Getting from computer screen to printing screen proved to be harder than it first looked.
In our special Innovation Issue, we present a collection of expert essays on an important technology in the industry today. Here, we take a deep dive into CTS technology.
Innovators, engineers, and tinkerers have been searching for a way to accelerate the screen making process for decades. For every printer, from the artist who burned her screens in the sun to the multimillion-dollar retail graphics provider with 18-foot screens, traditional prepress was an arduous and expensive parade.
Of course, before the advent of digital artwork and computerized film production, this parade stretched on even longer. “Everything took an amazing amount of time,” says Richard Greaves, an industry veteran and consultant. “A full-color set of separations cost $800 to $1000 and took a week to produce. And sometimes they worked; sometimes they didn’t.”
As innovations like PostScript, PageMaker, and eventually Illustrator and Photoshop enabled and simplified digital art creation, companies began exploring ways to leverage this in the screen making workflow. The first hurdle was getting output with a sufficiently dense black. Laser printer manufacturers like Qume, and then Xante, developed a way to lay down a thicker deposit of toner onto rough, vellum-finished paper; soon, early inkjet manufacturers took notice of the “film issue” and found a way to lay down more ink, too. Integrated digital imagesetting systems like the Autotype Aspect gained strong footholds.
Low-cost vellem allowed printers to produce their own film positives in house. Courtesy of Richard Greaves.
All of these innovations, of course, still required that thing in between: the film. It was 1987 when Geoff McCue looked at his office inkjet printer and said, “Wait a minute. I wonder if this thing will print on a screen.” That gap between the printhead and the paper suddenly seemed like a space full of potential.
McCue was so convinced it would work that he went home and bought his own inkjet printer, cut a screen down to 8.5 x 11 inches, and printed an image of the “Mona Lisa” right on it.
“I exposed it and washed it out, and it worked,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool. You don’t need a film positive anymore.’”
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