The History of Printing

by Pete on December 3, 2009

Free Pictures | acobox.comThe next time you are frustrated with the production of your printer, consider how far this technology has come. While you may be infuriated, having to wait several seconds for a slow printer, or you are tired of unclogging yet another paper jam, it has not always been so speedy and convenient to print images. From ancient times when printing began, until now, developments have occurred that allow printing to occur in an economical and efficient manner. The next time you are feeling miserable because your print job is taking forever, take a look back at the history of printing and consider yourself lucky.

Ancient Times

Printing more or less originated around the year 200 in China. Block printing was a primitive form of putting an image onto fabric. Prior to that, there were images pressed onto clay tablets, but few of those techniques were popular enough for wide use. Examples of the earliest wood block printing are from the Han Dynasty and feature silk fabric printed with flowers in three different colors. Block printing grew in popularity and the process spread throughout Islamic and European countries.

Advances in printing made between the 11th and 16thcenturies include the creation of movable type and the invention of the printing press. Movable type describes the use of movablepieces of metal to create images or letters on a surface. Originally, it was used in China with porcelain pieces, but was never widely popular due to the extensive number of Chinese characters. Midway through the 15thcentury, Johannes Gutenberg developed movable type technology in Europe. This development marked the beginning of European printing, which was far more durable and faster than woodblock.

The printing press is arguably the most important advancement in image duplication and printing. The printing press is a mechanical device that applies pressure to an inked surface. This pressure causes the image to transfer to the un-inked surface. During the Renaissance period, the use of the printing press spread throughout Europe and became the most used form of movable type printing.

The 1700′s

During the 18thcentury, lithography was developed. Invented by a Bavarian author named Aloys Senefelder, it enables people to print on a smooth surface. Chemicals are used to produce or change an image, and it is a practice still commonly used today.

Moving Forward

In the 19th century, printing processes continued to improve and develop. Mimeograph allowed for low cost, relatively speedy printing. The process forces ink through a stencil onto paper. Mimeograph was used well into the 20th century and was a common part of office and school workplaces. Photocopying has since replaced mimeograph, offering a less expensive and time consuming means for achieving a similar goal.

While there were ancient methods of coloring prints, including manually adding color to the print following the printing process, chromolithography enabled color to be added during the process. There is dispute over the creator of chromolithography. The process is typically time consuming and cumbersome, but at its inception, was considered a major development in the print industry.

One of the last developments in printing during the 19th century was hot metal typesetting. This process injects molten metal into a mold to create a shape. After it has formed and cooled, it is used to press ink onto a blank surface, creating a print. Hot metal typesetting was frequently used in the production of newspapers, a factor that kept the method in use for longer than it may otherwise have been.

Modern Printing

The beginning of the 20thcentury brought the development of screen-printing. This process uses woven mesh to support a stencil. A squeegee or roller moves across the surface, pressing the ink through the open areas of the mesh, creating a print on the blank surface. Archaic methods of screen-printing were seen in Japan where banana leaves were used in a similar way to the mesh. Modern screen-printing was created by Samuel Simon in 1907 in Europe.

It is during the middle of the 20th century we begin to see the beginnings of modern printing advances. The first photocopier appeared in 1960, introduced to the market by Xerox. This advance was the beginning of the end for many of the previous methods of printing. The thermal printer and laser printer were not far behind, allowing people to print from a networked system. On the heels of these initial printers, companies besides Xerox jumped in the game, realizing a printing revolution was in the works.

At that point, it became a matter of improving the quality of prints that came from the printer, and making them more efficient, more affordable, and more practical. Further printing developments included dot matrix, inkjet, and more recently, 3-D printers. Impressive transitions over the years have led to office and home printing efficiency.

The next time frustration gets the better of you, consider the early alternatives. Unjamming the printer is undoubtedly quicker than block printing your 150-page report!

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