The History of Printing

The History of Printing – We’ve come a long way from early printing presses

Printing has come a long way since the first recorded examples from Mesopotamia in around 3000 BC. The early methods were crude and quite basic cylindrical seals were used to roll impressions onto clay tablets. Around this time stamps were being used in both China and Egypt to imprint information onto various substrates, including cloth. It was only when the earliest version of paper was invented in China that the birth of printed material as we might know came about. Printing methods were still very basic, labour intensive and antiquated.

Fast forward several thousand years to Europe. It was a time of great change, and change that was triggered in some ways by the advent of a revolution in printing techniques. Thanks to the ingenuity of German born Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith by trade, a brand new way of printing was invented in the 1450s. Gutenberg’s printing press was the first of its kind to use movable metal type face. Most famous for his print run of the bible, Gutenberg was a pioneer in the print revolution. That being said, he was unable to sustain his printing press as a business and upon defaulting on a loan lost everything. His creditors made public his invention, and soon this printing technique swept through Europe like wildfire.

For the first time it was possible to print written material on a mass scale and reach a wide audience. At a time when Church and State were one in many parts of Europe, this was the perfect way to spread information. But it was not only the Church who saw the advent of mass printing as means of disseminating information, those who were trying to bring about social, political and scientific change finally had a means of reaching a far broader audience. So much so that the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press has been credited by many historians as a huge game changer in shaping world history.

The printing process continued to evolve and just over four hundred years later the process became mechanised. There were several breakthroughs made in printing during the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to the use of steam powered presses and developments such as cylindrical presses, rotary presses and linotype presses. Instead of compositors manually setting the typeface as with Gutenberg’s press, where up to 2000 characters could be set an hour, printers could now up to 8000 copies per hour thanks to the automatic type setting machines. Dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World by Thomas Edison, the automatic type setting became the industry standard for newspapers and magazines.

The early 20th century saw more ground being broken in printing technology with the birth of the xerography process which used an electrostatic method to copy images. This was the earliest version of xerox, or photocopying. Then came computerisation, and with it came the earliest ink jet printer in the 1950s. A decade later Konica Minolta produced the first copier which revolutionised office work and society in general as information could be mass produced cost effectively. This decade was also when the laser printer was first used.

The 1980s gave birth to desk top publishing and digital printing thanks to the growing use of personal computers. Since then printing has become an art and a science, with incredible processes being utilised that not only provide quality but quantity too.

The new millennium has also contributed hugely to the evolution of printing with the invention of 3D printing.

As you can see, over thousands of years the printing industry has transformed not only itself but society as a whole. It has contributed to massive change and if the last few millennia are anything to go by it will continue to break new ground and reinvent itself to shape our world.

At Asset Print we are proud to say that not only are we keeping up with modern printing trends but we have the most up to date printers and staff who are well versed in how to get the most out of today’s printing techniques.

Contact us now to find out more.


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