Printing terminology explained
James Cryer took a playful wander through the terminological minefield that we walk through each day – unarmed and unharmed.
But would an innocent bystander escape unscathed if they risked a mad dash across this cabbage-patch, so full of hidden traps to trip-up the unwary. Here is his whimsical take on printing terms for the beginner.
I’m sure all industries – and especially the professions – do it. Tribes do it. Clubs do it. We all do it!
Make it as difficult as possible for the common man to understand what we’re talking about.
This is not altogether a bad thing, as sometimes one needs to talk in code so the baddies won’t have a clue what we’re saying.
But try teaching someone something about “printing” and you’ll suddenly realise the arcane and confusing terminology we use – usually unthinkingly and in all innocence.
I think the rot set in over a hundred years ago when we started using “offset” and “litho” almost interchangeably. But to the casual observer it’d be like reading a book describing a creature which purrs, on some pages as a “cat” – but every so often, as a “dog”.
But life was simple then – it was all sheet-fed. Major terminological in exactitudes only started creeping in the moment we discovered that something that spins is more economical than something that stops-starts.
And so “reel-fed” was born. Or should that be “roll-fed”?
Eventually someone decided “roll-fed” should apply to labels and flexibles – and that “reel-fed” may more aptly describe newspaper or magazine production ... sort of.
But not always! Just when you thought you were catching on (maybe that was the problem?) someone coined “web-fed” to differentiate it from “sheet-fed” offset. That may be so, but someone will now have to explain to the class, that this particular use of “web” has nothing to do with “websites” nor anything to do with “web-to-print”! (Is this a record – three uses of the same word, all impacting on our industry – and all having different meanings?)
And now we’ve moved into the digital era things aren’t becoming any clearer. We now have, insinuated into our industry, like a big, fat cuckoo sitting in the nest, possibly, the mosy muddy, imprecise term ever created – “digital”!. To the innocent bystander, “digital” printing must simply mean – the opposite of “offset”. Well, not exactly. If we insist on splashing “digital” printing around at the drop of a hat – we should refer to “offset” as “analogue” printing. Try telling that to the Marines!
So if we don’t like the digital/analogue dichotomy, we should dream up another descriptor, in lieu of “digital”. To me there are a few words in the English language which have become so compromised by abuse and over-use as to become meaningless, and anyone caught using them (including me) should be required to put a dollar in the swear-jar every time they pass our lips.
“Digital” is one – it simply means being able to be chopped up into little bits and re-assembled. Hardly an enticing name to call anything!
Another is “sustainable” – as everything is sustainable in the short term, and nothing is sustainable in the long term. Hardly a concept that offers much benefit to anyone!
Another is “forensic” which people associate with “scientific” but actually means linked to courtroom procedures. But I digress.
When anyone refers to “digital” printing, they should be held up at gunpoint and forced to explain themselves! Do they mean the office photocopier – that’s a digital printing press. Prob’ly not. Do they mean the more serious, industrial-strength “digital” printing press costing upwards of a million $’s? Possibly. Or do they mean the wide-format inkjet printers that produce signage? Maybe?
And yet we chuck them all into the same “digital” bucket”. There ought to be a law against it!
But did I just say “digital printing press”? Are you ready for a whole ‘nother can of terminological worms? The humble photocopier may be able to put “ink on paper” but is it a printing press? (And we’ll ignore those pedants up the back of the class who violently object to fused iron-filings being regarded as “ink”.) Heidelberg et al, may object to being compared to the humble photocopier, but they both perform the same basic function.
Let’s say the jury’s out on that one, but in fairness, there is a tendency creeping in which refers to these “non-offset” presses as “devices”. So if it’s “offset” it’s a “press” and if it’s “digital” it’s a “device”. Enough on that. (Just don’t look up “device” in the dictionary or you’ll return to your original state of utter confusion.)
But just when you thought it was all making sense (not), along comes “wide-format” inkjet. Or, is it “large-format”? (This is putting to one side the “grand-“and “extra-grand-format” sizes which do have some specificity). I get resumes from inkjet operators who blandly refer to themselves as “wide- or large-format” as interchangeably as “offset” or “litho”! Is the modern generation catching the same bug of linguistic imprecision?
The picture becomes even murkier if he/she simply said they are a “large-format” printer – one would have no idea whether they run a large “oversize” KBA offset printing press – or an HP inkjet “device” printing onto a roll (or is it a reel?) of vinyl.
Now I don’t normally agree with anything the French do – on principle. But I suspect their idea of the Academie Francais may have some merit, if applied to our industry. As the sooner we can gain some consensus on basic terms the better. In the meantime, if we all tipped a dollar into the industry swear-jar every time we committed a malapropism, it’d create a kick-start for the “Print Industry Truth in Terminology” fighting fund! (Or cheques can be made out to the writer, below)
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