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A look into the different types of photocopiersBlueprinting, reprographics, large format, and other namesI interviewed Ewan Tallentire, owner of Denver-area reprographics shop Albion Repro & Graphics, about the changes he’s seen over a couple decades in the blueprinting industry, and the history before that. Yes, I know, reprographics doesn’t sound like an exciting topic. But it’s related to both architecture and printing, so between great buildings and Johannes Gutenberg, there's a lot of related history. Reprographics goes by many names, such as blueprinting, large format printing, wide format copying, digital publishing, and document printing. The name changes because the product changes, as new technology comes into use. It’s always been about those drawings you build from: construction plans, blueprints, architect drawings, house plans, home plans, engineering drawings, floor plans, landscaping plans, etc. But as the drawings went from pencil to computer, how they got copied also changed. What hasn’t changed: the job hazard of paper cuts! Reprographics industry trends - less space, price, and smellReprographics became a business independent from architecture because architects and contractors didn’t want big, noisy, smelly machines in their offices, not to mention the training, experience, and money the machines required. Recently, printers, plotters, and other reprographic equipment have become small, cheap, and non-toxic enough to fit many offices. Today’s prints are usually black-and-white printing on bond paper, most often the 24x36 size. There’s no need for the variety of media and printers that existed in the past, and the shelf life of supplies is much longer. As a result, many architecture firms and contractors do their own printing, and many reprographics shops have gone out of business or changed focus. Like blacksmithing after cars replaced horses, reprographics is changing as an industry, but it still has its uses. The search for the ideal: reprographic media and printersTo understand where things are going in reprography, you have to look at how it got where it is today. From the beginning, it’s been a search for the fastest, easiest, and cheapest solution to three problems: something to draw onsomething to make copies onsomething to keep for a recordThe following timeline shows some of the types of printers and media used for copying, and what order they came in. I do wonder what the first architects of the US Capitol would have thought of AutoCAD and floor plans that could be emailed rather than engraved. Architectural originals: the need for stable and reproducible recordsOnce you’ve designed a building, you want to keep the records for very practical reasons of knowing where you can make changes or how repairs will affect it, but also for historical reasons to show future generations what you did. So it would be nice if the original plans could last as long as the building itself. You don’t want to expose the originals to the wear and tear of the construction site, so you want copies made for actual use. You also may want what I’ll call semi-originals; copies of all or part of the original printed on something stable enough to treat like an original. That way an architect in Denver can keep his originals while sending the semi-originals to a building site in Kansas City, without fear of losing everything in the mail. Before the digital age of large-format printing (which didn’t really arrive until this millennium), there were several processes for copying. All these processes were variations of shining light through the original onto a print which was treated with chemicals so shadows turned a different color from light areas. So for fastest and best results, originals needed to be transparent, or at least as translucent as possible. Architectural originals: linenTwo hundred years ago, linen was often used both for the original drawings and for hand-tracing the plans from the original onto a copy for record. This linen was the same stuff that's used in high-quality old books: it looks like paper but it’s actually a thin woven fabric without the acidic wood pulp of regular paper. It had a paraffin-based coating to make it easier to draw on. Ewan tells of a linen original brought into his shop which was dated about 1872 and was probably drawn on with a quill pen. Architectural originals: vellum and paper sepiaLinen tended to shrink slightly, so the standard for originals became vellum, which, like linen, is fairly translucent. This is not true vellum; real vellum is made from animal hide stretched and scraped (rather than tanned, which makes leather). What is called vellum now is made of 100% rags (as opposed to the wood pulp that regular paper is mostly made of). Vellum was the standard drawing base for 50 years or more, starting in the early 1900s. In the early years of vellum, part of the drawing might be copied to paper sepia (in a diazo process which exposed the sepia to light then developed it with ammonia). Paper sepia was vellum-based with a sepia-colored emulsion. The sepia was then a semi-original that could be copied from and/or kept for record. Another use of paper sepias was to save time and effort by copying the base floor plan of a multi-story building onto paper sepia, then drawing in the details of each floor separately. Paper sepia was still being used in the 1990s; a floor plan might be drawn on vellum, then the electrical plan filled in on the paper sepia. Since architects can now draw on a computer and print directly from the file, vellum has gone out of general use for drafting (though some colleges teach hand drafting on vellum so students aren’t completely dependent on computers). Artists still use vellum, for tracing over a pencil sketch and transferring it to canvas. Architectural originals: tissue paperEwan’s shop scanned some prints, dated from 1932 to 1936, from a mansion in Denver. These were the landscaping prints, and they were on tissue paper (also known as sketch, or tracing, paper). While buildings would have been drawn on vellum, landscaping was usually just one plan, a quick sketch drawn while talking to the customer, so it was reasonable to use something as fragile but cheap as tissue paper. See this HubPage for a picture of what landscape designs look like today (hint: it's sure not a quick sketch!) Architectural copies for record: MylarMylar was, and is still, used as semi-originals, as copies for record. Mylar was developed in the 1950s, and is used in many applications (such as balloons). Its value in record-keeping is that it doesn’t rip easily, and doesn’t fade or change color as other kinds of copies do. Bluelines and paper sepias tend to go on changing when exposed to light or heat, so lines fade or images get transferred to the next paper in the stack. Mylar was first used in reprographics as Photomylar; the original was literally photographed onto the Mylar film (I'll eventually explain what kind of camera makes poster-sized pictures!) But it was a messy, expensive, wasteful, and time-consuming process. And though the result was fairly stable, it wasn’t durable: the emulsion was so soft you could scratch the image off with your thumbnail. Eventually Mylar was developed to run through printers in a xerographic process like paper. That way, the emulsion is actually infused in the Mylar instead of sitting on top of the film. Modern Mylars have mostly replaced Photomylar, but there are rumors of municipalities around the country that still require Photomylars for records, assuming (and I can't say I blame them) that an older process must be more trustworthy than something digital. Architectural record-keeping issuesOne question record-keepers have to face is the value of the records compared to the expense. Ewan says Mylar prints cost about 6 times more than bond paper prints, and he questions whether their advantages over bond paper are really worth that cost. The main point of a Mylar was to be a stable translucent base to copy bluelines from, and since bluelines have been superseded, translucency in an original isn’t important anymore. Ewan also points out that reprographers dislike Mylar since the edges are tough enough to scratch the glass on printers. On the one hand, he would like to see all Photomylars scanned to file and stored digitally on disks, but on the other hand, there is a reason record-keepers trust older formats more. Who knows what digital storage format will be in 10 years? It may be worth more to print expensively now than to convert files to a new format down the road. Physical copies are comfortingly compatible with the real world. Ewan likes to say he’s never seen a pencil be incompatible with another pencil. The copies and copiersThere is much more to say, about the copies (blueprints, bluelines, and bond) themselves, and the printers, plotters, and giant cameras that did the copying. Read Part Two to find out which is a blueline and which is a blueprint.Read Part Three to find out how big a room-sized camera is.
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Architecture Plan Copying: A History of the Development of Reprographics and ReprographyWhen you come to buy a new laser printer there are so many things to consider. Which manufacturer should you choose? What model will suit your needs best? What is your budget? But before all of these can be addressed you have to overcome the first obstacle, which is to decide whether you need a mono or colour laser printer. By determining whether you’re happy printing in black and white or require full colour you can move on and determine how much to spend and which models fit your desired specification. Clearly the main difference between the two types is the colour or lack thereof on offer; however listed below are a selection of other significant considerations that could help to add a little more clarity to your decision making process: CostA mono laser printer really comes up trumps when it comes to costs. Not only will the initial purchase price be significantly lower than a colour equivalent, but the day to day running will also show a marked reduction. The primary reason for why running costs are kept so low is due to the cartridges they use. With a colour laser printer you require four colour cartridges (red, yellow, blue and black), or an amalgamated single cartridge with each of the four tones present; all of which costs a substantial amount more than the single tone option. Initial costs reflect the reduction in associated features and onboard components/technology within the mono laser printer. Colour printers as a general rule of thumb tend to be slightly more complex than their mono counterparts. Because of this you really need to factor in whether or not you will genuinely require the addition of colour in your prints; because if you don’t, you could end up wasting a lot of money by choosing to go with the more expensive option. QualityThe image reproduction is often comparable on equivalent mono and colour laser printers. Of course the major difference is that one will just be in greyscale whilst the other is more vibrant. For printing standard work documents and the occasional image, a mono laser printer should normally suffice; of course if you are looking to reproduce high quality images in their full glory the colour option is the only way to go. SizeLaser printers tend to be larger than their inkjet counterparts. Due to their setup, speed and low print costs they are also often the printer of choice in most offices, big or small. The size of a unit isn’t often dependent on whether it is mono or colour, but is often determined by the size of the paper tray and the amount of features it has. In rare instances you may find that a colour one, complete with four toner cartridges may be larger than its mono equivalent, but this certainly isn’t a cast iron rule. SpeedThe difference in printing speed is often negligible. When printing in mono, using either a full colour or black and white printer, it may be slightly quicker than in colour; however as a general rule, modern laser printers tend to be pretty quick on the draw, so you shouldn’t have any issues with getting your work transposed onto paper with reasonable haste. ConclusionSo there you have it, all of the differences you’ll find between a colour laser printer and its mono equivalent. In truth the most sizeable, colour transferral aside, distinction can be found in the pricing of both. If you’re on a budget and want more printer for your money, then a mono is certainly the way forward. That said, colour printers clearly offer more variety when it comes to printing options and as the technology has developed, the prices have tumbled, so you can expect prices to range from just £100 up to many thousands of pounds. When it comes to choosing a model or a brand, well that’s a whole different story. There are certainly plenty to choose from with great examples available from manufacturers such as Epson, OKI, HP, Canon, Lexmark and Samsung. Often this decision will simply rest on your own individual requirements and the characteristics of the product itself. There are bargains to be had and a fantastic range to suit most budgets, you just need to decide whether you need colour or if you’ll be happy printing in black and white. A printer is often a long-term investment, so don’t just focus on your short-term needs.
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