I sat at my desk this evening, trying to think of something wonderful to write. I had planned on starting a series about various facets of post-press finishing, but after Christine Alexander of the blog “dreaming in cmyk” wrote about various types of binding in her excellent post the other day, I just thought “that’s going to be a tough act to follow!” Her post was informative and concise, with illustrations. Rather than take a ride on her coat tails, I thought I’d write about something that is important to me: the value of starting at the bottom.
WHAT PRINT USED TO BE
Decades ago, printing was much more of a craft and trade than it is now. I am not saying that the magicians at working client supplied files are not gifted at making someone’s slightly problematic InDesign file work. I would never suggest that a pressman is not skilled in understanding paper characteristics, the balance of ink and pressure, and how to shift magenta by 2 points to make the color swing to what the customer wants. And for a folder operator to set up a folder so that it folds a piece perfectly is an art as well. But with lead times shrinking from 7-10 working days to 3-4 in some cases (or even 24 hours!), the requirement to turn a print job quickly AND with quality, has pushed out what was really a craft.
I STARTED AT THE BOTTOM
What I see as still valuable is starting at the bottom, and working your way up. In printing, the “bottom” might be delivery, or shipping and receiving. It was for me. I started out in shipping and was our sole delivery guy, driving a 4-speed Toyota pickup with a shell. Thankfully, I had taken printing courses in college, so I had a basic knowledge of how bindery equipment worked, so my next natural progression was bindery, which I did for several months. I learned how a folder worked, and problems you can have. I learned how the stitch on a saddle-stitched book can make an impression into the spine, and how you need to adjust the tension of the stitching head so that it decreases that problem. I learned how to fold WITH the grain, or score if you are against the grain. I learned about film lamination, and how the tension has to be set correctly. I never ran a press, but my years on the plate making frame, the camera, and the light table helped me learn about how things fit on a press. I learned about how to shoot halftones, how to etch film, now to use film opaque to hide problems with the film, or even create letters with an Exacto blade when there WERE no letters there!! Then it was upstairs to being a CSR for a primary account, learning to work with clients, take clients calls, and work with other people. And even though in the subsequent years I continued to work in production or account management, I was still learning about the new technologies that were designed to improve print, reduce costs and get it done quicker as the client demanded.
But it was important for me to start from that bottom rung of the print ladder. To learn, so that as I continued on the career path I’ve lived, I could understand the issues and communicate them to clients or coworkers. And even though I’m no longer on the bottom rung of the ladder, I’m still learning. Thankfully, I do see many people in the print industry that share the same path as I took – starting at the bottom, learning the craft and trade, and becoming managers or sales reps. Those folk have tremendous value due to their knowledge. And it is those folk who graciously spread that knowledge to others – the ones that are starting from the bottom.