I have had a love/hate relationship with GRAPH EXPO since attending my first event more than 24 years ago at the age of 12. The love part was easy, as it was an exciting time for our beloved industry and change was in the air. The Mac SE with its 9-inch screen was all the rage, and CTP was still around the corner. GRAPH EXPO was the place where the North American print market came to see the best of what the equipment manufacturers had to offer in all their glory: big, powerful shiny equipment; demonstrations of exciting new software products from start-ups like Adobe; and, let's be honest, the Heidelberg girls!
What made me love it even more was that I was guided by a master printer and someone so knowledgeable about various ways to not just put ink on paper, but to leverage the best-of-breed technologies at that time to put beautiful art on paper. Specifically, his passion for collotype, a form of continuous-tone imaging, made me realize that that his love for the application of ink on paper and the new digital guard (Adobe, Apple) were at odds with each other. As time would tell the tale, his company did not survive the deluge of technology that was focused on higher throughput and producing “good-enough” color. Ironically, he was doing then what the industries gurus are telling us we must adopt to survive today: He was trying to find a way to increase the sell price per sheet while decreasing his run size. Sound familiar?
It's a Love-and-Hate Thing
The hate part runs is much more simple. The entry point into producing anything my mentor would consider good enough was financially out of reach. Flatbed scanners were were in the $100,000 range; big-name printing presses were in millions; and a smile/wink from the Heidelberg models was priceless. at least to a pre-teen boy. The enormously high cost barriers to getting into the print game was also telling of an industry that was about to be subject to massive shifts. Machines were on the verge of getting so fast and so flexible, printing at such high quality, that my guess is even without the great database divide in printing (static vs. variable), we would have accelerated capital cost reduction of presses even faster to lower levels than where they are today.
In retrospect, GRAPH EXPO has been not been just a show but n defining experience in my professional development. This year I will be focused on:
1. Cross/mobile media software tools (print, email, SMS)
2. Finishing equipment to reduce costs of production for postal acceptance.
3. MemJet technology: Hot new imaging technology for the high-speed color inkjet market.
Follow me on Twitter @ThinkVariable as I update my GRAPH EXPO experience and, until then, keep printing, my friends.