Printing is a process for reproducing text and images using a master form or template. The earliest non-paper products involving printing include cylinder seals and objects such as the Cyrus Cylinder and the Cylinders of Nabonidus. The earliest known form of printing as applied to paper was woodblock printing, which appeared in China before 220 A.D. Later developments in printing technology include the movable type invented by Bi Sheng around 1040 AD and the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. The technology of printing played a key role in the development of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution, and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.
Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns that was used widely throughout East Asia. It originated in China in antiquity 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 before 220 A.D.
The earliest surviving woodblock printed fragments are from China. They are of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han Dynasty (before 220 A.D.). They are the earliest example of woodblock printing on paper appeared in the mid-seventh century in China.
By the ninth century, printing on paper had taken off, and the first extant complete printed book containing its date is the Diamond Sutra (British Library) of 868. By the tenth century, 400,000 copies of some sutras and pictures were printed, and the Confucian classics were in print. A skilled printer could print up to 2,000 double-page sheets per day.
Printing spread early to Korea and Japan, which also used Chinese logograms, but the technique was also used in Turpan and Vietnam using a number of other scripts. This technique then spread to Persia and Russia. This technique was transmitted to Europe via the Islamic world, and by around 1400 was being used on paper for old master prints and playing cards. However, Arabs never used this to print the Quran because of the limits imposed by Islamic doctrine.
Block printing, called tarsh in Arabic, developed in Arabic Egypt during the ninth and tenth centuries, mostly for prayers and amulets. There is some evidence to suggest that these print blocks made from non-wood materials, possibly tin, lead, or clay. The techniques employed are uncertain, however, and they appear to have had very little influence outside of the Muslim world. Though Europe adopted woodblock printing from the Muslim world, initially for fabric, the technique of metal block printing remained unknown in Europe. Block printing later went out of use in Islamic Central Asia after movable type printing was introduced from China.
Block printing first came to 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. When paper became relatively easily available, around 1400, the medium transferred very quickly to small woodcut religious images and playing cards printed on paper. These prints produced in very large numbers from about 1425 onward.
Around the mid-fifteenth-century, block-books, woodcut books with both text and images, usually carved in the same block, emerged as a cheaper alternative to manuscripts and books printed with movable type. These were all short heavily illustrated works, the bestsellers of the day, repeated in many different block-book versions: the Ars moriendi and the Biblia pauperum were the most common. There is still some controversy among scholars as to whether their introduction preceded or, the majority view, followed the introduction of movable type, with the range of estimated dates being between about 1440 and 1460.
Movable type is the system of printing and typography using movable pieces of metal type, made by casting from matrices struck by letterpunches. Movable type allowed for much more flexible processes than hand copying or block printing.
Around 1040, the first known movable type system was created in China by Bi Sheng out of porcelain. Bi Sheng used clay type, which broke easily, but Wang Zhen by 1298 had carved a more durable type from wood. He also developed a complex system of revolving tables and number-association with written Chinese characters that made typesetting and printing more efficient. Still, the main method in use there remained woodblock printing (xylography), which "proved to be cheaper and more efficient for printing Chinese, with its thousands of characters".
Copper movable type printing originated in China at the beginning of the 12th century. It was used in large-scale printing of paper money issued by the Northern Song dynasty. Movable type spread to Korea during the Goryeo dynasty.
Around 1230, Koreans invented a metal type movable printing using bronze. The Jikji, published in 1377, is the earliest known metal printed book. Type-casting was used, adapted from the method of casting coins. The character was cut in beech wood, which was then pressed into a soft clay to form a mould, and bronze poured into the mould, and finally the type was polished. The Korean form of metal movable type was described by the French scholar Henri-Jean Martin as "extremely similar to Gutenberg's". Eastern metal movable type was spread to Europe between the late 14th century and the early 15th century.
Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the first movable type printing system in Europe. He advanced innovations in casting type based on a matrix and hand mould, adaptations to the screw-press, the use of an oil-based ink, and the creation of a softer and more absorbent paper. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin, antimony, copper and bismuth - the same components still used today. Johannes Gutenberg started work on his printing press around 1436, in partnership with Andreas Dritzehen - whom he had previously instructed in gem-cutting - and Andreas Heilmann, the owner of a paper mill.
Compared to woodblock printing, movable type page setting and printing using a press was faster and more durable. Also, the metal type pieces were sturdier and the lettering more uniform, leading to typography and fonts. The high quality and relatively low price of the Gutenberg Bible (1455) established the superiority of movable type for Western languages. The printing press rapidly spread across Europe, leading up to the Renaissance, and later all around the world.
Gutenberg's innovations in movable type printing have been called the most important invention of the second millennium.
The rotary printing press was invented by Richard March Hoe in 1843. It uses impressions curved around a cylinder to print on long continuous rolls of paper or other substrates. Rotary drum printing was later significantly improved by William Bullock.
The table lists the maximum number of pages which various press designs could print per hour.
|Hand-operated presses||Steam-powered presses|
|Koenig press |
|Impressions per hour||200 ||480 ||800 ||1,100 ||2,000 ||2,400 |
All printing process are concerned with two kinds of areas on the final output:
After the information has been prepared for production (the prepress step), each printing process has definitive means of separating the image from the non-image areas.
Conventional printing has four types of process:
Letterpress printing is a technique of relief printing. A worker composes and locks movable type into the bed of a press, inks it, and presses paper against it to transfer the ink from the type which creates an impression on the paper.
Letterpress printing was the normal form of printing text from its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century and remained in wide use for books and other uses until the second half of the 20th century, when offset printing was developed. More recently, letterpress printing has seen a revival in an artisanal form.
Offset printing is a widely used printing technique. Offset printing is where the inked image is transferred (or "offset") from a plate to a rubber blanket. An offset transfer moves the image to the printing surface. When used in combination with the lithographic process, a process based on the repulsion of oil and water; the offset technique employs a flat (planographic) image carrier. So, the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non-printing areas ink-free.
Currently, most books and newspapers are printed using the technique of offset lithography.
Gravure printing is an intaglio printing technique, where the image being printed is made up of small depressions in the surface of the printing plate. The cells are filled with ink, and the excess is scraped off the surface with a doctor blade. Then a rubber-covered roller presses paper onto the surface of the plate and into contact with the ink in the cells. The printing cylinders are usually made from copper plated steel, which is subsequently chromed, and may be produced by diamond engraving; etching, or laser ablation.
Gravure printing is used for long, high-quality print runs such as magazines, mail-order catalogues, packaging and printing onto fabric and wallpaper. It is also used for printing postage stamps and decorative plastic laminates, such as kitchen worktops.
The other significant printing techniques include:
It is estimated that following the innovation of Gutenberg's printing press, the European book output rose from a few million to around one billion copies within a span of less than four centuries.
Samuel Hartlib, who was exiled in Britain and enthusiastic about social and cultural reforms, wrote in 1641 that "the art of printing will so spread knowledge that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties, will not be governed by way of oppression".
In the Muslim world, printing, especially in Arabic scripts, was strongly opposed throughout the early modern period, though sometimes printing in Hebrew or Armenian script was permitted. Thus the first movable type printing in the Ottoman Empire was in Hebrew in 1493. According to an imperial ambassador to Istanbul in the middle of the sixteenth century, it was a sin for the Turks to print religious books. In 1515, Sultan Selim I issued a decree under which the practice of printing would be punishable by death. At the end of the sixteenth century, Sultan Murad III permitted the sale of non-religious printed books in Arabic characters, yet the majority were imported from Italy. Ibrahim Muteferrika established the first press for printing in Arabic in the Ottoman Empire, against opposition from the calligraphers and parts of the Ulama. It operated until 1742, producing altogether seventeen works, all of which were concerned with non-religious, utilitarian matters. Printing did not become common in the Islamic world until the 19th century.
Jews were banned from German printing guilds; as a result Hebrew printing sprang up in Italy, beginning in 1470 in Rome, then spreading to other cities including Bari, Pisa, Livorno, and Mantua. Local rulers had the authority to grant or revoke licenses to publish Hebrew books, and many of those printed during this period carry the words 'con licenza de superiori' (indicating their printing having been licensed by the censor) on their title pages.
It was thought that the introduction of the printing medium 'would strengthen religion and enhance the power of monarchs.' The majority of books were of a religious nature, with the church and crown regulating the content. The consequences of printing 'wrong' material were extreme. Meyrowitz used the example of William Carter who in 1584 printed a pro-Catholic pamphlet in Protestant-dominated England. The consequence of his action was hanging.
Print gave a broader range of readers access to knowledge and enabled later generations to build directly on the intellectual achievements of earlier ones without the changes arising within verbal traditions. Print, according to Acton in his lecture On the Study of History (1895), gave "assurance that the work of the Renaissance would last, that what was written would be accessible to all, that such an occultation of knowledge and ideas as had depressed the Middle Ages would never recur, that not an idea would be lost".
Print was instrumental in changing the nature of reading within society.
Elizabeth Eisenstein identifies two long-term effects of the invention of printing. She claims that print created a sustained and uniform reference for knowledge as well as allowing for comparison between incompatible views.
The invention of printing also changed the occupational structure of European cities. Printers emerged as a new group of artisans for whom literacy was essential, although the much more labour-intensive occupation of the scribe naturally declined. Proof-correcting arose as a new occupation, while a rise in the amount of booksellers and librarians naturally followed the explosion in the numbers of books.
Gutenberg's printing press had profound impacts on universities as well. Universities were influenced in their "language of scholarship, libraries, curriculum, [and] pedagogy" 
Before the invention of the printing press, most written material was in Latin. However, after the invention of printing the number of books printed expanded as well as the vernacular. Latin was not replaced completely, but remained an international language until the eighteenth century.
At this time, universities began establishing accompanying libraries. "Cambridge made the chaplain responsible for the library in the fifteenth century but this position was abolished in 1570 and in 1577 Cambridge established the new office of university librarian. Although, the University of Leuven did not see a need for a university library based on the idea that professor were the library. Libraries also began receiving so many books from gifts and purchases that they began to run out of room. This issue was solved, however, by a man named Merton (1589) who decided books should be stacked horizontally on shelves.
The printed press changed university libraries in many ways. Professors were finally able to compare the opinions of different authors rather than being forced to look at only one or two specific authors. Textbooks themselves were also being printed in different levels of difficulty, rather than just one introductory text being made available.
|Printing process||Transfer method||Pressure applied||Drop size||Dynamic viscosity||Ink thickness on substrate||Notes||Cost-effective run length|
|Offset printing||rollers||1 MPa||40-100 Pa·s||0.5-1.5 µm||high print quality||>5,000 (A3 trim size, sheet-fed)|
|Rotogravure||rollers||3 MPa||50-200 mPa·s||0.8-8 µm||thick ink layers possible,
excellent image reproduction,
edges of letters and lines are jagged
|Flexography||rollers||0.3 MPa||50-500 mPa·s||0.8-2.5 µm||high quality (now HD)|
|Letterpress printing||platen||10 MPa||50-150 Pa·s||0.5-1.5 µm||slow drying|
|Screen-printing||pressing ink through holes in screen||<12 µm||versatile method,
|Electrophotography||electrostatics||5-10 µm||thick ink|
|Liquid Electrophotography||image formation by Electrostatics and transfer while fixing||High PQ, excellent image reproduction, wide range of media, very thin image,|
|Inkjet printer||thermal||5-30 picolitres (pl)||1-5 Pa·s||<0.5 µm||special paper required to reduce bleeding||<350 (A3 trim size)|
|Inkjet printer||piezoelectric||4-30 pl||5-20 mPa s||<0.5 µm||special paper required to reduce bleeding||<350 (A3 trim size)|
|Inkjet printer||continuous||5-100 pl||1-5 mPa·s||<0.5 µm||special paper required to reduce bleeding||<350 (A3 trim size)|
|Transfer-print||thermal transfer film or water release decal||mass-production method of applying an image to a curved or uneven surface|
Printing at home, an office, or an engineering environment is subdivided into:
Some of the more common printing technologies are:
Vendors typically stress the total cost to operate the equipment, involving complex calculations that include all cost factors involved in the operation as well as the capital equipment costs, amortization, etc. For the most part, toner systems are more economical than inkjet in the long run, even though inkjets are less expensive in the initial purchase price.
Professional digital printing (using toner) primarily uses an electrical charge to transfer toner or liquid ink to the substrate onto which it is printed. Digital print quality has steadily improved from early color and black and white copiers to sophisticated colour digital presses such as the Xerox iGen3, the Kodak Nexpress, the HP Indigo Digital Press series, and the InfoPrint 5000. The iGen3 and Nexpress use toner particles and the Indigo uses liquid ink. The InfoPrint 5000 is a full-color, continuous forms inkjet drop-on-demand printing system. All handle variable data, and rival offset in quality. Digital offset presses are also called direct imaging presses, although these presses can receive computer files and automatically turn them into print-ready plates, they cannot insert variable data.
3D printing is a form of manufacturing technology where physical objects are created from three-dimensional digital models using 3D printers. The objects are created by laying down or building up many thin layers of material in succession. The technique is also known as additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, or fabricating.
Gang run printing is a method in which multiple printing projects are placed on a common paper sheet in an effort to reduce printing costs and paper waste. Gang runs are generally used with sheet-fed printing presses and CMYK process color jobs, which require four separate plates that are hung on the plate cylinder of the press. Printers use the term "gang run" or "gang" to describe the practice of placing many print projects on the same oversized sheet. Basically, instead of running one postcard that is 4 x 6 as an individual job the printer would place 15 different postcards on 20 x 18 sheet therefore using the same amount of press time the printer will get 15 jobs done in the roughly the same amount of time as one job.
Printed electronics is the manufacturing of electronic devices using standard printing processes. Printed electronics technology can be produced on cheap materials such as paper or flexible film, which makes it an extremely cost-effective method of production. Since early 2010, the printable electronics industry has been gaining momentum and several large companies, including Bemis Company and Illinois Tool Works have made investments in printed electronics and industry associations including OE-A and FlexTech Alliance are contributing heavily to the advancement of the printed electronics industry.
On the effects of Gutenberg's printing
Early printers manuals The classic manual of early hand-press technology is