PRINTING PRESS


A Legacy of Enlightenment

The printing press is considered one of the most important inventions in history. It has made possible the mass production of books, newspapers, magazines and other reading materials which brought about literacy among the people. Without this invention, neither the Renaissance nor the Scientific Revolution could have taken place. Printing and the mass duplication of reading materials enabled ideas to be spread quickly to a larger group of people.

The first forms of printing started in China with craftsman carving out characters out of wood blocks to form printable “plate”. The wood block was then inked and the substrate pressed against the wood block. After printing with the block, it had to be discarded. As the writings changed, so did the block.

The first movable type printing system was invented by Pi Sheng in China around 1040. This printing device used movable metal type pieces to produce prints, and it made the process of printing more efficient and flexible. Nonetheless, since it was made of clay, it broke easily.

In the 14th Century, Korea used bronze type to print books. In the early 15th Century, the Europeans had also started using wooden blocks to print books. However, these processes were still laborious and the books printed were expensive. This was why only the rich were able to afford them.

The history of modern printing started in the mid-15th century when Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith – developed the technology to print books in large numbers. He experimented with metal typography and created the first movable printing press. Gutenberg’s idea was to use separate pieces for each alphabet. He carved mirror images of individual letters on a small block.

Not only could these letters be moved easily and arranged to form words, they could also be used and reused. Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized the printing industry and his most famous work was the printing of the Gutenberg Bibles.

By the 16th Century, printing presses throughout Europe had produced more than twenty million copies of printed materials. However, the demand for printed materials increased over time, and the need for a printing press that could produce higher quality prints grew at an even faster rate.

By the 16th Century, printing presses throughout Europe had produced more than twenty million copies of printed materials. However, the demand for printed materials increased over time, and the need for a printing press that could produce higher quality prints grew at an even faster rate.

In the 19th Century, Earl Stanhope from England invented a cast-iron printing press that was capable of producing cleaner and clearer impressions. Other inventions including the Columbian press, bed-and-platen press, cylinder press, rotary press, Bullock press, linotype machine and the monotype machine were also introduced to the print industry. These inventions enhanced both the quality and quantity of printed materials produced.

Since the 19th Century, several methods of colour printing were developed and the most successful of which was the chromolithography technique. It involved the use of lithographic stones, one for each colour. It required great skill to achieve high quality prints and the process was costly. The technology later developed into offset press.

Printing grew at an exponential rate in the 20th Century when the use of computers was incorporated into the printing process. Printing today utilises an advanced imaging technology known as computer-to-plate (CTP), replacing the traditional computer-to-film (CTF) technology. By using CTP, an image created using desktop publishing (DTP) application is output directly onto a printing plate. It greatly enhances the speed and quality of printing plate production. Coupled with colour management solutions, the quality of print improved tremendously ever since.

Digital technology has revolutionized printing, but even this has already moved through several stages of innovation, from the first daisy-wheel and dot matrix printers to the common use of the ink-jet, laser and thermal-transfers today.

 
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