Specialists in print and digital publications for . . .

Our services

We provide a comprehensive range of services for print and digital media (websites, eBooks, eMags, flipbooks, CDs and DVDs):

  • Design
  • Layout
  • Typesetting
  • eBooks (ePub and Kindle)
  • Technical illustration
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Website development
  • Prepress
  • Print management
  • Multimedia management

The Seven Deadly Sins

Ask ten proofreaders or editors their seven pet hates, and no doubt you’ll end up with seventy rather than seven examples. In fact, we had quite an argument here at Sunset as we tried to narrow the list down to just seven! Here’s what we ended up with:

1. Lead/led

2. Everyday/Every day

3. It’s/Its

4. Alright/All right

5. Stationery/Stationary

6. Foreword/Forward

7. Separate/Seperate

The good old days . . . or were they?

Author: The Sunset Team

Ever met a grumpy old person? We have!

You won’t find just one age group at Sunset Publishing Services. We don’t discriminate one way or the other, which we think is how it should be. A mix of young and old (well, not old exactly!) gives us just the right blend of experience and fresh ideas – and, as you may gather from the rest of this site, there are quite a few passions that unite us.

Of course, those of us who’ve ‘been around’ for a few years have met some interesting and, more often than not, frustrating characters. Every area of life has them, and the printing / composing / typesetting / graphic design industry (call it what you will) is no exception. We would hesitate to use the word ‘Luddite’ to describe the attitudes we examine in this article, but nevertheless there exist certain persons who remember with fondness the ‘good old days’ of typesetting and page composition, and wish those times were still with us.

At Sunset, those of us who remember the ‘old days’ have a somewhat different view. For the more generationally challenged amongst us, the term means the era of hot metal typesetting – and yes, we’re aware that if you’re a designer fresh out of college or university, you may well not know what that means. (As an aside, we must make the point that there’s a great deal to be said for history – at the very least it gives the student a contextual basis for his or career – but in these postmodernist times the benefits are not always appreciated.) For the uninitiated then, let’s present a brief outline of what it was really like back in those ‘good old days’.

A hot-metal wax

First off, by modern standards the working conditions were atrocious, and in some ways they were downright dangerous. ‘Hot metal’ means exactly what it implies: type was cast from a molten mix of lead (the main constituent), tin and antimony. The most common typesetting equipment (try to imagine life without your friendly Mac!) was the Linotype machine – a noisy, complex, mechanical contraption quite capable of squirting a stream of liquid metal into your lap if you didn’t treat it just so. For those who went through that particular experience, a modern bikini-line waxing holds no fears!

Then there were the metal saws. (Yes, you heard us correctly – saws!) After all, lines of type (‘slugs’) had to be cut down to the correct length before they were assembled into books, brochures and so on, and what better way to do it than with a circular saw. Naturally enough, not everyone would leave the safety guard in place (it just ‘got in the way’), so it was not unknown for a finger to disappear into the waste bucket underneath.

In today’s design studios, dust is rarely a problem, unless the cleaners haven’t done their job properly. Imagine, though, an environment where dust was everywhere – and not just ordinary dust; this was the lead variety. Despite the fact that workers wore dustcoats or aprons, fine lead dust would penetrate clothing, skin and mouths. As a consequence, lead poisoning was not uncommon.

The tradespersons who did this work were called ‘compositors’. If they set type on a Linotype or other typesetting machine (Intertype or Monotype), they were called ‘hand and machine compositors’. If they had been trained purely in page assembly of type and images (which were etched on metal plates), they were called simply ‘hand compositors’.

Designers and artists? There were no desktop computers in those dim, dark days, so designs were prepared by hand on paper and then handed over to the compositors who did the actual typesetting and layout work. As for artists, the pen tool was a real pen, and airbrushing required an air compressor. Mess it up and you started again from scratch! Indeed, that was how it was with nearly every aspect of work in the good old hot-metal days.

Way cool!

At this point, our grumpy old person may well be mumbling that he or she was really talking about the ‘cold type’ and ‘phototypesetting’ years which immediately preceded desktop publishing, so let’s move onwards a technological generation. Through the course of the 1970s, hot metal gradually gave way to what was known as ‘cold type paste-up’. To be precise, ‘paste-up’ was a bit of a misnomer: the process required applying hot wax, not paste, to the back of bromide paper. Galleys of type (via photomechanical and, subsequently, dedicated computer technology) and photographs (via process cameras) were imaged on bromide, which was then cut up and positioned on lightweight card with the aid of grids and light tables. Compared with hot metal, the working environment and production processes were clean and safe – as long as we disregard the occasional cut finger from a clumsily wielded scalpel. (Yes, the knives were the same variety as those used by your local surgeon.)

There can be no arguing that those were indeed better days than the ones that preceded them. Cold type provided much-needed increases in efficiency and flexibility of layout, and at the same time permitted a cleaner, safer workplace with far fewer fingers going astray. But how does this period compare with today?

God bless Steve Jobs!

Well, that headline gives away our opinion, doesn’t it? For anyone who takes an objective look at the industry, there is no question that desktop publishing was the most liberating, fundamentally progressive change that had occurred since Gutenberg invented movable type (mind you, not everyone is convinced that he did, but that’s another story). The development of the Apple Macintosh and, soon after, Adobe’s PostScript page description language, led to a revolution the repercussions of which are still being felt today. (The late Steve Jobs was the first to recognise the importance of personal computers to the graphics industry and so designed the Apple Macintosh to accommodate the industry’s specific requirements – hence the proliferation of Mac computers throughout the graphics world.)

As one of our older staff members put it, ‘It lifted from us all the layout restrictions the old technologies had imposed and gave full reign to our creativity. Suddenly we could make dramatic changes to a document easily, cheaply – and in real time!’ Of course, it also imposed steep learning curves on traditionally skilled workers who were obliged to struggle with rapidly changing technologies. Within a short time they were not only expected to retrain in desktop publishing, but also to master drawing packages and manipulate images. Some left the industry altogether, and many of those who stayed were left with an understandable yearning for simpler times. I’m sure there are young designers out there who’ve come across these ‘grumpy’, aging individuals, but spare a thought for the changes they’ve had to make – and, as we’re about to discuss, what you can learn from them.

Was there anything good about the ‘old days’?

It may seem that we have been very negative about the era some of us worked through, and older readers will quite rightly complain that we have neglected the positives. While that is true of this particular article (so far), a brief look around the rest of our site will indicate that it is far from the case. What today’s graphic designers and finished artists have lost – through no fault of their own – is the emphasis on content (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and the meticulous attention to detail that the old-timers took for granted. A modern designer looking at documents produced in the first three-quarters of the 20th century may well smile at the conservative design and stultifying conformity . . . but if he or she is prepared to put appearance aside and examine the content, there may be a surprise in store. Mistakes will be very, very difficult to find. Accuracy and consistency of style – in both layout and language – will be found to be well-nigh perfect. That is far from the case today, and we believe it is important to ask why. Let us address ourselves directly to today’s designers:

First we must stress that the problem has not arisen through any fault of your own. You went through an education system – at school and then at college or university – in good faith and in the belief that you were receiving adequate training to prepare you for your career. Much depends on your geographical location, but it may well be that as far as the English curriculum during your school years was concerned, you were short-changed. We would submit that the same is true of the courses you went through at tertiary level. The days the ‘old-timers’ refer to had their faults – major faults – but every one of those men and women received a sound grounding in spelling, punctuation and grammar at school, and at college that grounding was enhanced by studies in Printers’ English, with subsequent reinforcement in the workplace itself. Their English training was so thorough, in fact, that the great majority of them could fill the role of proofreader at a moment’s notice. We consider it disappointing that you did not receive a similar education, and the fact that few of your employers care about it is likewise disappointing. We believe also that you have a right to demand change.

Sunset Publishing Services

By way of a postscript, we must say that this article has given us cause to reflect on what all the above means for us at Sunset. Our collective experience has made us well aware of what was worth preserving from days gone by, and what a special position our company occupies today. Sadly, it also tells us how easily technological change can sweep away desirable aspects of an industry together with those less desirable. We love today’s technology, and we intend to stay at the cutting edge of it; but side by side with that, we are determined to maintain the standards that those who came before us held dear. We are proud of our heritage, and we intend to make that fact known not only to our clients but to all those who work in our industry. We hope that our efforts will make others feel the same.

What we’ve preserved at Sunset is an attitude our clients have come to know and respect. They know that we deliver a quality product, they know that it will look good, but they also know that its content will be as error-free as we can make it. We consider a misspelt word or a misplaced comma to be just as unacceptable as a poor design – and we intend to keep it that way.

Now, to put this in perspective, we have all seen the growth of eBooks across the Internet, and it does not take a professional to recognise that many of them have been produced by amateurs or by self-publishers themselves. Poor-quality design, shoddy layout and tortured English sit side by side in many of these low-cost publications. Far from accepting the situation, however, we at Sunset see it as a challenge and an opportunity to ‘strut our stuff’. Thanks to our background in meeting the demanding requirements of traditional book publishers, we possess the skills, training and experience to bring a professional approach to this growing industry – something it has hitherto lacked. There is no reason for self-publishers to accept that their eBooks should be of any poorer quality than the products of mainstream publishers.

Of course, we can and do apply these same skills to printed books, but first-timers should be aware that even digitally printed (‘print on demand’) books are expensive. Through eBook publishing, much of that cost is eliminated, but we suggest that you do not sacrifice quality by using inadequate ‘do-it-yourself’ software or inexperienced suppliers. Instead, use our services to produce a truly professional digital publication.

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