the four-color process job on the single-color press. The black separation was over-saturated, as I had allowed too much ink into the inking rollers. This resulted in “set off” of the black ink from page-to-page.
I was crushed. That was the piece I was planning to submit to the International Graphic Arts Education Association (IGAEA) in my attempt to compete for the coveted Gutenberg Award. The dark room work for separations, the stripping, the plate burning, the careful registration was “all for nothing” — or so I thought.
It was then that Mr. Bauer told me that while he had taught me how to run the press, it would be years until I would be able to call myself a “pressman.” We talked through what happened, how I had gotten the press into its current state, and took the corrective measures to get back on track and finish the job with the high quality we both expected to deliver to our “internal customers.”
Ultimately, we would submit the job to the IGAEA for review. They awarded me with a Gutenberg Award and, in that moment, I knew I had finally found my true passion: I wanted to be a printer.
By all accounts, my desire to be a printer would create opportunities time and time again. I was fortunate enough to study the craft of printing at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). There I joined the Gamma Epsilon Tau printing fraternity and made life-long friends who share a similar passion for print. Together, we learned the fundamentals of printing methods, print shop management, workflows, estimating, image capture, color reproduction and more. But, all-in-all, I still loved the press itself. Most fondly, I remember learning how to navigate a Heidelberg SORM, a Sakurai, my first Heidelberg Speedmaster and a Harris M-1000 B (we had an old Heidelberg windmill too, just like I had in high school, but it was, I regret, “memorialized”).
It was during my education there that RIT afforded me the opportunity to intern on the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) cruise ship to run the presses it had on board. After a series of personnel changes, I subsequently landed the role of Chief Printer and continued to travel the world while practicing my craft.
On the QE2, we operated a full-service shop complete with a dark room, electronic prepress, bindery and, yes, two presses: a Heidelberg GTO and a Ryobi. As you can imagine, there were no service technicians readily available while at sea, so it was up to the crew to keep everything running. On one occasion when we were trying to diagnose an issue with the GTO, I can recall squeezing myself under the press to pinpoint the failure. In the image here, you can see me through the delivery on the back end of the press. It was then, somewhere in the South Atlantic, lying beneath and inside the press — the cylinders inching forward just above my chest — that I became a true pressman.
Upon finishing my year-long opportunity to see the sights of the world by sea, I returned to RIT to finish my education, and then launch my career within the great world of printing.
During the first 20 years of my career I had the opportunity to contribute and work alongside some amazing people at organizations such as Heidelberg, Nexpress, HP and Landa. As a result, I’ve worked with leading printers and technology suppliers — from the board room to the bindery, from the press floor to the warehouse, and everything in between.
All of the moments shaping that 20-year journey are too numerous to outline but suffice to say they were plenty. Various assignments took me around the globe again — this time by air/land — throughout the United States, Canada, China, Indonesia, Germany, France, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Denmark and England. I’ve been fortunate enough to have several mentors who helped to shape my experiences, learn from them and seek new opportunities. You know who you are and I’m sure you’ll be reading this … so “thank you.”
In the Fall of 2017, I was approached by NAPCO Media to converse on the topic of “convergence” occurring in our industry. We all saw it happening but didn’t put a title on it until recently. Convergence is the notion that printers — regardless of core discipline — are using their skills to reach across the aisle into adjacent vertical markets and technologies (e.g., label printers taking on flexible packaging; or commercial printers taking on wide-format; or direct-to-garment printers offering commercial printing, etc … ). It was during this dialogue that PRINTING United was proposed, and yep, you guessed it, “Stop the Press.”
“The need for PRINTING United makes perfect sense,” I thought. It was a profound discussion because, in that instant, I recalled how many times amongst my mentors, colleagues and peers did we speak of building unity and tearing down silos that stifle growth and cooperation. I thought of the numerous “vertically-oriented” trade shows and events where we had to decide how to split our team, in which shows to invest resources, and in which ones to skip. And now, here, came about an idea for a trade show event “for all” … how simple.
Over the next several months, we spoke on the topic regularly and the ideas just kept flowing naturally. Therefore, in early 2018, I joined the team officially. Today, we are energized to not only build an annual expo for our craft, but also on building a platform EVENT for information exchange, education and stewardship where all printers will benefit — regardless of discipline.
Enabling adjacent venues, conferences and technology-enhanced experiences will not be easy. These things will require long days and long nights. But who said hard work isn’t worth it? Will tough choices have to be made? Yes. It’s the virtue of change, but change can be good — especially when it makes sense.
What the PRINTING United team is doing takes me back to the classroom … 10th grade to be exact, when I learned to typeset. I remember looking at my black ink-stained hands and recall the joy it gave me to build words, sentences, thoughts and pages. Piece by piece, we set type and placed images in the chase. It was tedious. It was hard. And we got dirty. But, it always turned out spectacular when we got it right.
PRINTING United will be similarly spectacular, and I’m honored to be a part of it. In the words of R. Randolph Karch, “I am proud of this ink on my hands.”