Offset printing is alive and well …
Gutenberg’s letterpress printing had already been in existence for over 300 years when the playwright Senefelder, who wanted to duplicate sheets of music, first developed lithography in 1798. This was the forerunner of modern offset printing.
In 1904, two researchers independently of each other developed a technique for indirectly applying (offsetting) ink onto paper via a rubber-covered impression cylinder. For a long time, both processes existed alongside each other.
It was only in the 1960s that offset printing with its photo-chemical prepress processes finally took over from letterpress printing with its hot metal composition. It was faster, better and more cost-effective and this proved to be a winning formula.
Is a classical technology like offset printing also future-proof for the digital age? Printshops intensively rationalise their workflows using computer technology. This is true not only of the prepress workflow with its desktop publishing and computer-to-plate. A modern press is bristling with electronics. The workflow in the production line is combined with business management to produce a data and material flow.
The goal is a networked media house according to the principle of "single source – multimedia". Different applications – brochures, mailshots, websites or CD-ROMs – are generated from a single stock of data.
"Print is an important medium in the communication age, but it’s just one of many," says Carl Michael Nägele, managing director of Georg Kohl in Brackenheim, Germany: "Georg Kohl sees itself as a system provider for the information processing sector. We receive data from all over the world and process it for our customers. Without offset printing, we simply wouldn’t be able to do this. But it’s just as likely we might be producing a CD-ROM, a product for the Internet or a fax".
... and ready for the digital age
Printing in general, and offset printing in particular, will continue to be used in the future. As long as offset technology remains the best and most cost-effective method, there is no viable alternative for the vast majority of print products.
"As things currently stand, offset printing is ideally placed to provide printers with the best possible opportunities for quality and cost-effectiveness in the future," says Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, managing director of the German Association of Printing and Paper Technology, part of the German Federation of the Engineering Industries. "The drupa 2004 trade show will be the ideal platform for identifying developments and trends," he adds.
There will probably be a shift of emphasis. Electronic media are increasingly being used for up-to-the-minute reporting, and even for gossip and scandal. Electronic marketplaces are appearing. This used to take place behind closed doors. Now it can be done over any distance via cellphones and chatrooms. And half of the network generation obtain their information from the digital media.
"However, a new medium has never replaced an old one. The tendency is rather for the new to assign the old a new place," says Hamburg trend researcher and communication expert Prof. Peter Wippermann, explaining the role of print media in the digital age.
"Single source – multimedia" also applies to the publication "100 years of offset printing". It is also available in digital form as a PDF or as an open text document with image data for further processing.