A History of Printing

Early forms of printing can be traced back to Ancient China. During the Han Dynasty designs were printed onto silk using carved wooden blocks. Ink was applied directly onto the wooden blocks before they were transferred onto the material.

Recorded use of block printing also occurred during the T’ang Dynasty between 618 and 906. The Egyptians printed onto papyrus paper even earlier!

Next, came the first flat-bed printing press in Germany. Used by goldsmith Johann Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. The mechanical, movable device applied pressed plates onto an inked surface, resting on the paper or cloth material and transferring the image. Gutenberg’s printing press is credited as the first mass-production printing press. The design soon spread through Europe and the rest of the world, eventually replacing block printing.

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In 1473, William Caxton printed the first book to be published in English.

By the 1600s, most European cities had printing houses. Early printing houses were run by ‘master printers’ who not only owned the shops, but selected and edited manuscripts, determined the size of a print run and sold the products.

In 1814, German inventor Friedrich Koenig, together with Andreas Bauer, built and patented a high-speed, steam powered printing press. The first issue of ‘The Times’ newspaper printed with the press was published on the 29th November 1814. They later sold their printing press to that very newspaper.

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Letterpress printing continued into the second half of the 20th century and was widely used to print books and other written materials. It remained one of the most common forms of printing until offset or litho printing technology was developed.

Modern litho printing technology uses a chemical process. The section you do not wish to print on is treated with a water-repelling substance meaning the ink only transfers onto the part of the image which you wish to print on. The litho printing method allows for extremely detailed printing and high volume print runs.

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The late 20th century saw the arrival of digital printing. Here at Printworks Online we use both litho printing technology and digital printing techniques.

With 3D printers now available to buy on the high-street, the history of printing is certainly far from written!

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