Printing tales

Published by: Prof. Suniti Vadalkar, Head of Design, Art, and Performances at FLAME University | 16-Mar-2023
Ever wondered Why is a full-scape sheet called a full-scape?
Printing tales - Why is a full-scape sheet called a full-scape?

My journey as a graphic designer began around 37 years ago when offset printing had not evolved the way it is today. We are the old timers, who were accustomed to create every art-work manually; unlike today when everything is driven by hi-tech design software. In a way, we are fortunate to actually witness the journey from a simple block printing to the current offset. The journey of manually creating art works with photo-type-settings; measuring the text with a pica-scale, illustrating our ideas, before they were ready for printing. However my curious nature was eager to know more about printing…the paper, how the fonts and the printing process evolve. I was walking down the market lanes in Pune city, with bhel in a paper cone, observing the book stalls with the New Year calendars. I was lucky to meet Prof. Doshi (name changed), my college professor who used to teach us printing technology.

“Hello Sir, like some bhel?” He smiled and nodded a YES. I got one for him too and after the initial formal exchange of greetings, our conversation began on a chill Sunday morning. When I asked him about the questions I was pondering on, I found his explanation to be extremely intriguing.

He began by first sharing something related to printing and said, “Yellow was the first because the pigment was opaque. It is called an ‘urban’ pigment, one that is got from the earth or mud. Yellow was the only earthen pigment; so, if you print say cyan first and then yellow; everything below the yellow will get wiped off, isn’t it? So, yellow used to be printed first. But now, it is not like that. Now all the pigments are transparent in nature. Including yellow, so, any color can be printed first”. He further elaborated, “Approximately during 1975-1980’s there used to be an ink called ‘Ganges ink’ and they had this opaque yellow color. Winston was the first transparent yellow ink. It is difficult to wash a single color machine and one has to be very careful”. This was news for me as I thought; cleaning a single color would be the easiest tasks.

Today we have so many fonts with distinct names. But did they have names 50-60 years back? Prof. Doshi said, “No, we did not. Of course, they used to call it Gothic, every type has a Gothic face; every type may have had a Gothic shape in that particular era. But Guttenberg came up with only one. Then people started ‘designing’ the type-faces. And ‘Times Roman’ as you know, is the base of it. That was the first ‘perfect type’; like we have the Devanagari which was designed as a type, maybe in the nineteenth century by Aru (the designer). Nirnay-Sagar Press designed the first Devanagari typeface. Nirnay Sagar in Girgaum, Bombay. Today, even the Devanagari fonts have varied names' '.

He was so eager to share his knowledge about the subject, and he went on to say, “Printing came in India during the Portugese times, to begin with, in Goa. But primarily, printing was done in Calcutta, because of the East India Company. Printing was much more nourished in Calcutta and all the full fledged printing presses were there in Calcutta because of the East India Company. However, printing as such was first introduced in Goa in the eighteenth century.

It was, Jaojo Dadaji and his team were the people to introduce printing in Maharashtra under the name Nirnay-Sagar who were having their own type-face designed by Aru and they were called the Devanagari types. Jaoji Dadaji got the caster from Europe, because the casting technology was not present in India, and designed our own type. With these first and foremost Devanagari types they printed the ‘Panchaang’. The Nirnay Sagar Panchaang was done with movable types around 1850, in the nineteenth century. Letter-press is the first invention of printing!

Of course, if you look back in time, China used to have the engravings done in wood during the fifth century. China is certainly ahead in printing techniques. But, making it scientific and usable on a mass scale, with movable fonts, was Guttenberg’s contribution. Therefore, we consider John Guttenberg as the ‘Father of Printing Technology’.”

For me, this information was like a tapestry of events being woven to reveal stories which I had never heard of. So many aspects of printing which we take for granted and seldom ponder on how and when did this fascinating journey begin? The most interesting insight shared by Prof. Doshi was about the size of the newspaper. We see them in different sizes today and I was curious to know what the case was during yester-years. “Was there any definite size of a newspaper previously, Sir?” I asked.

“Full-scape was the size generally used and seen by the people '' replied my Professor. I could not believe what he said. How on earth was it possible? “For our generation, Sir, this is a full-scape”, I said, pointing to a nearby full-scape notebook.

But, Prof. Doshi was very clear. He said, “You see, the full-scape size was an ideal size for handling. Do you know why it is called full-scape? It is because the clowns wore a cap which was of that size. That’s why it is called a ‘fool’s cap’! It’s a cap! The clowns of those days had caps of that size!”

This surprised me beyond limits. I needed time to assimilate all that he was sharing. One truly needs someone who has been there and done that in the industry to share such interesting anecdotes. Assuring him to see him soon again I waved him a bye and giggled as I discarded the paper cone.

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