The power of the processor

The following article originally appeared in Issue 4 / 2016 of Specialist Printing Worldwide. For more details on Sophie Matthews-Paul, visit her website at

The power of the processor

I took to building my own PCs to satisfy my own curiosity (but also because I am no good at knitting). Ergo, fiddling with small components and screwdrivers helped while away my evenings when there was little worth watching on the television.

At the time that I was tinkering with bits like X386 processors, 20MB hard drives, Hercules graphics cards, and serial and parallel ports I never imagined for one moment where these early computers would take us and how our lives would become dominated by technology, in both commercial and domestic environments.

As a potential driver for printing equipment all those years ago processor power was starting to find its feet in the pre-press world but it was still a costly element; businesses needed to justify the transition, say, to a drum scanner or a more automated method of producing films, screens and plates. Technology was still pretty limited and dependable reliability was rare.

Taking processes for granted.

Although trade shows had touched on more innovative processes it wasn't until Ipex in 1988 that I truly noticed the coming of a serious shift that would impact all segments of the printing industry. Yet, today, we are all really spoilt because, whether we are a user, a developer, an integrator or a manufacturer, all the dirty work has been done for us when it comes to the basic processors that we rely upon to make our machines work. We know that operating systems and programs should be able to handle the most complex of tasks without keeling over and we expect our computers to toil endlessly, day in and day out. We also take for granted that the combination of hardware, firmware and software will not let us down in our hour of need. (And, of course, we maintain regular back-ups to make sure there are no losses should a failure of some kind occur.)

Regardless of the printing equipment we are using for our chosen production process somewhere beneath it all lies a reliance on a computer platform - even with analogue set-ups few are 100% manual in today's commercial and industrial world. As well as providing functionality and automation to drive our machines, most of us utilise software packages for origination, photographic manipulation and editing, layouts, text input and output file creation. Many businesses also rely on technology for colour accuracy, profiling and linearisation, as well as for turning our artwork into a format that is suitable for printed output.

Ever more complexity

As we expect greater complexity in the devices we use and in the types of end result we demand, so the processing capabilities involved need to be able to handle more complicated data without compromising speed or accuracy. Developers of common computer platforms in my mind have excelled themselves in being able to address all their different markets and, as a result, there are few in any areas in today's industrial world where these machines don't play a role.

However, in all the arenas which have computers at their core, print in its many guises was always going to be a strong contender for processors and their capabilities. The reasons behind this are innumerable, fulfilling the need for consistency in repeatability and assisting and automating many of the former labour-intensive pre-press and on-press tasks many of which relied largely on training and skill. Add to these benefits of creative elements plus administrative and accounting functions, and it is easy to see how the once humble personal computer has evolved to become the backbone to most business functions. Would we manage without them? The answer is, surely, no.

This takes me back to where I came in - at the early days of computer power for the masses and when it became a viable proposition for everyone. You don't need to go back many decades to find a time when the words 'digital' and 'printing' didn't appear in the same sentence. Now, as technologies continue to help drive forward new and innovative devices and methodologies, it seems incredible that a component smaller that an After Eight mint can provide the processing power upon which so many industries depend.