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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 April 2018

Pressed for time yet most intrigued by the printing machines

Writers sometimes claim that the smell of fresh paper is more romantic and evocative than anything else – and in this moment, I can’t help but agree

Packaging rolls off the press at a UAE printery. Alex Atack for The National
Packaging rolls off the press at a UAE printery. Alex Atack for The National

Driving around Deira is not something I am familiar with. Since I live in Jebel Ali, I rarely make it further than Al Barsha, that is aside from the rare instances when I visit The Dubai Mall or DIFC.

So, as I navigate the bustling streets of Deira, eyeing the red, traffic-filled lines on Google Maps with dread, I wonder if I’ve been given the correct location. I’m supposed to be going to a printer’s office, but I appear to be surrounded by motoring workshops.

After a few minutes of panic, I finally set eyes on the big white and yellow letters that spell out Printex and I am instantly relieved. I go inside and discover that this is not just an office space – it’s a printing facility too.

The sprawling factory is divided by rooms with no doors, just makeshift curtains formed from plastic strips. I leave the front reception and walk ahead to my meeting, following the attendant who is guiding me to the designers’ office.

I slow down and take it all in – each machine is on its own mission, be it producing stacks of freshly stamped wedding cards, restaurant menus or kids’ colouring books. And the smell, is almost intoxicating.

Writers sometimes claim that the smell of fresh paper is more romantic and evocative than anything else – and in this moment, I can’t help but agree. Being a journalist, I almost want to bottle up the aroma and take it home with me, almost! Unfortunately, I can’t linger any longer – I’m already late for my meeting, and by the looks I’m getting, this area is typically off-limits for anyone who doesn’t work here.

I push past the plastic strips of another four doorways until I arrive at my destination. In appearance, it’s quite humdrum when compared to the bustling activity of the printing press outside.

The small office houses five desks, with designers diligently working away at product computer-driven mock-ups and layouts. Within minutes of receiving my USB, the designer opens my designs them up on Adobe Illustrator, fiddles a little bit with the spacing and colours, and runs out of the room to print them out. Everything here is ultra-fast paced.

While he is gone, I scan the items on his desk: there are some logo-adorned disposable cups, bags in various shapes and sizes, spiral notebooks, hardcover books and an oriental takeaway box. I even eye a jigsaw puzzle. Before I can take a closer look at it, the designer is back – he has printed my samples, and it’s time for me to leave.

As I walk the path back to the reception, I try to look more closely at the machines spitting out printed papers. But it’s all happening too fast, and a few moments later, I am back in the car, wondering if I’d ever be allowed to return and just hang out for a few hours to discover the inner workings of a printing press.

We live so much on screens these days – they store our images and our reading material, and it felt nice to step back and witness the still-significant world of tangible paper.

The dream quickly bursts as my phone vibrates, reminding me I’m late for my next meeting, this time in Rashidiya – another area absolutely alien to me.

As I turn on Google Maps, an amusing thought crosses my mind: is there any chance old-school maps are among the thousands of paper goods printed at the factory I just visited? Hmmm ... unlikely.

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Read more:

With the desert on our doorstep, s’mores and scary stories are just a short drive away

A trip to lost and found at the Dubai Mall sheds light on human decency

Wedding season is here and that means ‘showtime’

Easing into a fitness regime with the help of a hammock

Café culture is thriving in Dubai thanks to Instagram

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