Digital History

A Concise History of Digital Design Production

Back in the dark ages (the early 70’s) a separation cost an arm and a leg and was produced by photomechanical means. Three B&W litho negatives were created by photocopying the original through red, green, and blue separation filters. These negatives were then contact printed through Halftone Screens of the desired frequency (lines per inch). Although all the holes in the halftone screen were the same size, the size of the resulting halftone dot on the film was a function of exposure and development. It was all very tricky and the method by which the black printing plate was extracted from the cyan, magenta, and yellow films was substantially complex (black magic).

Then along came the first drum scanners. The original image was taped to a transparent cylinder which was spun in the path of an extremely narrow beam of light. The signal from the light-sensitive Photo Multiplier Tube that received the light beam was electronically processed and used to expose the separation film which was attached to another cylinder spinning on the other end of the same drive shaft inside the scanner.

With the advent of the microprocessor in the mid 1970’s the Scitex company took the signal from the photo multiplier tube and stored it in a computer where the image could be manipulated before being output on to separation film. These machines were tremendously expensive and hideously complex.

Around this time Apple arranged the marriage of the desktop computer, the laser printer, and the Postscript language. This was the birth of desktop publishing. Initially this only really effected typesetting, but soon grew to encompass page layout and composition.

As desktop computers became much more powerful and much less expensive it began to be possible to use them for imaging applications.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… Skywalker Ranch that is; George Lucas sold a software application he’d had developed for the production of Star Wars. This specialized program was the ancestor of software redeveloped and repackaged for the commercial market and was called… Photoshop. We also owe much of the basis if digital imaging technology and image processing software to our pals at the Department of Defense and their spy satellites.

As the price of all this technology has collapsed from a high of several hundreds of thousands of dollars down to a few tens of thousands of dollars these amazingly powerful tools have become available to designers, illustrators, and photographers. This has resulted in a substantial blurring of roles and shifting of responsibilities.

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