The Agfa Chromapress and Indigo E-Print 1000 make their first appearances

by John Henshall

Imagine the whole of the National Exhibition Centre filled to overflowing, with tents on the lawn for those who couldn't get stand space. Imagine that every photographic manufacturer had a large exhibition booth there. Imagine that this was the largest imaging exhibition to be held in Britain. Imagine that there was lots of business being done, money being spent, digital cameras being sold right off the stands

What could this be? One of Mary Walker's wildest dreams for next year's "Focus on Imaging"? No, it is not a dream, it has already come true. What I am describing is IPEX, the international printing and graphics exhibition, held at the NEC in September 1993.

The digital revolution is not confined to photography: the graphic and printing industry is undergoing a similar change. And what companies are at the forefront of this change? Many are names we already know well from their eminence in the world of photography.

At IPEX, the wall between photographic printing and the printing press was finally breached. Soon you will be able to forget Cromalins, Matchprints and so on. The only image you are interested in is the final print, as it will appear on the actual paper, and now you can get just that. These new presses will deliver prints either singly or in their thousands. From today, a photographic print need be nothing more than a single page "pull" from a printing press.

A Canadian company, Indigo, was showing its new plateless E-Print 1000 printing press behind closed doors. The air of mystery and secrecy was milked to the full. Outside the closed doors, another of the machines sat inanimately, watched over by a smug salesman who knew he was guarding one of The Stars of the show. Sample prints were displayed behind anti-reflection glass, which made it impossible to view them with a loup. Only the favoured few who filled in the card could get behind the closed doors to see the machine actually working. "Psst! Have you seen Indigo? I have!"

The Indigo E-Print 1000

The Indigo E-Print 1000

Meanwhile, on the Agfa stand, in full view - unheralded because of a complete embargo before the show - was Agfa's plateless printing press, the Chromapress. Not only was the printer working for all to see but you could pick up and take sample sheets as they rolled off the press. What masterful, low-key style. And what a printer!

The Agfa Chromapress

The Agfa Chromapress

You can now master an image on the sensor in a digital camera and print thousands of copies at speed, direct to paper, with only a computer workstation between. Please take a moment to let the ramifications of that sink in. How many magazines are there in your newsagents? How many books in your libraries and bookshops?

What we are witnessing is the biggest revolution in printing since Gutenberg invented movable type five and a half centuries ago.

I have a small atlas by John Speed, printed in the early 1600s. It is one of my prized possessions. Old it is but, when it was printed from metal movable nearly four centuries ago, printing was already 150 years old. The same age as photography is now.

Similar type faces and face types from John Speed's atlas printed in the seventeenth century -150 years after Gütenberg - and a twentieth century page printed using Agfa Chromapress. Note the dot structure in the ChromaPress face and the absence of any structure other than line in Speed's engraving (both greatly enlarged).

All sections were scanned on the Agfa Arcus Plus at 1200dpi using Agfa FotoLook software.

To quote the 'B' movie actor who became President of the United States, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

This review first appeared in "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" October 1993.
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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