15 Years of Rapid Change for the World of Print

Today ImageSmith surprised me with a little celebration for my 15th anniversary with the company and a very generous gift of a brand new iPad. Our discussion at the gathering centered around the changes in our business over the past 15 years and the vast differences technology has created in that relatively brief span of time. Back in 1997, hardly anyone at work had a mobile phone; few used the internet or even had a home computer.

Oddly enough, I had been reading online this very morning about the new issue of Newsweek that highlights the return of the show “Mad Men” with a retro 60s issue and an amazing recreation of retro print advertising from that era. The rate of change in this industry from then to now has exponentially increased. Print quickly adapted to new computer technology in the ’80s, drastically altering the way graphics are created, business is done and ultimately the very heart of what the printing industry is today. From my own experience here at ImageSmith, I could see the major ways technology has created this rapid change:


In the 90s, the art department was completely a Mac platform (Mac certainly led the way with graphics software and innovation) and the only other computers were PCs used for the front office and accounting. Files were transferred on floppy disks or zip disks. Proofs were faxed or hand delivered. The idea of communication or doing business via the internet seemed fanciful.

TODAY: communication inside and beyond the company is via the internet. Computers network through a wifi connection and a central server. Orders are placed online, files transferred, deliveries scheduled and tracked… to do otherwise would seem painfully slow and unprofitable.


The change in graphics software is always rapid and amazing. In 1997, we were using Adobe PageMaker for our layout (it had only recently been acquired by Adobe from Aldus). PhotoShop and Illustrator were used for photo and graphics manipulation, but only minimally integrated with the actual desktop layout duties of PageMaker. Many clients created their jobs in QuarkXpress, Microsoft Word, Corel Draw – and the confusing task of the art department was to try to handle and image these files cross platform from PC to Mac without disastrous font conflicts and software glitches. The idea of a “portable document format” or pdf was on the horizon.

TODAY: Adobe Creative Suite provides virtually flawless integration of PhotoShop, Illustrator, Acrobat and InDesign. A totally pdf workflow moves client jobs seamlessly from desktop to press or web. Print design can be cross-purposed to web pages, mobile apps, e-books, etc.


Many jobs were still created physically on paper and then photographed. “Paste-up” was the means of gluing into position different page elements. It all seems very primitive now. The process of making plates for offset printing also relied on photography. Negatives were imaged, stripped into position, manually color separated, and burned onto plates.

TODAY: Computer-to-plate and computer-to-press techonology completely removes the photographic element in printing. Digital layouts are rasterized and imaged onto plates for the press in exact position. Increasingly, digital presses are replacing the offset process to meet the growing demand for short run, full color print.


In 1997, a typical print job would fit easily onto a standard 3.5 inch, 1.44MB floppy disk. Artwork and client jobs were archived onto floppies. These were replaced by SyQuests – able to hold 44 or 88 MB or data, and then Zip Disks from iOmega with the amazing capacity to hold 100 MB. In the late 90s, most all computers, PC and Mac, came with a built-in floppy and Zip drive. Over the years, the Zip yielded to the CD and then the DVD for removable storage options.

TODAY: File sizes for some print jobs today dwarf the capacity of all of these removable data storage devices. High capacity servers and cloud-based storage solutions manage files and the process of archiving data.

With all of these changes has come a core redefinition of what small and mid-sized print operations are about. Printers have expanded to become multi-media specialists, marketing consultants and e-commerce solution providers to meet the equally drastic changing needs of their clients. Integrated marketing techniques combine the realms of print with mobile, email, wide format printing, signage, printwear, branded merchandise and social media. Looking ahead to the landscape of the NEXT fifteen years is exciting and daunting. Mobile and cloud-based technology will continue to drive the marketing into the world of augmented reality, 3-D printing, conductive ink and other as-yet unknown innovations.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.