I am of the fortunate age to have learned a trade that is now, for all intents and purposes, obselete: manual paste-up.

When I worked at the Peterborough Examiner, I was a member of a team of 8 or 9 people who, every day, took typeset stories that spewed out of CompuGraphic typesetter on 4 inch wide rolls of photographic paper, trimmed them, applied hot wax to the back, and pasted the stories in the right place on a layout sheet the same size as the final paper.  This process is well illustrated on the Cal State Fullerton website

The resulting sheet was then mounted on a platform and a full-size picture taken of it with a large wall-mounted camera.  The negative was then sent down a special chute to the pressroom where a 3D plate was made on a platemaker, and the plate went on the press and a paper was produced.

In the modern post-paste-up world, when you want to colour a box of text green, you just click on “green” on your computer, select the paint tool, and woosh, it’s green.  Takes what, maybe 1 or 2 seconds tops.

Back at the Examiner, if we needed to colour a part of the newspaper a different colour, we needed to use something called rubylith.

Basically what we would do is to take a sheet of ruby — which is just a sticky red film and use an Olfa knife to cut out a piece the size of the different coloured splotch in the paper.  We’d then tape this ruby onto a clear plastic sheet the size of a newspaper page, and used some alignment holes punched in both the plastic sheet and the newspaper page in question, enure that the two were aligned.

Next we’d shoot two negatives, one of the actual page and one of the plastic sheet with the rubylith, and sent both negatives to the press room, where two plates would get made, one for colour and one for black.

Once you got good at it, you could do all this in, say, 10 minutes. 

A lot of work to make a red line under the Sears logo, or to make the Farm Boy grocery store have a green border.

I assume that there are still places in the world where my manual paste-up skills would be of use.  But not many.  Newspapers are created on Macintosh computers now, and I’d be willing to bet that if you showed up at the Guardian looking to borrow some rubylith they might have to look hard for it.


Lana's picture
Lana on March 18, 2002 - 12:57 Permalink

My guess is that you would have a difficult time finding a pencil and eraser at times at the Guardian. Write more stories? Nah, let’s just use some of those Dave Steeves letters.

Ed Mundt's picture
Ed Mundt on November 13, 2005 - 12:38 Permalink

Used to be quite the artform (or I guess applied craft) at the paper I was at.. Especially overlays. I would do 5,6 sometimes more (if colour photograph knockouts were involved). Sometimes an overlay was one tiny little speck of “ruby” that needed a certain combination of tinting. You had to really concentrate and follow the layout, and wouldn’t know if you screwed up until you saw the final product.

There was a certain physical satisfaction in doing up one of those. You had to apply pressure with your Olfa knife just a certain way to cut away the ruby on the acetate and have the dexterity to wend your way around all the curves and corners that the layout demanded. Then you peeled off the bits and touched ‘er up with a marker.

Then you rolled ‘er all down but good with your lucite roller!

I can still remember the smell of the melted wax!

G.P. Willoughby's picture
G.P. Willoughby on November 4, 2006 - 23:58 Permalink

Oh, I remember those days. In 1976 as a college freshman, I wound up writing for my NROTC unit’s newspaper which was sent out to alumni. Everyone that had anything to do with the paper worked on paste-up. It was fun and there was an art to making things fits since changing the size of type took days.

Just one of many skills that have become obselete because of the computer age.

My kids don’t know what a typewriter is. Even in the computer world, you’d have to look long and hard to find a keypunch, card reader or
anything to do with papertape.

TC Smith's picture
TC Smith on May 2, 2007 - 16:43 Permalink

Amazing that folks still remember Ruby/Amberlith. I used it for many purposes, not the least hand cut stencils for screenprinting. I found that I was better with a #16 Xacto than I was with Rapidograph and french curves. With the advent of Mac and the associated software (Illustrator, PhotoShop) the trade pretty much died out.

We used to cut amber (easier to see thru) for pinball fields and backglass, sometimes as many as 20 layers to double-burn in the darkroom for final film.

Of course, the computer has made it easier… but only if one understands the concepts. Times change, tools change, the craft continues. I suppose the first carpenters used a rock to pound something into wood. Does anyone remember opaquing negs? Or what a true keyline is? LOL.

M Cooper's picture
M Cooper on August 20, 2011 - 22:10 Permalink

Yes, I remember ruby and amberlith, though from a slightly
different perspective. I was an offset stripper,
and it used to be a good trade back in the day. Doing the
prep work for even a small four-color catalog could take
weeks for a single stripper, but now it’s just a matter
of a few hours. And on a comparative scale, the workstation
operators doing it earn a lower wage than we did. Ah, progress.