The History of Printing and Printing Processes

Printing is the process of reproducing copies of an original image or writing with ink. It is a way of spreading word and making timeless pieces like scriptures, novels, or your daily newspaper. Today, a household can print their own materials like simple invitations, letters, documents, and photos without going to a printing shop due to the availability of compact printers. The advancement in technology made it easily available for us to print in the confines of our home but it was a different story centuries ago.

Printing was done differently centuries ago and it was a way to preserve culture. Here is the timeline of printing and how the process evolved to what we use today:

868 CE – Printing can be dated back as early as 868 CE when the first recorded book, Diamond Sutra, was printed in China. The process was completed by Woodblock printing where images and text were carved into wood, rolled into ink or paint, and then stamped on textile or paper. Printing spread to Korea and Japan and later on found that both China and Korea were experimenting on Movable Type with wood and clay, then bronze and iron. However, China and Korea found it difficult to produce movable pieces of type due to the complex characters that formed their written language.

1440 – The innovation of movable type printing was completed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, a German craftsman.  The movable type printing process works the same way as Woodblock printing. The difference is that printer ink is rolled on the raised surfaces of the movable type.  The success of his invention, first made out of wood then to metal, changed the world of printing by making printing easier, cheaper, and made available to the masses. Gutenberg is also known as the first to print the Bible.

1886 – The next and greatest advancement in printing is Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype composing machine in 1886. 400 years after Gutenberg’s movable type, Mergenthaler’s machine works with one operator to do the whole printing process: machinist, type-setter, justifier, typefounder, and type-distributor.

20th Century – And in the 20st century, many other forms of printing were introduced together with the advancement of technology like Teletypesetter and Phototypesetting wherein wires and signals are used to create and interpret types from different sources to be printed. Later on, computers became available as the main source of materials to be printed and distributed.

Printers, like computers, became less bulky and made available for home use. Inks are also packed in small printer cartridges that can be bought from computer shops when you finish your old one. Looking at the long history of printing, we are lucky that we don’t have to go through the process of carving wood or paying a large amount to ask a publishing house to print for us. We have the convenience of typing and editing on our own computers and printing them for our own use.



Colorsource Inc. – History: a brief look at printing through the ages – The History of Printing and Printing Processes

This Article is written by John C Arkin.


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