Perceptions of old and new media don’t really exist for today’s younger generation, who merely ask ‘show me’, and move effortlessly from film clips and on-line information to devouring paper magazines and print catalogues. Everyone who buys on-line anticipates the arrival of a physical object, and it is here that print can appeal not just through design and content but through its physical being, a factor that smaller presses and publishers are happy to exploit.
Mainstream book publishing nods in this direction with its embossed covers, but this low-level tactile appeal is frequently negated by the basic production values of the books themselves. By contrast, an independently produced publication like Amelia’s Magazine engages through its chunky, weighty format, the stock on which it is printed and its covers, all of which offer an added dose of the editorial mix of music, art and fashion. Covers have featured jewellery recessed deep into the pages of the magazine, ‘scratch and sniff’ treatments, as well as diamante and luminous materials.
Amelia’s Magazine is published, edited and art directed by former photographer and stylist Amelia Gregory and is a twice-yearly visual feast of the delightful, the stylish and the bizarre.
Far from ploughing an antiquated furrow, the skills of the small presses, applied to every aspect of their productions, may be a pointer to the future face of publishing. When you print, it is now advisable to give your product the look and feel of value, something the recipient will want to keep.
The crafts of pre-digital printing have an aura unimaginable a decade ago. This is evidenced in the gold-edged CD booklet and embossed slipcase that accompanies singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom’s album Ys. Another example is Sunspots, a poetry collection printed by Incline Press, featuring a tri-tone linocut based on a marble relief of the sun in the Archaeological Museum at Bergama in Turkey. Unusually, it is printed on white rag paper handmade in India using the cotton rag of T-shirt cuttings salvaged from garment factories. The pages are sewn with golden Irish linen thread on to yellow ribbons.
Long-lost techniques are also being revived. The beautiful illustrations in Miriam Macgregor’s A House by the Sea, printed by Whittington Press, are multi-coloured watercolours created by Pochoir, a stencilling process that was a mainstay of 19th century colour printing. A Tale of a Toad, published by Strawberry Press on Mohawk machine-made paper, uses two alternate cover papers and a tipped-in illustration, another technique that has largely disappeared from mainstream production.
The future of environmentally conscious, cost-effective publishing may lie in the rapidly improving quality of digital printing. Terence Dalton, managing director at Lavenham Press, although still committed to litho, calls digital ‘the biggest change in the industry in our lifetime’. His company has recently invested in this area, demonstrating to customers the reproduction quality of advances in digital printing. With binding facilities that drastically reduce traditional set-up charges, economical print-runs as low as one copy are possible, offering small producers the chance to test the water and then print on demand, reducing material waste and storage requirements.
Justin Hobson, marketing director at Fenner Paper, believes that the key to environmental concerns lies not necessarily in using recycled papers, but those with Forest Stewardship Council certification. This indicates that the paper has been produced from properly managed, sustainable forests.
‘The paper industry is potentially 100 per cent sustainable with a natural, biodegradable and recyclable product,’ explains Hobson.
‘Fitness of purpose is crucial in terms of environmental impact, and it can often be more eco-friendly to use recycled material for cartons, egg-boxes and newsprint, while ensuring that virgin fibres come from responsibly managed forests that are grown for that purpose, such as Canada’s Alberta Pacific, or those of Brazilian paper producer Suzano.’
To forge a future for the medium, print designers must look both forward and back. They need to draw on the sensibilities and resonances of the production techniques the digital age seemed to have buried, while remaining open to the benefits developing technology can offer and the ease of conscience increasing environmental awareness will bring.
Simon Loxley is a freelance designer and editor of Ultrabold, the St Bride Library’s journal