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Gary Starkweather - The Man Who Revolutionised Printing

Gary Starkweather - The Man Who Revolutionised Printing
By Simon Williams
·
February 5, 2020

Given the many advancements in printing technology, it is quite a feat to be named as an individual responsible for revolutionising printing as we know it. We are, of course, talking about Gary Starkweather. Unfortunately, the world lost this innovator in December of 2019, but his legacy will live on in the many productions and printers that have benefited off the back of his future-thinking creations. So why was Gary inducted into the National Wall of Fame and elected to the United States National Academy of Engineering? Let’s get to know this leader a little better. 

So, who is Gary Starkweather?

An engineer by trade and inventor by passion, Gary Starkweather invented the first laser printer, earning his name as the Godfather of printing tech. Gary was educated in engineering, physics and optics, culminating in the creation of the first laser printer in 1969 at the Xerox Webster Research Centre, just as the company was furnishing every American office with their plain paper photocopying technology. He wondered if it was possible to transfer a refined picture from the computer using amplified light. By 1971, Gary had built a fully functional laser printing system in conjunction with Xerox, the Xerox 9700.\

Xerox had originally pushed back on the idea, with Gary having a vision no one else could yet see. By 1984, HP had leveraged Gary’s trailblazing research and released their own commercial printer - the ‘Hewlett Packard LaserJet 8ppm’.

Leaving Xerox for Apple, Gary’s excellence continued to flourish, nurtured by Apple’s radical ideologies and technical innovation that was peaking when Gary brought his next invention to the market in 1990. Colour management technology had arrived. Under the Apple flag, Gary engineered these elements to bring ColorSync 1.0, which was a crucial component in the Apple Macintosh early iterations, and still seen in the Mac OS X that we use today. Seven years later, Gary achieved the tech trifecta, taking his career to computer giant Microsoft. Here Gary thrived under the research arm, where he was influential in the advancements of display technology.

Then and now

It may be hard to understand how big of an impact these inventions were, but society was still coming to terms with the mind-bending functionality of a plain paper photocopier - a piece of technology that no one in modern society would deem notable. To bring a laser printer into the world and provide the possibility to have a tangible copy of what you see on the then-new computer makes this one of the greatest contributions to the modern world. The first laser printer cost over $500,000 to purchase and install, a cost that Gary was not happy with. With more work and embracing other technologies, Gary would be able to manufacture the same printing unit for $38, allowing all to be a part of this movement and own a printer for their office and home.

When his laser printer was first unveiled, Xerox and Gary had to condition the market to understand the technology, and why it was such an efficient unit. Announcing that the first model had printed one million prints was compelling enough to capture the interest of media, competitors and future customers. In 2012, Gary Starkweather was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and while the gesture humbled Gary it was the ability to mentor young scientists that most appealed to him, grading papers and sitting on the judging panel to asses and guide the brilliant minds of the future.

What else did Gary bring to colour technology?

Having grown up as a child interested in model trains, radios and electronic gadgets, it was clear that the printing industry was not the only one that would benefit from Gary’s prowess. After all, physics and technology can be seen everywhere. Gary made a significant contribution to the film and entertainment industry and is largely responsible for the digital matte film techniques that we still see today. Curiously enough, he was a consultant within the digital effects team for the original Star Wars movie in 1977. He would be recognised in 1994 with an Academy Award driven by his further contributions in colour film scanning, of which Pixar and Lucasfilm would benefit.

“A little work takes you a long way. Even as technologists, when we think we are on the edge, we are not on the edge.” - Gary Starkweather

Incredible to think that one man could have such a significant impact on shaping the way we interact with technology and entertainment. He will not soon be forgotten, with his genius continually imparted on our everyday lives. At CartridgesDirect, we are proud to be the beneficiaries of Gary’s innovation, sharing his passion. If you would like to find out more, you can contact our team today.

 

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