The aim of this research and project is to bring a comprehensive view of current and experimental possibilities of printing methods, giving practitioners an insight into the way we think of printing in the area of print design.
While there is nonetheless a plethora of very beautifully produced print designs, there seems to be a lack of the documenting or research of newer and more experimental ways of using printing methods, as in most cases, designers would opt for safer, tried and tested, more practical methods—as we need to be absolutely sure that things would work for a certain project, especially commercial projects with deadlines. There is no room for error and multiple reprints due to financial and time restraints.
With this research, being unrestricted by clients, briefs or the need for practicality as compared to commissioned work, experiments with various combinations of print methods and paper options will be possible, with the aim of finding new ways that work which may be one day implemented on projects of a larger scale, having made sure that these methods are achievable.
The significance of this research would be to bring a new perspective of printing processes to those in the design industry. This would hopefully promote innovative thinking when it comes to using printing methods and systems, and prompt designers to think or rethink about how we consider choices of printing methods in our practice.
This study is based on the notion that even while there are practical and technical limitations of printing equipment, inks, and materials, this process is open to manipulation and experimentation. During the course of this research, I discovered other practitioners who have carried out a similar approach to printing in their practice, whether on larger commercial printers or just as an inquiry but not so much reapplied into a commercial context.
Instead of passing off the conventional usage of printers and the resulting products as 'lacking innovation', this new perspective in considering how we approach using printers provides potential benefit to practicing print designers. These results may inspire other experiments, be applied to commercial purposes, thus, may also extend the range of outcomes that emerge during the design process. It is taken into consideration not only the impact on how designers communicate but how audiences receive and interact with the message through its printed form. This new awareness led to the development of three core research questions:
- Can mechanical limitations of current printing methods be surpassed?
- Can experimental printing methods be reproduced accurately to communicate effectively?
- How can designers and printers innovate in the usage of printing systems?
These questions serve the purpose of guiding me throughout the course of this research and acting as reference points to the core objective of this research.
In order to explore the concept of experimental printing using digital printing systems, and how these may be adapted to commercial applications, I conducted a practice based research around various categories of experimental printing. Reflections were made upon the results and how they may be applied, then later interrogating the place that experimentation has in print design. This was an inquiry into the application of experimental printing, rather than the act of experimentation itself.
This research is arranged as two practice based stages involving the experimentation with digital printing systems, and then the practical applications of it. This is done to make a distinction between the experimental process and the application aspect of it. As I will show through the course of this research, the results of experimental and unconventional printing methods can be utilised to communicate in a commercial production context, eventually no longer taking the form of an experiment. Although an experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental (Bil’ak 2010).
This first stage involves carrying out experiments regarding different aspects of the printing process and printing systems. The digital printing systems that were used are the desktop inkjet printer, laser printer, and the Risograph printer. Rather than building the experiments based on the three available printers, due to the nature of some printers being more flexible than others—which might result in relying on a specific printing system over another; the experiments were structured as nine different categories within the printing process where experimentation may be possible:
- Interruptions in process
- Modifying equipment
- Modifying substances
- Modifying substrates
- Overusing/limiting substances
- Absorption of substances by substrate
- Overlapping/interaction of colours
- Relation of substance colour with substrate colour
- Unconventional substrates
These experiments were approached while being as receptive as possible to whatever outcomes, without any preconceptions, as the results or even the process itself can be unpredictable. While predictions may be formed, they were not meant to influence the experimentation such that they become means to achieve desired results—rendering the process no longer experimental. Most printed experiments were previously unattempted methods, at least personally. This stage was designed to challenge the way we limit the use printing systems within the scope of its primary function. All results, whether as expected or not are documented in the Exegesis sections (Pt. I & Pt. II) of this research, along with the methods and materials used in the process. Prints were made using various imagery from past projects, or simple text and graphical elements. No new, elaborate elements were created for the purposes of these experiments, they were ample for encapsulating the results and clear enough to be analysed.
For The Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2013, Tavelli and Keshavjee of Maximage took the idea of test prints to its extreme by subjecting various pages of the book to continuously changing parameters, informed by their experiments in Les Impressions Magiques and using colours developed for Maximage Formula Guide: Special Colors for Offset Printing, an 80-page book of colors developed by 1CVdg students during a workshop held by Körner Union and Maximage (Motto Distribution 2011). The result is highly varied—for example, using CMYK and Sixplex printing, matt varnish or no varnish and so on. The various treatments and methods are intermixed with different screening criterions as well (Perimeter Books 2013). This was a prime example of taking experiments and applying them into a reproducible and published format, also leaving a strong visual signature and sophisticated concept.
This second stage of research was informed by the first experimentation stage and was crucial in answering the research questions. Attempted experiments were selected, and printed projects were designed based on them, with the aim of using the experiment results as tools of communication. This is an exploration of the feasibility of reproducing these results, and whether the design objectives are met.
These applied print designs take the form of fictional purposes or reinterpretations of existing works. The purpose here is not to interrogate the final product about how polished it is, but to prove that experimented methods have a place in communicating effectively when applied in print design. This investigation and interest to explore the possibilities for designers within communication design practice through print are informed by my practice so far as a designer.
As previously stated, there is a gap when it comes to designers wishing to refer to tactile examples of printing techniques. They must either turn to existing books, which only present them in photographs and make it impossible to experience their tangible qualities, or to samples in advertising brochures put out by individual printing presses, which are focused on the technology that their visual and haptic appeal is lost (Morlok et al. 2009).
Extra: Encyclopaedia of Experimental Print Finishing aims to address this issue as well, in specific relation to commercial printing finishes like phosphorescent ink, blind embossing and the like. It uses tangible printed works as pages to present the most important finishing techniques practically and theoretically, in combinations and variants. Thirty international designers created pages especially for this book as a basis for explaining each technique, while additional articles deal with general issues such as planning and costing of a finish or its mode of operation.
My intention is to compile the resulting prints and this text into a final form of a catalogue, making it a physical reference for experimental methods using digital printing systems—providing the technical features of each technique, and exploration of its possible uses. There is the potential to reproduce multiple copies of this for dissemination, contributing to the conversation about print in communication design practice, with the hope of inspiring further innovations using common digital printing systems.