History of Printing

The history of Printing Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with ink on paper using a printing press.   It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing.

Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced what is regarded as an independent invention of movable type in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin and antimony – the same components still used today.

The impact of Gutenberg’s printing press in Europe was comparable to the development of writing, the invention of the alphabet or the Internet, as far as its effects on society. Just as writing did not replace speaking, printing did not achieve a position of total dominance. Handwritten manuscripts continued to be produced, and the different graphic modes of communication continued to influence each other.

The printing press was also a factor in the establishment of a community of scientists who could easily communicate their discoveries through the establishment of widely disseminated scholarly journals, helping to bring on the scientific revolution.  The process of reading was also changed, gradually changing over several centuries from oral readings to silent, private reading. The wider availability of printed materials also led to a drastic rise in the adult literacy rate throughout Europe.

In the middle of the 19th century, there was a separate development of jobbing presses, small presses capable of printing small-format pieces such as billheads, letterheads, business cards, and envelopes. Jobbing presses were capable of quick set-up (average make-ready time for a small job was under 15 minutes) and quick production (even on treadle-powered jobbing presses it was considered normal to get 1,000 impressions per hour [iph] with one pressman, with speeds of 1,500 iph often attained on simple envelope work).   Job printing emerged as a reasonably cost-effective duplicating solution for commerce at this time.

By the late 1930s or early 1940s, printing presses had increased substantially in efficiency: a model by Platen Printing Press was capable of performing 2,500 to 3,000 impressions per hour.   Lithography is a method for printing using a stone (Lithographic Limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface.  By contrast, in intaglio printing (engraving) a plate is engraved, etched or stippled to make cavities to contain the printing ink, and in woodblock printing and letterpress ink is applied to the raised surfaces of letters or images.

Lithography uses oil or fat and gum arabic to divide the smooth surface into hydrophobic regions that accept the ink, and hydrophilic regions that reject it and thus become the background.  Invented by Bavarian author Alois Senefelder in 1796 it can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or another suitable material. Most books, indeed all types of high-volume text, are now printed using offset lithography, the most common form of printing production.

Landmarks in Printing and the Electrical Information Revolution

Indian rock paintings – 4000 BC

Woodblock printing – 200

Movable type – 1040

Intaglio printing – 1430s

Gutenberg’s movable type printing press – 1454

Franklin discovers electricity – 1750

Lithography – 1796

Fax machine – 1861

Flexography – 1873

Telephone – 1876

Mimeograph – 1876

Hot metal typesetting – 1886

Radio patented – 1896

Offset press – 1903

Screen-printing – 1907

First radio news program – 1920

First working television system – 1928

First general-purpose digital computer – 1941

Phototypesetting – 1960s

Photocopier – 1960s

Laser printer – 1969

Earliest form of the Internet – 1969

Email – 1971

Personal computer – late 1970s

Dot matrix printer – 1970

Thermal printer Inkjet printer – 1976

World Wide Web – 1989

Digital press – 1993

Laptop (also Notebook) computer – 1990s

Online gaming communities – 1990s, mainstreamed early 2000s

Cellular phones – 1984, mainstreamed late 1990s and early 2000s

Webcams – 1990s mainstreamed 2000s

Digital Television – 1990s mainstreamed 2000s

Broadband mainstreamed – 2000s

Wireless networking – early 2000s

Digital Audio Player – mainstreamed early 2000s

Digital Video Recorders (c. 1999) mainstreamed early-to-mid-2000s

Bluetooth – early-to-mid 2000s

Satellite radio – circa 2003

Digital Radio – 2004

HDTV – mainstreamed mid-to-late 2000s


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