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Yesterday and Today: Remembering the Old Waxing Layout Process
2008, Q3 (October 21, 2008)
By Monique Cobb, Carolina Chapter Secretary

Monique Cobb
Monique Cobb
“Monique, that is a unique name.” I have heard that a lot in my life and “Did you say, Money, Bunny, or Wendy?” It must be the tone that I introduce myself.

I am an out of the box type of person, unique. I ate sushi before it was “in.” I climbed pyramids and volcanoes before it was “in.” And, I used an in-house computer to layout a final product before it was “in.”

So how did I find myself as part of the first wave of people doing layout with a computer? In high school, I joined the newspaper staff. In the years before I joined, they had waxed the printed material and laid it out by hand. Historically, when using the waxing layout process, a typesetter would provide the words on sheets of paper. These pages would then be run through a waxing machine. This machine was hot to the touch and usually took a piece of wax the size of a bar of soap. The heat would melt the wax and it would wind up on the coils on the machine. The paper would be driven through the machine, somewhat like an old hand washer, but without the crank. It was automatic; as it was an electric device.

With this process, other materials were needed such as layout tables, Exacto knives, onion paper, rollers or plastic devices to press the final image onto the dummy pages, and let us not forget the triangles and rulers of picas and points.

You would think that transitioning into the new process would simplify things, but the new process had its challenges.
You would think that transitioning into the new process would simplify things, but the new process had its challenges.
There was only one computer, so time and organization was key. Our personal deadlines were tighter so staff members could type our stories into the computer. Once in, the trial of layout began. The urgent stories went earlier in the newspaper. We also had to keep in mind what would fit and, journalistically, how to achieve it. Yet, problems such as spell check and editing was easier and at hand through the new production process.

As fast and efficient as the new computerized process was to us, the old process of laying out material by hand was familiar to me. This is the way my dad worked at his print shop. I spent summers and some evenings there doing homework. I was able to assist once my homework was complete. I would sit in the darkroom and watch the magical process of film to negative. I would then take the negative onto the light table and fill in the positives that were missed with a special marker.

Like our class, he started out with a dummy page. Earlier in the company, he used a typesetter to provide the text. Combined with his graphic design skills, he would layout his artwork by hand at a drafting table. Using the waxing method, he would layout images and text in the precise places.

Once complete, he was able to move into the darkroom and create the necessary negative image to burn to a plate. He used metal plates in the beginning – burning the negative imagine into the metal with a huge machine the size of a small car. This machine burnt the imagine with a bright light. My dad would then sustain the image with chemicals. In later years, he came across paper plates. These were created in a similar process, but with another machine. These were only beneficial to one-time jobs, as metal ones could be used over and over.

The plates were used on three different printing presses. Two were one-color presses, printing one color at a time. The other was a five-color press, running five colors at one time. There was an additional part that could be added to the one-color presses to run two colors at a time. Otherwise, a project would have to run with one color. My dad, then, waited until that job was dry to run the next color. Once the product was finished printing and drying, the product was trimmed to size. Sometimes, it was collated, stapled, and/or folded. And finally, it was packaged and delivered to the client.

It was an interesting process, and even today I think of those earlier processes and how they assist my work. Currently, I have a hand-created layout in my portfolio to teach that I understand the printing process from a historical point of view. I am aware of the tight deadlines, as the printer has a lot to do to get my final product accomplished. And worse comes to worse, if my layout program fails, I know how to create a dummy page by hand. Though, I am not sure if Ruby lithe is still around today. This is a red transparent sheet used in the mock-up of artwork. But I am still familiar with Pantone colors, now used on computer software programs.

I proudly continue my out of the box life – eating my sushi and traveling to far off places. My mom and I had the opportunity to travel to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brussels, France, Ireland, and England. I would love to write about these adventures one day. But, in the meantime, I am off to find my next contract.

Monique can be reached at monique_stcjobs at yahoo dot com. End of article.

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