COLOUR IN PRINT MEDIA
Two of the earliest colour pages in the Australian media appeared as supplements in the Christmas 1883 issue of the Australasian Sketcher. From the 1860s, chromolithographs by Troedels in Melbourne had demonstrated that an Australian printer could create the finest-quality publicity posters. An equivalent standard in books began with the 1915 memorial volume for J.J. Hilder, which led the Smith and Julius Studios to publish Art in Australia from 1916 and the Home from 1919. Despite such achievements, quality colour publications remained showpieces for another 50 years.
Until the installation of web offsets in the 1960s, colour printing in newspapers and periodicals usually meant one colour in addition to black. When two or more colours were applied, they almost never overlapped—or even touched—because the registration process (positioning the colours exactly) was so inaccurate. The favoured method was known as ‘pick-out’, as in comic strips.
Australians saw their first local comic book, the Comic Australian, appear in 1911 (continuing until 1913) with colour on four pages. In the late 1930s, Smith’s Weekly sought to reclaim its readership with a coloured comic using a single overlay, and in 1939, (Sir) Frank Packer designed the new Sunday Telegraph around 16 pages of coloured comics shipped from California—until war forced their replacement with local ‘pick-out’ strips.
Brisbane’s Courier printed two- or three-colour supplements from 1903 and the Orange Advocate (NSW) managed two-colour advertisements in 1927 without special equipment. In 1926, the Melbourne Argus installed a web offset capable of printing in four colours, which it used for art reproductions and coverage of the Melbourne Cup. Additional plant made the Argus printery capable of 9500 sheets per hour in two or three colours, which it confined itself to using for the Australasian Pictorial Annual from 1933 and advertisements in the Argus Week-End Magazine from 1938.
Colour in the daily press remained so much a novelty throughout the 1930s that Newspaper News reported its every appearance—such as when the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial used a four-colour process for a pair of display advertisements in 1934. More typical was the 1931 decision by Sydney’s Sunday Sun to abandon its rotogravure because of a scarcity of suitable inks. The Sydney Mail scored ‘a great advance in four-colour letterpress halftone pictorial reproduction’ in January 1938 to depict the Sesquicentenary procession; it did so by using a special camera and producing copper stereotype blocks in seven hours, rather than the usual seven days; in another innovation, the pages were printed flat. Eleven months later, the 78-year-old weekly closed.
After the war, the proprietors of the Australasian envisaged re-launching it as the Australasian Post with ‘All rotogravure. Good splashes of colour’. The British firm that bought the parent Argus in 1947 spent a fortune on new equipment, including a pair of colour offset presses during 1950–51, making it the only Australian daily to offer advertisers colour printing on its news pages. On 28 July 1952, it established a world first by synchronising offset on one side of the page with letterpress on the other in perfect register—at least as far as that quality was then accepted. However, the spoilage rate remained astronomical and the process was extremely costly. Despite this, the Argus produced news photographs in full colour during the 1954 Royal visit.
In 1958, advertisers experimented with colour sheets to counter the punch of black and white television. Yet obstacles remained: pre-prints consumed time and colour pages had to be printed separately. Even using its Giganticolor, the Melbourne Herald needed more than 40 hours to produce a wrap-around for the 1967 Victorian Football League (VFL) Grand Final. Nonetheless, between 1967 and 1968 the sheets from John Fairfax & Sons’ Giganticolor increased from 53 to 90 million.
With longer production times and smaller runs, magazines took the lead. Kenmure Press achieved striking colours for Man Junior covers from 1948. In the inaugural Australian Home and Garden Annual that year, 19 of its 116 pages used more than one colour. Of the 132 pages in the 1963 edition, 30 carried colour. The printing quality remained poor, however, as the full-colour front cover and advertisements provided very little definition of faces or figures, the tonings looked bleached and most pages with more than one colour were ‘pick-out’. Art and Australia was among the first glossies to appear, in 1963. Shortly afterwards, colour printing on quality stock moved from the luxurious to the everyday, aided by jet freight to Dai Nippon in Hong Kong. Developments in several fields came together for the launches of POL in 1968 and Dolly in 1970.
As with all aspects of mass media advertising, the impetus for more colour of a higher quality came from those who paid the printer. Consumer surveys indicated that full-page, full-colour advertisements gained the attention of 60 per cent of magazine readers. Early in 1958, Southdown Press began planning to increase the colour in New Idea and TV Week by switching from letterpress to web offset before 1963. In 1964, Woman’s Day introduced state editions so that firms could publicise products regionally in colour. The production manager at the Land acknowledged that his weekly had ‘decided to go in for a web offset plant because of growing enquiries from advertisers for the use of colour’.
This commercial imperative came to the dailies late in 1960, with an eight-page tabloid liftout in the otherwise broadsheet Brisbane Courier-Mail to promote a real estate project on the Sunshine Coast. The next year, the Melbourne Herald published the first retail page in full colour for Coles. By July 1965, the Herald could produce 535,000 coloured sheets for New World Supermarkets with a wastage rate less than 2 per cent.
Although the Australian Women’s Weekly had included colour from December 1936, its concern during the 1950s was to hold readers who might other wise watch television.The Women’s Weekly also anticipated the competition for revenue from colour television by colouring its news pages in three regional editions in 1967. However, technical difficulties persisted.
Web offset presses designed for national magazines were too expensive for most printers, so manufacturers reduced their size. The Caringbah Shire Pictorial had rolled off from an early example from 1954. Of the 35 offset plants operating in Australia by early 1966, 23 had been installed during the previous three years, with a further 14 in operation by 1970. During the 1990s, colour news photographs became the norm in virtually all dailies.