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Philip Zimmermann on Four-color Letterpress Printing of the National Geographic Magazine in the 1950s and 60s


A 1950s belle, with and without the use of a hand-cut color separation correction mask for her green dress.

Up until 1978, the National Geographic Magazine printed millions of copies every month of their famous yellow-bordered magazine by four-color process letterpress. The distinctive look of the color photo reproductions in the fifties and sixties was partly due to the medium of four-color letterpress and partly due to the state of separation technology at that time. Modern practitioners of letterpress find it hard to believe today that those millions of copies of the National Geographic Magazine were printed by letterpress. It was not until the late seventies, when most people thought that letterpress had already been long dead as a printing medium, did changes in technology and ever increasing circulation numbers force the Society to switch to web rotogravure. After the switch to rotogravure, only the covers and regional advertising sections in the front and back of each issue of the magazine were printed by web offset, and still are today.

This lecture was produced for the 38th annual national convention of the American Printing History Association (APHA), which took place at the Grolier Club in New York City in October 2013. There were some technical glitches during the original lecture and this video link will allow the presentation to be viewed without interruption. Please go to: <> to see it.

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