The History of Printing
The history of printing can be traced back to around 3000 BC. The use of round cylinders for rolling an impresion onto clay tablets goes back to early Mesopotamia. In both China and Egypt, the use of small stamps for seals preceded the use of larger blocks. In Egypt, Europe and India, printing on cloth preceded the printing on paper or papyrus. This was probably also the case in China. The process was essentially the same in Europe where impressions were often printed on silk until at least the seventeenth century.
Block printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns and was used widely throughout East Asia both as a method of printing on textiles and later on paper. As a method of printing on cloth, the earliest surviving examples from China date to about 220 BC, and from Egypt to the 4th century. Most European uses of the technique are covered by the art term woodcut.
The earliest woodblock printed fragments are from China. They consist of printed flowers on silk and are generally assigned to the Han dynasty before 220 BC. The earliest Egyptian printed cloth dates from the fourth century. The technology of printing on cloth in China was adapted to paper under the influence of Buddhism which mandated the circulation of standard translations over a wide area, as well as the production of multiple copies of key texts for religious reasons. The oldest wood-block printed book is the Diamond Sutra, which was translated into Chinese in the fifth century. It carries a date of the 13th day of the fourth moon of the ninth year of the Xiantong era (May 11, 868).
Block printing was long practised in Christian Europe as a method for printing on cloth, where it was common by 1300. Images printed on cloth for religious purposes could be quite large and elaborate, and when paper became readily available around 1400, the medium transferred very quickly to small woodcut religious images and playing cards printed on paper. These prints were produced in very large numbers from about 1425 onwards.
Around the mid 1400s, woodcut books with both text and images emerged. These were all heavily illustrated works and the best sellers of the day, repeated in many different versions. There is still some controversy among scholars as to whether their introduction preceded or followed the introduction of movable type, with the range of estimated dates being between about 1440 to 1460.
Stencils may have been used to color cloth for a very long time, probably reaching its peak of sophistication with techniques used on silks in Japan. In Europe, from about 1450 they were very commonly used to color old master prints printed in black and white, usually woodcuts. Stencils were used for mass duplications, as the type didn't have to be hand-written.
Movable type is the system of printing typography using movable pieces of metal type, made with casting struck by letterpunches. Around 1040, the first known movable type system was created in China out of porcelain. Metal movable type was first invented in Korea around 1230. Neither movable type system was widely used, one reason being the enormous Chinese character set.
It is traditionally summarized that Johannes Gutenberg developed European movable type printing technology around 1439 and in just over a decade, the European age of printing began. Compared to woodblock printing, movable type page-setting was much quicker. The metal type pieces were more durable and the lettering was more uniform, leading to the development of typography and fonts. The high quality and relatively low price of the Gutenberg Bible (1455) established the superiority of movable type, and printing presses rapidly spread across Europe and later all around the world. Practically all movable type printing ultimately derives from Gutenberg's movable type printing, which is often regarded as the most important invention of the second millennium.
Gutenberg is also credited with the introduction of an oil-based ink which was more durable than previously used water-based inks. Having worked as a professional goldsmith, Gutenberg made skillful use of the knowledge of metals he had learned as a craftsman. Gutenberg was also the first to make his type from an alloy of lead and tin, known as printer's lead, which was critical for producing durable type that produced high-quality printed books. To create these lead types, Gutenberg used what some considered his most ingenious invention, a special matrix where with the moulding of new movable type and unprecedented precision, short notice printing became much more feasible. Within a year of printing the Gutenberg Bible, Gutenberg also published the first color prints.
The invention of the printing press revolutionized communications and book production leading to the spread of knowledge. Printing rapidly spread from Germany by emigrating German printers, but also by foreign apprentices returning home. A printing press was built in Venice in 1469, and by 1500 the city had 417 printers. In 1470 Johann Heynlin set up a printing press in Paris. Dirk Martens set up a printing press in Flanders in 1473. In 1476 a printing press was set up in England by William Caxton. The Italian Juan Pablos set up a press in Mexico City in 1539. The first printing press in Southeast Asia was set up in the Philippines in 1593. The Rev. Jose Glover was bringing the first printing press to the American colonies in 1638, but died on the voyage. His widow, Elizabeth Harris Glover, carried on and established the first printing house in the American Colonies which was run by Stephen Day and became known as The Cambridge Press.
The Gutenberg style press was still was largely unchanged for over 300 years. In 1796, Bavarian born Aloys Senefelder invented a method for printing on a smooth surface. Lithography is the printing process that uses chemical processes to create an image. The positive part of an image would be a hydrophobic chemical, while the negative image would be water. Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows for a relatively flat printing plate and for much longer runs than the older physical methods of prinitng. High-volume lithography is still used today to produce posters, maps, books, newspapers, and packaging. All types of high-volume text are printed using offset lithography.
Around 1800, Lord Charles Stanhope had constructed a press completely from cast iron, reducing the force required by 90% while doubling the size of the printed area. While Stanhope had improved the efficiency of the press, it still was only capable of 250 sheets per hour. German printer Friedrich Koenig would be the first to design a non-manpowered machine - using steam. Having moved to London in 1804, Koenig soon secured financial support for his project in 1807. Koenig designed a steam press - much like a hand press connected to a steam engine. The first production trial of this model occurred in April 1812.
Rotary drum printing was invented by Richard March Hoe in 1847, and then significantly improved by William Bullock in 1863. A rotary printing press is a printing press in which the impressions are curved around a cylinder so that the printing can be done on long continuous rolls of paper, cardboard, plastic, or a large number of other substrates.
But with the advent of photography, there was still one critical process missing. Halftone is the reprographic technique that simulates continuous tone imagery, such as a photograph or illustration, through the use of equally spaced dots of varying size. The term Halftone is used to refer specifically to the image that is produced by this process.
The idea of halftone printing originates from William Fox Talbot. In the early 1850s he suggested using photographic screens, or veils, in connection with a photographic intaglio process. The first halftone photo-engraving process was invented by Canadians George Edouard Desbarats and William Leggo Jr. On October 30, 1869, Desbarats published the Canadian Illustrated News which became the world's first periodical to successfully employ this photo-mechanical technique, featuring a full page halftone image of His Royal Highness Prince Arthur. Ambitious to exploit a much larger circulation, Debarats and Leggo went to New York and launched the New York Daily Graphic in March 1873, which became the world's first daily to use haltone illustrations.
The first truly successful commercial method for reproducing photographic images on a printing press was patented by Frederic Ives of Philadelphia in 1881. But although he found a way of breaking up the image into dots of varying sizes he did not make use of a screen. In 1882 the German Georg Meisenbach patented a halftone process in England. He used single lined screens which were turned during exposure to produce cross-lined effects. He was the first to achieve any commercial success with halftones.
In modern day offset lithography, which depends on photographic screening processes, flexible aluminum, polyester, mylar or paper printing plates are used. Modern printing plates have a brushed or roughened texture and are covered with a photosensitive emulsion. The image on the plate emulsion is created through direct laser imaging in a CTP (Computer-To-Plate) device called a platesetter. The positive image is the emulsion that remains after imaging. For many years, chemicals have been used to remove the non-image emulsion, but now plates are available that do not require chemical processing.
The biggest advancements over recent years however have been through the use of digital technologies. Digital printing is the reproduction of digital images on a physical surface, such as common or photographic paper or paperboard-cover stock, film, cloth, plastic, vinyl, magnets, labels etc. It is different from offset lithography is ways including;
- Every impression made onto the paper can be different, as opposed to making several hundred or thousands of impressions of the same image from one set of printing plates, as in traditional methods.
- It generally requires less waste in terms of chemicals used and paper wasted in set up or makeready.
- It is excellent for prototyping or short print runs amd quantities.
- Because of the toner inks, specialized paper and the lack of speed and durability, the costs per impression is still relatively high. It is not particulary suited for large quantity press runs.
The digital laser printer was invented at Xerox in 1969 by researcher Gary Starkweather, who had a fully functional networked printer system working by 1971. Laser printing eventually became a multibillion-dollar business for Xerox. The first commercial implementation of a laser printer was the IBM model 3800 in 1976, used for printing of documents such as invoices and mailing labels. The first laser printer designed for use with an individual computer was released with the Xerox Star 8010 in 1981. Although it was innovative, the Star was an expensive system that was only purchased by a small number of laboratories and institutions. After personal computers became more widespread, the first laser printer intended for a mass market was the HP LaserJet 8ppm, released in 1984. Most noteworthy has been the role of laser printer technology in popularizing desktop publishing with the introduction of the Apple LaserWriter for the Apple Macintosh computer and with graphic design software tools such as Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. As we know, the advancement of printing technologies and techniques has been at times very slow throughout the years. But if we examine the last decade, certainly we should realize that advancements are coming very quickly.
For over four decades now, Naylor, Inc. has embraced the advancements and new technologies not only as a necessity but also as a responsibility and as part of our mission. We hope you have enjoyed this look back at the history of printing, and we hope you will join us in continuing to work towards a great and exciting future. Let's keep on communicating.
If you have any questions regarding the history and processess related to the print communications and graphics industry, contact Naylor Information Marketing Services at 404-739-7299 or Click Here to email any questions.
(This information is adapted and used with special thanks to Wikipedia.org)