The main printer spans the length of the production centre and puts out dozens of titles daily.
The ink-blotted workers at Sun Coast Press jockey quietly around their surging machine, churning out thousands of copies of print material hourly, from TV guides to coupon books to this week’s edition of the Catalyst. It’s a process that Commercial Print Salesman John Black is a little bit excited about showing off.
“I like to watch people’s faces when they see it for the first time,” he says, walking out of his office and towards the presses. He opens the door to the facility—the whirring roar of spinning cylinders and flying newsprint both spill out.
“The bigger they are, the louder they get,” he says. “You definitely have to wear earplugs when they get up and going.”
Black has a good reason to be enthusiastic. Since joining Sun Coast Press in July 2009, he’s helped spark a major growth period for the company. “I know there are printers out there that are struggling,” he says, including his previous employer, the Bradenton Herald, which closed in June. “But we’re actually adding staff.”
“We kind of grew the business exponentially in the past year,” Black continues. “For instance, the last school year we printed five high schools’ and one college paper … and since then we’ve grown into [printing for] over 50 high schools and about a dozen colleges.”
At the production center, a growing clientele means more publications, more issues and more newsprint. A warehouse full of newsprint attests to the press’s heavy output, with rolls of paper weighing an average of 1,500 pounds each stacked to the ceiling.
For Scott Toner, Technical Relations Manager at Sun Coast, it also means more time on the highway. Part of Toner’s job requires him to regularly road trip across the state to meet with the producers of publications and explain to them how their product gets made. He described the process of printing a perfect paper from start to finish for the Catalyst:
“The whole thing’s kinda like a big rubber stamp,” he starts by saying. First, the digital image of a page to be printed is transferred directly onto a large, clear piece of plastic called a plate, through a process called thermal computer to plate imaging. The plate hardware is the most technologically advanced machinery at Sun Coast, a far cry from the equipment Toner cut his teeth on when he started working there 18 years ago. It’s a period he refers to as “the old, old days.”
“Before the computer to plate stuff, you’d have to shoot negatives with like a big camera,” he says. “I toiled there, working at night for, I dunno, it seemed like forever.”
After imaging is complete, the plates are ready for hanging on the printing press. “We’re taking a plate that has right- reading [non-reversed text] and we’re transferring that image onto a cylinder,” he explains. Two of these rubber-covered cylinders work simultaneously to print one color on both sides of a page. He says, “As [newsprint] passes through the middle of the cylinders, it’s transferring that image off to the sheet.”
“If you get it too tight it squishes the dot. If you don’t get it tight enough it doesn’t transfer enough ink,” Toner continues. “When that dot goes on
the paper, it’s like a big sheet of toilet paper.”
He says, “So if you think about it, what we’re trying to do is pass this thin piece of paper through four units, pick up all that color, and by the time it comes out the end be dry. No smearing or offset. It’s like a big chemistry set.” Four units are required to print cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the components that make up the full spectrum of printable color.
No part of the process has gone untouched by technological advancements, including the folding, collation (grouping together of pages into a complete newspaper) and distribution of printed material. “Actually,” Black says as the cacophony of machines starts up again, “it’s the folder that makes the most noise.”
The only surviving relic of Sun Coast’s past is an old iron printing press, kept by the receptionists desk as a novelty. Black laughs when he looks at the
antiquated machinery, saying, “Just don’t tell people that’s still what we use!”
He spends more time discussing the future of his printer—he’s determined to continue growing Sun Coast’s presence in the commercial printing market, setting the goal of becoming the printer of choice for student journalism across Florida.
“People ask me about the future of newspapers, and, you know your larger newspaper chains … those are struggling,” he says, “But there’s so many community newspapers out there.”
“If the Miami Herald folded tomorrow ten niche publications would spring up in its place, probably within a couple months. So I don’t really see newspapers going away.”
He pauses for a moment, as the pre-press printer spits out the cover of a high school paper and starts on the next page.
“Which is good for us!”
John Black compares an early, over-inked print of Osceola Woman to the final version. “Obviously, we don’t ever want this going to the customer,” he says of the dark print.