Invisible Ink

For Brad Scull, the slow death of print is felt in every aspect of his life. As the second owner of a midrange print shop in the suburbs of Chicago, he’s seen the fall-off firsthand — measured not only in red and black, but in scrapped vacation days, thinner college funds, and unpaid overtime.

It was Scull’s father, Phil, who started Yorke Printe Shoppe almost 50 years ago, but he’d be hard-pressed to recognize the industrial progress it has made since. The shop is divided into two worlds: the office and the floor. The office is placid and well-dressed; it smells like donuts and clean carpet. The floor is a maze fused with a warehouse, and its chaos is a stark difference from the former room, though the two are merely a door apart. The constant churning of four different presses, each with their signature hum and electronic tune, bounces off of the walls.

The impressive machines stretch for 20-plus feet, all steel and iron. Scull steered me toward the newest among them, an inkjet printer the size of a Honda Civic. It uses 42 solid state drives (a MacBook Pro uses just one) to process a multitude of jobs, each individualized to the exact specifications of the customer.

“There’s only fifty of these in the country,” says Scull, beaming over the machine. He had to make room for the 10-yard-long printer by removing an older one, but this machine is worth the sacrifice.

“We’re a very niche printer,” says Scull. “A lot of printing companies focus on one thing. One company might do just postcards. We do a lot of very individual, customized, short-run products.”

So where does a company like this fit into the new world of media, where anyone can fire up Photoshop and make a presentable brochure?

Phyllis Wier, a print broker, believes it comes down to the quality of work.

“I always encourage my clients to value the quality over the cheapness. These printers have workers who have been in the business for a long time and they know how to turn a product around quicker than these big stores. Even with the technology we have now, that experience is very important.”

Wier acts as a go-between for buyers and print shops. She works with 40+ shops in the Midwest, ranging up into Wisconsin. She describes the current state of print as an arms race.

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