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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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The History of Printer Ink

by Rich on February 5, 2009

Ink itself is much older than the printing process. The earliest known use of ink occurred about 5,000 years ago in China, although this date is disputed—it’s possible ink was in use much earlier than this. Before this time, scribes in many cultures generally wrote by pressing stamps carved with symbols into wet clay. But for thousands of years, nobody thought to put stamps and ink together.

Most people think of the Gutenberg printing press as the first occurrence of printing, but the Chinese had us beat there, too. The Chinese began printing from negative reliefs as early as 600 AD. The technology spread along trade routes, and Europeans knew about it by 1400.

Like many inventions, the Gutenberg printing press couldn’t have happened without the inventor’s knowledge of Chinese printing practices, as well as wine production techniques. Johan Gutenberg created the first movable type printing press from an adapted wine press, smearing ink all over individual letter stamps arranged as entire words. Before this invention, books in Europe were rare and extremely costly—even copies had to be written by hand, which was time consuming and required specialized skills and materials. The printing press changed all that—and only half a century later, over eight million books were in circulation.

Gutenberg may have invented the movable-type printing press in 1464, but the real breakthrough didn’t come until 1460. That’s when innovations in printer ink led to a hardier ink in a linseed-oil medium, able to stick effectively to metal typefaces and dry quickly once it was laid. Not all the ingredients of the world’s first printer ink are known, but it’s theorized that lead monoxide and plant-based pigments may have been used.

For centuries afterward, linseed and vegetable oils were the main solvent used for printer inks. In the 19th century, however, this changed with the advent of assembly line newspaper presses that needed inks that would hold up to a more vigorous production process, with more viscosity and an even faster drying time. This was the first time inks were made with petroleum distillate—an additive that made inks much less environmentally friendly.

The first commercially successful automatic writing machines—typewriters—were developed in the 1870’s. Several inventors developed typewriters that allowed users to depress keys, which would then press a letter mold against an ink ribbon to imprint the letter on the page. These ink ribbons were the precursors to ink cartridges, and the same technology was used as late as the 1980’s in early electronic printers.

In 1938, the first laser copier was developed using newly-invented electrophotography or “dry writing” technology. With this technology, toner is applied to a light-sensitive “print drum.” Then static electricity transfers the toner to the page and fuses it there using heat and pressure. The first copier cost about $20,000. It was produced by a company called Xerox.

But that was nothing compared with the cost of the first computer printer, developed by Remington-Rand to go with the first UNIVAC computers in 1953. That printer cost a cool $1 million in today’s American dollars, and was about the size of a one-car garage. It worked in a similar way to a typewriter, with a long print ribbon.

Meanwhile, research was continuing on dry writing technology, and in 1978, the first Xerox printer was introduced to the general public. It printed approximately 120 pages per minute—still a respectable speed compared with today’s printers—but wasn’t widely adopted by personal users, because of its size and its price tag.

Dot matrix printing was being developed during this time as well. Centronix Data Corporation made significant progress in this area, releasing their first models around the same time Xerox released theirs. Epson developed more commercially successful models which were sold along with IBM computers. Canon developed “Bubble Jet” technology around this time as well—and this technology led to further innovations in Inkjet printing.

Today, laser and inkjet printers are the two competing technologies in printing. Developed around the same time, both represent centuries of innovation in printing and ink technology. Whether you use inkjet printers or swear by your laser printer, one thing’s for sure—the cost of your cartridges is probably more than it has to be. Changes in ink and toner cartridge price are the next innovations consumers are looking for.

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The History of Ink

October 20, 2008

Ink is a liquid containing pigments that give it colour.  While today’s printer inks are often marvels of chemical engineering, the oldest inks used minerals, plant matter, and other materials to provide colour—and they’ve been in use for thousands of years. The earliest known use of ink occurred in China approximately 5,000 years ago, when [...]

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