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Architecture Plan Copying: A History of the Development of Reprographics and Reprography

Blueprinting, 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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The True Cost of an Inkjet Printer If you are planning to buy a new inkjet printer, you will initially be pleasantly surprised by the choice of excellent printers at very reasonable prices available. However you will soon realize that to truly understand the cost of running the printer, you have to think about the cost of running the device, and specifically what you will pay for the cartridges. In recent years manufacturers have been practically giving printers away, while charging extortionate amounts for replacement ink cartridges, making ink one of the most expensive fluids on earth. In addition the amount of ink you actually get in a cartridge has significantly decreased. Today you get 25% of the amount of ink you got ten years ago. To make matters worse printers often "waste" ink while going through automated maintenance procedures to clean their print heads. Manufacturers also program the microchips in their devices to ensure that they will not work with refills. If you plan to spend around $100 for a printer, but will then need to spend $40 for ink cartridges, you can appreciate that factoring the cost of ink replacement is important in finding an inkjet that will allow you to print at low cost. How to Find the True Cost of Using Your Inkjet Printer Estimating the true cost of printing is far from simple. Unfortunately it is not enough to compare the prices of different manufacturer's ink cartridges, these could hold different amounts of ink and will yield different amounts of print before they need to be replaced. A generally used measure for the ink costs of running a printer is the CPP (cost per page). This is usually reported as two values, one for black and white pages, which is significantly lower, and one for color. This takes account of the cost of cartridges and their yield (how many pages can be printed from one cartridge). Of course the yield is not a fixed value, it depends on the settings for the quality of the printed page. High resolution, maximum quality settings use up more ink than 'draft' settings. Naturally manufacturers report yields for the lowest settings available on the printer, so if you print a lot of high quality photographs that you want to display, your costs will be higher. Kodak: All-In-One Hero 7.0Kodak advertises itself as having the lowest cost ink from all the other manufacturers. It claims that the cost of running its devices is 50% of that of other manufacturers. Although these claims are disputed by other companies like HP, it does appear that Kodak printers do cost less to run. The Hero 7.0 is an all-in-one inkjet, which means that it can function as a photocopier and scanner as well. However its usefulness in an office setting is limited by the fact that the main paper tray only holds 100 sheets at a time, and the slow speed of its printing. On the other hand, it can work very well as a home printer, were it especially excels at printing high quality photos. It has a separate tray for photo paper, and can be connected to your network through ethernet and wifi. It is Airprint capable, allowing easy printing from iPhones and iPads, but can also be accessed from Google cloud, and other mobile devices. It will also print directly from bridge cameras, memory cards and USB pen drives, and has a good 3.5" LCD. Kodak's reported price per page, 2.8 cents for black and white and 8.2 cents for colour is probably as low as you are going to get. AIO Printer From BrotherThe Brother MFC J825DW printer won an Editor's Choice from PC Magazine as an office-centric all in one printer that can double as a copier, scanner or a fax machine. It comes with many features which could be useful in a small office or a home office including a 20 page automatic document feed (ADF), allowing you to easily handle scanning or copying multi-page documents. The ink isn't the cheapest around, it is estimated that cost per page is 4.2 c for monochrome and 11.7 c for color. However they are not as bad as Canon or Epson printers and if you do a lot of printing the availability of cartridge multi packs can bring down the price to 3.8 c and 10.1 c for black and white and color respectively. An HP e-Printer for the Office The HP Officejet Pro 8600 is an all-in-one inkjet for people with serious printing and paper handling needs. It is targetted more at the small office, rather than the home. This is one of HP's range of e-printers, it is assigned its own email address, and documents can be printed by emailing them as PDF files. It also has wi-fi connectivity and can read directly from memory cards. The Officejet Pro 8600 is very fast for an inkjet and produces high quality prints. It comes with an automatic document feed (ADF) which can handle up to 50 pages, and can automate duplexing, so it will scan or copy double sided pages unattended. Manufacturer reported yields form its extra capacity cartridges are 2700 pages for black ink, and 1500 pages for colour. Given the price of the cartridges this works out at about 1.6 cents per monochrome page and 7.3 cents for a colour page, which is remarkably cheap for inkjet printers. This HP Officejet is a real power workhorse and has many productivity features. It has a bigger footprint than many all-in-one inkjets, and is not a budget printer. You will make significant savings over time if you need to print a lot of documents, and makes sense if you need its paper-handling abilities. However if you are looking for a home device to print the occasional photo or document, you are probably better off with a cheaper device, even if it has higher ink costs.

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