Tomorrow's World

A common language for printing?

by FESPA | 23/04/2021
A common language for printing?

Dr David Penfold, Edgerton Publishing Services – formerly Senior Lecturer at the University of the Arts (London) and Visiting Fellow at Nottingham Business School – on standardising printing terms.

Tell us about your work on the ISO/TC 130 (printing and graphic technologies) committee...

I am convenor of Working Group 1 (terminology). For several years, the main activity of WG1 has been the development of the proofreading standard ISO 5776, which includes standard proof correction marks for both alphabetical and logographic languages (Chinese and Japanese). This is now being revised to include Korean, which is an alphabetic and syllabic language. I should emphasise that I don’t speak any of these languages, but there are experts in the working group who are native speakers.
WG1 has also taken on the task of trying to standardise the terms and conditions used in standards developed by the other working groups in ISO/TC 130 in order to reduce the number of definitions for the same term and to help the other WGs when they need to define a term. There are ISO rules for definitions and we are also attempting to bring all definitions into line with these rules. We are currently at an interim stage, when we are looking at what might be described as a core set of terms, which we can put on the ISO/TC 130 website and make available for translation into languages other than English.

David Penfold 

I am also a member of WG12 (post-press), although I am not really an expert in this area. It would be good if more of those who are experienced in this area, as either manufacturers or users of finishing equipment, took an active part in developing standards in this area.
I am a member of Task Force 3, which was set up a few years ago to look at the future direction of ISO/TC 130. It has recently completed a revision of the strategic business plan for ISO/TC 130and is also responsible for the relatively new corresponding website. 

What is the case for standardising the terminology in printing?

Quite apart from the issues that I have mentioned above, having a standard terminology means that everyone knows what is being referred to when a particular term is used.

What are the difficulties? Why has it not been done yet?

There are potential difficulties when a term means different things to different people. So having standard definitions (maybe more than one for a particular term) should clarify the situation. And it has been done; some years ago ISO 12637 was produced, in which terms are defined. However, there are many terms that were not in that standard and also many definitions that differ from those in that standard. The present work is an attempt to bring this up to date, but it is not an area that many see as a priority.

Will it become a problem increasingly in the future? Are there any examples of common misunderstandings? 

It is already a problem, although what is needed is more a taxonomy or an ontology (which I would like to see WG1 develop). The reason for this is not solely technical, although it would be helpful to see a particular term in context, but it is also related to perceptions of the industry. There is no standard industry classification (SIC) code for the printing industry as a whole, so that, in spite of it being an industry with one of the largest turnovers, it is not perceived as a large industry by governments and in economic statistics. This problem is now being addressed by a group in the US, who are aiming to produce a basic taxonomy, so that it is clear what activities should be included as part of the printing sector.
So there are misunderstandings, but not so much of the technology. Some concepts, particularly related to colour, are difficult to understand and sometimes counter-intuitive, but the lack of understanding in the wider world is more serious. People don’t appreciate that printing ranges from areas such as colour management and the chemistry of ink technology right through to the printing of huge building wraps and that, although digital technologies and electronic publications have made great strides in the publishing industry, printing is all-pervasive and a part of everyone’s life.
Standardising terminology can obviously only make a small contribution to solving this problem, but it should be self-evident that, unless everyone agrees on what is being talked about, there is always the possibility of confusion.

Are there any languages that it is difficult to communicate technical terms in, or techniques that are hard to communicate?

I am not a linguist, so I am not sure that I can answer the first part of this question, except to say that, among the countries that belong to ISO/TC 130 (about 25 – mainly, of course, countries with significant printing industries), the development of standards runs fairly smoothly for much of the time. While the standards are developed in English, on occasion they use the standard from one country or another (not originally in English) as a basis, so it appears that, among these countries, there is a general understanding of the field.

As in any field, some of the concepts require a fairly deep understanding. I mentioned colour above and there are also issues related to data exchange and similar topics that need a technical background. Similarly, the practical aspects of printing require training, but this falls outside the scope of standards development.

As there are international signs for proofreading, is there anything similar for printing?

Of course, in letterpress printing there is a much closer relationship between the layout of the page and the printing of it than there is in most printing methods in use today, when a digital file is supplied and effectively an image created that is transferred to the substrate. So earlier proof correction marks did cover printing issues.

The marks in ISO 5776 only cover text, so there may be a case for developing standard marks for correcting errors in image reproduction, but even here, it is not usually the actual printing that is being corrected. The same applies to incorrect impositions, wrong page margins, incorrect spine widths on books and many other errors that occur in different types of printing.

Exactly how one would develop international correction symbols for printing is not clear and I haven’t seen any demand for these. If such a thing were to be developed, the first stage would be to define the types of errors that occur. Unless one could get agreement on that, it would be impossible to develop ways of indicating the errors.

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