This press is more of a plant than a printing press, with 2000 employees. Projects of immense scale are executed here, with the average quantity of any print job being at least a few lakh copies. Dictionaries, bestsellers, and textbooks are churned out. When you enter the press, you sit in a pleasant reception area for a bit, and you have no clue to the vastness within. Someone appears, and takes you through a small, average-looking door. Then you suddenly pass into a warehouse-like space so large, that you can’t see the end of it. The deafening roar of offset machines chugging away fills your ears. It’s as if you’ve vanished down the rabbit hole with Alice, and you’re now in printing Wonderland.
The printing area houses offset machines, as large as railway engines. You can climb onto them and watch the plates hitting the paper at incredible speed. A few machines are in between print jobs and rest peacefully, or are being cleaned by technicians. A large LCD screen shows the complex timetable of worker shifts. Piles of paper waist-high are being transported here and there. One can hardly speak over the din. The binding section is as large as the printing one, and houses machines that bind books. Books without their covers move along a long conveyer belt. From another area, their covers are traveling in a line. The machine applies a lick of glue on the covers and sticks the books into the spine in hypnotic repetition.
The Gauss web offset machine is a marvel of modern technology. It’s as large as a house and sits in a glass room of its own. A large digital console controls it from the outside. A roll of paper, around four feet in diameter is fed into the machine at one end. At the other end, a complete, bound and laminated magazine pops out. This machine has traveled to India from Germany, and with it came approximately thirty German technicians, who lived at the press for six months, training the Indian technicians to use it.
Germany is the birthplace of printing. Johannes Gutenberg was born there, and some of the finest offset machines still come from Heidelberg. These beasts of metal are strong workhorses. They strike wonder and joy into your heart as they spill out a million copies of books or magazines.
The most heart-stopping part of any project is when it goes to press. It’s a strange mix of excitement, exhilaration, sleeplessness, and stress. Printing is the make-or-break step. One annoying little mistake can stare at you from thousands of copies for the rest of your life. India has 33 million gods, or so they say. I like to think there is one tiny god, (worshipped by designers/editors) who sits up there, watching over the well-being of the world of print.
Many thanks to Vinu Chaitanya for the photographs.
The author is co-founder and Director, Content Design at Steta