Dreamers, Mechanics, Propeller heads, and Pundits

Pardon my absence for the two weeks or so, I’ve been doin’ some personal rearranging. This started by engaging in some personal reflection. Always revealing, but somewhat dangerous. Please don’t get offended at this silliness. It just lets me grasp the historical players.

When I was in the litho industry shooting photos and mechanicals/pasteups into pre-press negatives, assembling film, burning plates, and running printing presses I learned quickly the difference between the printing industry and the art community.

Those of us who followed the strict disciplines of the engraving and printing trades dealt with the harsh realities of the physical world. Those who designed logos, dealt with color swatches, and produced art lived by concepts and ideas, but had no earthly idea what was required to turn those fluffy design concepts into printed reality.

For easy reference I labeled the two symbiotic camps with simple descriptors: the dreamers and the mechanics. The dreamers created new and impossible out-of-the-box projects to purposely torture we mechanics.  No amount of explaining the physical limits of the trade seemed to mellow their imagination though, God bless them. They kept life interesting.

Propeller Heads

When the desktop revolution erupted in the mid-eighties a whole new breed of un-humans appeared who had no concept of, or respect for, either the mechanics or the dreamers. These geeky propeller-heads were totally bent on changing all the rules of both camps. All the sudden the dreamers and the mechanics found something in common: they didn’t want to have anything to do with the propeller heads.

These geeky weirdos developed boxes called computers that were based on a whole new expression system. One designed around mathematics. Math had little to do with printing and absolutely nothing to do with design. It was a whole new weird way of life.

The litho group didn’t like them because their silly software was based on a grid system that totally violated the principles of halftone production and their math-based resolution clashed with known screen rulings and angles; 133lpi screens were now calculated at 124.624dpi to accommodate the new film generators called imagesetters. Attempts by the graphic arts community to adapt to this new system created violent problems on press. Moires abounded and type placed on screen tints always had light leaks. Early color separations were based on slide-rule formulas that didn’t account for some of printing’s simple laws of physics- like the fact that paper stretches on press and that equal parts of cyan magenta and yellow don’t produce neutral gray; they actually produce a muddy brown. Professional trade printers (the mechanics) started refusing to accept work produced by the desktop yearlings. The projects they submitted sometimes cost more money to accommodate and correct than the printing job was worth.

The design community were just a dismayed at the choke-hold restrictions of grid-based designing. The free fluid flow of design suddenly had to be forced into geometric pixel arrays. The dreamers didn’t have any idea of what a pixel or an array even was let alone how to draw a smooth curve with tiny jagged square blocks. For a while the geeks were satisfied to print dot-matrix flyers and newsletters. Neither the design community nor the printing industry took the desktop crowd seriously because the “work” they produced was too amateur to consider a threat. But it was an uneasy peace. The winds of war were blowing.

This new geek nation was on a mission to change the world and that included the graphic arts. The obvious next step was to replace the old-school design community and dinosaur printing industry with design geeks. And so it was.

As momentum for the movement picked up and the technology improved, the design geeks started churning out computer-looking printed projects. As more wannabe designers joined the ranks, an entire culture of look-alike publishing projects flowed from laser printers by the ream. Sensing the financial opportunity on the horizon, publications sprung up supporting and promoting these new designers and publishers.

Enter the Pundits

Every movement has its media pundits and this new desktop movement was no exception. Writers and pundits filled the magazines with fresh new ideas about desktop publishing. Regular trade shows on both coasts promoted this phenom rage. As the ranks swelled in the desktop movement, the pundits became the authorities on all things publishing. The articles in the publications were written by the new designers and service bureau workers encouraging more folks to join the publishing revolution.

It took a while for the three camps to hold hands, and a lot of traditional professionals got swept away in the process. But now the circle is pretty-much redrawn as the desktop folks actually started learning good design and the printing industry (those who survived the carnage of the revolution) redefined itself and licked its wounds.

I remember this process well because I played a part in all three camps, and I survived (I think). Life doesn’t necessarily get easier as time goes on, but it does present rewards to those who remain mentally flexible enough to keep reinventing themselves.

Here’s my latest mutation. I invite you to scoot over to http://gottaknowvideos.com/keyfactor.html and take a look at my newest incarnation. It kinda sums up what I’ve learned over the years and want to pass along to the new breed of photographer/publisher.

And that’s the way eye sees it.

If you enjoyed this little rant, pass it along. See you next time.



If you have an iPad and want to learn more about how your eye buys into the camera’s insidious lies, check this out:


About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook "Digital Color Photography: A Deeper Look" from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color Fundamentals video series at GottaKnowVideos.com.
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2 Responses to Dreamers, Mechanics, Propeller heads, and Pundits

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