21 July 2010 ~ 0 Comments

The History Of The Printing Press

800px-Metal_movable_typeWe all take printed material for granted nowadays, but back in the days of quills and parchment the idea of a printing machine that could produce thousands of copies per day was unthinkable. The printing press is a long-standing and strongly developed means of applying print (words and images), to paper, without the need for the tedious process of writing out every page of every document. What started out as a complicated approach to what we see as a minor tool, a rubber stamp, has developed to a seamless computer-supported processing of content through a large roomfull of machinery, almost like a production line at a factory, that prodcuces large quantities of print, such as books or newspapers, in a short space of time (this is the source of the famous ‘breaking news’ phrase: ‘stop press!’). But what actually happened in the development between these two extremes?

Below is a timeline of the key developments in printing press technology:

  • 618 – 906: T’ang Dynasty in China use ink on carved wooden blocks to make multiple transfers of an image to paper
  • 868: The Diamond Sutra is printed by the Mahayana Bhuddists
  • 1241: Koreans print books using movable type
  • 1423: In Europe block printing is used to print books
  • 1452: In Europe, metal plates are first used in printing. Gutenberg begins printing the Bible which he finishes in 1456
  • 1457: First color printing (by Fust and Schoeffer)
  • 1476: William Caxton begins using a Gutenberg printing press in England
  • 1605: First weekly newspaper published, in Antwerp (Belgium)
  • 1725: Scotsman William Ged invents stereotyping
  • 19th Century: Invention/developement of (in chronological order) iron printing presses, rotary printing press, embossed printing (invented by Louis Braille), type-composing machine, electrotyping, cylinder press (Richard Hoe, speed of 8,000 sheets per hour), rotary web-fed letterpress (William Bullock, soon able to print on both sides of paper at once), linotype composing machine (Ottmar Mergenthaler), mass-manufacture of paper from wood pulp, photogravure printing (Karl Klic), mimeograph machine, diazotype (print photographs on fabric) (by this time, printing presses could now print and fold 90,000 4-page papers an hour), 4-color rotary press
  • 1904: Offset lithography becomes common, and the first comic book is published
  • 1947: Phototypesetting is made practical
  • 1955: Teletypesetting is used for newspapers
  • 1967: Newspapers use digital production processes and began using computers for operations
  • 1971: Use of Ooffset presses becomes common
  • So, in a process that has its monumental development supported by statistics (impressions per hour, from 240 pre-1600 to over 40,000 in the present day (from professional, industrial-size presses)), what can we expect next from the printing press? Only time will tell…

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