Copper Plate printing and the Shopper

It is about 1980 and I am working at the Gunnison County Shopper. A weekly devoted to want ads and advertising.Most communities have one like this. I am an ad salesman and all around gofer. One of my jobs is to get up at an ungodly hour on every Wednesday morning and drive to the Montrose Daily Press. But I am getting ahead of myself.


When you called the Shopper back then you would tell the person on the phone what you were selling. The words were typed into a small printing machine which would spit out your ad on a thick paper, This would be adhered with wax to a large 2 page spread template. So the pages would be page 1 on the right and page 16 on the left. Then page 2 on the left and page 15 on the right. So if you are imagining this in your head, you are already folding the pages into each other. ( I tried to find pictures on the web to illustrate this for you, but there seem to be none.)

Wax Typesetting

So the paper is hand laid out on all these sheets. Tiny little boxes of ads running up and down the pages all stuck on with wax. The ads were composed of clippings from clip art books for any graphics and all the text made with that same little printer. If the paper had color in that week, then you had different sheets with each of the corresponding colors. Called a color separation the colors would be split by page into CMYK. Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow and Black. So a color separation was more time consuming and if not done correctly, embarrasing.

Ok, so now it is 3 am on a Wednesday morning and I am on my way to Montrose with a large 2 foot by 3 foot by 3 inch thick box with at least 16 pages, but probably more because of the color seps. At the Montrose Daily press we would go into the copper plate room. The copper plate was the same size as 2 pages of the shopper, just like we laid out. The plate was put into a machine that would bend back the edges about 1/2 inch on the upper and lower sides and then it was coated with a thin layer of some chemical I cant remember now. The plate was placed on the back side of a large washing machine-looking appliance, and our waxed paper layup on the opposite side. In the middle was a heliarc welding rod of some sort. The lid was closed and a button pushed. The arc would get red hot and the written word was magically transposed into the copper plate. The chemical kept everything that was dark, the text and pictures, and disregarded anything white. And it was placed on it upside down and backwards. Think of it as a very large negative.

All of these plates are now taken into the pressroom and attached to various huge rollers. Most of them on the black ink rollers, but in some instances onto the C or M or Y ink rollers. And then the giant press starts turning. Paper is pulled off gigantic rolls, fed into one end, passes through the copper plate rollers and eventually comes out the other end printed, matched up, cut into pages and folded. Amazing and magical. If there were inserts that day. I would be busy stuffing them into the papers innerds. The bundles of papers were then loaded into the back end of the Shoppers Suburban and home I went. Usually in the afternoon.

The papers were offloaded at a warehouse where all the delivery people would come pick up their amount of bundles to be delivered bright and early Thursday morning.


One of the more interesting jobs I had as a young man. Now it is all done digitally in computers and with new state of the art printing presses. Who would remember the copper plate system now? It was state of the art at the time. it replaced making all your text with lead letters lined up in rows and pressed under pressure onto the paper.

Pictures from Google images.


Author: espyworks

I will be working on a theme for this as I go along. But there is a strong possibility that this will have no direct stream, and just ramble aimlessly. And thats fun too!

3 thoughts on “Copper Plate printing and the Shopper”

  1. I remember this process. I did it across the street at the Gunnison Country Times, until we got our first Mac computers, probably around 1987. Even then, we probably still glued the computer print-outs to the “flats” with wax. I still have some of the artifacts from that era kicking around upstairs.


    1. The Times wouldn’t print for the Shopper as they were perceived as competition. Hence the trek to Montrose. I left them before digital was invented.


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