Makers of the Book: The Printing Press

Visit to CDC Printers, Kolkata
5 June 2015

A book is factually defined as a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers that communicates information (refer to OED for more).

The evolution of book production has come through the momentous history of developments in communication and information technology. It is interesting to note that contemporary techniques in book production have emerged from the innovations of the fifteenth-century European printing press pioneered by Gutenberg. The sophisticated machinery for typesetting, printing and binding have been in practice since the nineteenth century.

All this can become slightly tedious to read, but the truth of this historical evolution unfolds the moment you step inside the printing press.

We made this journey backwards. From the printed pages and gathered ‘book blocks’ to preparation of plates for the offset printing machine.


1(Photo 1) Folded sections are being manually gathered in sequence to be bound with glue and/or sewn with thread. Apart from skills and precision, good quality printing-binding comes from strenuous teamwork!

(Photo 2) Sections of a book is being manually gathered in sequence and arranged for binding.

 (Photo 3) Gathered sections of a printed book being sewn with thread by machine.

(Photo 4) Machine-sewn book blocks.

(Photo 5) Printed sections gathered and/or sewn as ‘book block’ being bound with glue. Rollers placed in a basin of adhesive apply to the spine of the ‘book block’ adjusted strategically in a conveyor machine.

(Photo 6) Offset printed broadsheets being manually fed into the folding machine.

(Photo 7) Guillotine machine trimming the edges of printed sheets at the preset
‘crop marks’.

(Photo 8) While discussing the hardback covers. All covers are separately printed, bound and often laminated. Hardback covers are often wrapped in laminated dust jackets.

(Photo 9) The lamination machine. Where thin plastic is coated over paper to make it waterproof and durable. Most often used for book covers.




(Photo 10) Ronnie Gupta explains the technique of preparing the aluminum plates for offset printing. In this picture, he is seen holding a cyan plate.

The colour-coated photosensitive aluminum plates are exposed to light via laser device that emboss design or text over the plates. For four-colour printing, four such plates are prepared—cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

11 (Photo 11) The exposed colour-coated aluminum sheet is then washed in order to replicate the design/text onto the plate. The density of dots per inch (dpi) recreates the design/text. Special markers printed on the plates indicate the varying density of colour in the design/text. The same is applicable for all plates depending on the type of printing, namely, greyscale, two-colour, four-colour, etc.

(Photo 12) Perforations are made at specific points on all washed plates in order to hold them steady when placed inside the offset machine for mass scale printing. Few scraps of perforated cyan plates were given to us as souvenirs!

(Photo 13) The offset printing machine. Of the four colours the yellow and magenta/red inks are visible in this picture.

14(Photo 14) Sheets of paper to be fed into the offset printing machine.

15(Photo 15) The mark that is placed on the plate is replicated on the printed paper to denote alignment of ink.

16(Photo 16) The pH balance of printing ink is electronically monitored. Various other computers are used to scan colour codes, alignment of ink, etc.

In sum, the creative evolution of a book is metaphorically akin to the continuous creation of life: conceived as an idea, evolves as a manuscript in the hands of the author, incubated and shaped by the publisher, it runs through the machinations of the printing press and emerges as a form of life!

As Gaiman elucidates, ‘Book is a dream that you hold in your hand.’

Photo essay by Sayoni Ghosh

An Inspiration

Image Credit: Jitendra Arora
Image Credit: Jitendra Arora

This work is in response to the colorful, multilayered, seemingly haphazard but deeply absorbing digital artwork of Sunandini Banerjee.

I notice that some of her work has been beautifully used for Seagull book covers. And, of course, it is difficult to overlook her artwork inside the school, where it decks the walls and evokes the ambiance of a nineteenth century French salon. It is so eye-catching that it is difficult to look away, and sometimes, even amidst a lecture, I realize, I am stupefied, gazing insanely at a piece on a nearby wall.

To my understanding, Sunandini’s art is quintessentially postmodern. Postmodern art encourages multiple interpretations instead of promulgating a singular meaning. The readability of elements (including type) is replaced by their sheer materiality, and thus semi-abstractness prevails. The constituent elements of the artwork could be borrowed from other art forms, such as photographs, illustrations etc. This facilitates intertextuality.

Keeping these aspects in mind, through this work, I am first paying a tribute to Sunandini’s postmodern art. The text in the callouts is borrowed from essays appreciating postmodern art. The boy and the car are motifs to represent the school exterior—typical Calcutta street. I see these aplenty on my way to and fro. The colours represent the phrase, ‘intoxicating palimpsest’ (also included in my piece). That’s how I look at what lies inside as well as outside of the school.

Second, by somewhat imitating her style, I am trying to imbibe her approach and to learn how to create such exquisitely crafted, carefully layered work, which is both rich and enriching.

I hope to improve my understanding and craft by making more of inspired works.

Jitendra Arora

How come?

Editing, in any medium, can be a very bland topic of conversation—especially if the person at the other end is not an editor. An editor is often met with a look that enquires in all earnest, ‘Why would you choose to do this willingly?’ Following which some eye-rolling takes place, and yet another accusing question is hurled at you, ‘Why so eccentric? It is only editing! Not like you came up with the idea or created anything original in the first place.’

Editors are an incongruous lot. Often out of sync with the rest. I am one for the written medium. It all started rather instinctively.

Enter boss’ instinct—‘She can pull this off. Will definitely turn out be a lot cheaper than hiring one who actually knows what to do. I can include a lot more in her work responsibilities, especially if she is not aware of the time and effort required to carry them out. Her ignorance of what the work entails is especially blissful for my burgeoning budget.’

Enter my instinct, whimperingly—‘I can do this. With no formal training in English language whatsoever, and absolutely no warning of the various idiosyncrasies that accompany it, I most definitely can. My boss thinks I am capable and it is her book. I am sure she knows what she is doing. Fairly certain. Just hold your breath and dive right in. You will be fine. Hope floats.’

I went about all that I was asked to do in the best possible way, made known to me through books and websites. They were the neon lighting on my dark and lonesome highway, consistently averting a crash and burn incident. As I sat at my desk, procaffinating, after a gruelling 6-month stint, I wondered if there were others just like me, groping in the dark, hanging on to their recommended style guides for dear life.

On a day, when I was hoping for an alien abduction to put me out of my misery, a design intern at work could not contain her excitement. She discovered a Book Design course being offered by the Seagull School of Publishing. It came up during a random lunch conversation. Her description of the School intrigued me enough to look it up. I needed something to hold onto before the wave of indecision about the way forward swept me away in its unforgiving fold. I sound desperate. I was desperate. The page loaded and I caught sight of the words that made me smile unabashedly.

The Seagull School of Publishing, Calcutta, offers a professional course in Editing . . .

 A 3-month, full-time course being offered at the School in Calcutta. The logistics made it seem a little out of reach. Uprooting yourself and living in the City of Joy for three months did not seem so joyous at the time. I jostled with the idea and, after some consideration, abandoned it.

I am flaky, so I gave the online eligibility test. The advanced nature of the test brought me spiralling back to the physical world I inhabited. It helped determine the expectations one had from an individual hoping to be an effective editor. I wanted to get through now more than ever. The course had to be the next course of action. Undoubtedly. I was spared any further existential agony when I received an email from the School, confirming that I had been accepted for the Editing course.

I looked up at the ceiling in my living room and expressed my gratitude. An atheist was converted that day. For an hour. I said I was flaky.

Urvashi Bachani