Offset

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Synonyms: offset printing
See also: Zine Production
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Offset printing, also referred to as "multilith"[citation needed] was a method of printing fanzines.

"Moskowitz' own Fantasy Times in 1940was the first offset fanzine. Early fanzines were often reproduced by hektograph: a process in which a typewriter's impressions on a purple master were transferred to a bed of hekto jelly, and a careful fan could make about 60 readable copies by pressing down one sheet at a time." [1]

Impulse #5, which was published in August 1971, was one of the first offset media fanzines in reduced format.

For a debate on the merits of offset vs mimeo go here.

In 2003, K.S. Langley wrote an essay describing the methods of early zine production.

A Contemporaneous Description

In 1982, in issue 35 of the S&H letterzine, Barbara Green Deer described this printing method in her article: "Offset Printing."

Offset is a method of printing in which the image is transferred to the paper from a completely flat printing plate. The plate is made so that the image areas (the black of your copy) attract the ink and repel water. The non image (background) area attracts water and repels ink. The inked plate does not actually print onto your paper. It transfers the image first to an offset blanket, a rubber coated cylinder, which then prints the image onto the paper. That's why it's called 'offset'.
sample offset page from the Star Trek zine R&R 13, click to read

There are two types of offset print, and they differ in how the plates are made. Regular offset uses a photographic negative of your copy to transfer the image to the plate. This method allows for a great deal of control especially in reproducing artwork, but is expensive, and getting harder to find unless you're a major publisher. The type of offset lost readily available to a fanzine publisher is commonly called 'quickprint.' All those storefront printshops: PIP, Big Red Q, Kwik-Kopy, Sir Speedy etc., are collectively called 'quickprinters.' No negative is used in this type of printing. The offset plate is made photographically directly from your copy. Whatever you have on your master will reproduce as there is no negative stage when the image can be touched up or altered. That's why quickprinters ask you to bring in 'camera ready' copy.....

....The offset process can print only solid blocks of ink. We will assume you're using black ink on white paper. The printing plate is either inked in one spot or it isn't. So what comes out on the paper is either black ink, or no black ink, leaving white paper. All artwork for offset printing must be made up of areas of black and areas of white. The black areas can be very tiny, as in stippled drawings made up of thousand of small dots. Or the black area can be quite large, although heavy black areas tend to show through onto the back of the page, obscuring the type. Offset cannot reproduce anything composed of tones, or shades of gray, such as a photograph or a pencil drawing, unless it is first broken up into thousands of tiny black and white dots by a halftone screen. If you look at a newspaper photo, you'll see the dots quite clearly. They fool your eyes into thinking they're seeing shades of gray. All printed photographs are reproduced as dots, although sometimes the dots are so small you can't believe they re really there. The offset press knows, however. So, if you plan on reproducing photographs or illustrations done in pencil, charcoal, watercolor, or almost anything other than pen and ink, you'll need to have them made into half tones and this, of course, will cost you extra. </ref>

Fandom Usage

  • The editors of Code 7: "One more thing--we had originally planned to print C7 offset, but the prices we were quoted here in Chicago are just impossible. So, we're xeroxing. Not, I hasten to add, the artwork; that will be done professionally. And a good quality xerox looks just about as good as offset, anyway. Just so there are no misunderstandings!"
  • A review of Contact (Star Trek: TOS zine) #3: "She is an example of those rare artists whose pencil-work is so superior that it really merits the considerable expense of half-tone-screening for offset reproduction."
  • From S and H in 1979, the editor of The Pits (Starsky and Hutch zine): "I would like to apologize for the cost of the thing. I would like to, but I really can't. The artwork needs special attention, and the contents really deserve a good print job, so I'm going to photo-offset with it. Plus I think my neighbor and printer for the first issue would have cardiac arrest if presented with 200-plus names to run off -- remind me to tell you sometime about what his garage looked like after he got through printing the silkscreen cover for issue #1."
  • From one editor of Don't Give Up On Us, Baby: "Eighteen years, That's how long it's been since Lucy and I first published Who You Know, What You Know and How You Know It in 1983...Times have certainly changed in the past 18 years! Way back, when we published 'Who You Know..." I did it all by hand. That means I typed the whole zine on Black Beauty, my old Selectric typewriter, on oversized pages (so I could take the pages to Kinko's and pay .15 per page to reduce them to 85%) and I did all the titles and little graphics in presstype. And when I laid out the pages, if something didn't fit fight, I cut and pasted! And then I had the whole thing offset printed, and held a huge collating party where many of my friends helped me collate and bind the thing. Thankfully, those days are in the past. Lucy produced [this latest] zine [that you] hold in your hand on a computer."
  • Reviewing the zine Never and Always "The zine probably would have been better as a novella within another zine, since $2 for 36 offset pages is a bit steep; mimeo would have been perfect, but it is not always available."
  • Reviewing Rigel 2: "The 'zine is photo-offset, with the bulk being of reduced type — the entire 'zine is well laid-out and eminently readable..."
  • Nancy Kippax writes: "Contact #I was reprinted after the first of the year in 1976, and in May of that year we proudly brought out our second issue. Contact was growing up and growing larger. This issue was 119 pages and had a list of contributors that would have done any zine editor at the time proud. In addition to our own fiction and Russ's artwork, we had C. Faddis, J. Cantor, K. Penland, DT Steiner and others. We rented an electric typewriter, it wasn't a Selectric – we couldn't afford that yet. But we did have the funds to use offset printing, which was a huge improvement!... Carol Lynn has, as she herself describes it "been involved in fandom for (mumblelty) years." Fandom has not yet destroyed her memory, because she clearly remembers the days when owning a mimeograph machine was considered the apex of technology for fan publishing...she published one of the first professionally offset printed zines, Kraith Collected in 1973."

References

  1. "Sam Moskowitz delivered two talks at the 1939 con, one of them 'The Fan World of the Future.'... [At the 1992 Worldcon], he began with his own look back at the way fans lived 50 years ago, a series of recollections that enthralled everyone." -- from File 770 #95, November 1992