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History of Printing

Man has always felt the urge to somehow immortalize thoughts, ideas and beliefs. Since time immemorial, material of matters that concern man has been placed on various surfaces through a variety of means. Even before there was writing, man has had experience with art (Apex Learning 2006). Cave paintings of bison dating to around 25,000 BC have been found. However, for the purposes of the discussion, printing shall relate to images, text and symbols mechanically or electronically placed upon a medium and intended to be transferred onto another surface.

In lieu of the foregoing scope of printing, cave paintings do not constitute printed material. According to Peter Mercer’s rendition of the history of printing, it began circa 594 when the Chinese began the practice of printing from a negative relief (Mercer ~). The process, as it was known then, dealt with carving out letters and images onto a block of wood in reverse – somewhat akin to the idea of creating a mirror image of the finished product. The block is then immersed in a dying medium or ink and subsequently pressed onto paper or some other medium to carry the impression.

The idea is the precursor for mass production and its importance carries weight even in the contemporary world of publishing and printing. Great ideas have a way of surviving its founders, and printing was no exception. The idea of using blocks of wood to carry a negative image found its way to the west through caravan routes (Mercer ~). According Bruce Jones (2000), a salient point in the history of printing in Europe occurred around the 13th to 15th century which marked the increased secularization of the production of books.

This is an important facet in printed material since it paved the way for the invention of printing presses. As a consequence of the Chinese idea of using negatives and the secularization of books, the first books were produced at around the 15th century. In those years, Gutenberg’s made a significant contribution with the invention of the printing press. He adapted the screw printing press from the wine presses used as early as the period of the Roman Empire in the Rhine Valley, using oil-based ink and metal prism matrices (Mercer ~).

The printing press made for the more efficient transmittal of information and knowledge, which is said to be Gutenberg’s greatest legacy. Books were no longer limited to ecclesiastical institutions and by the 16th century, Mercer reports that more than 9 million books were in circulation. But books were not the only products affected with the invention of the printing press. By the 16th century, advertising also took advantage of the level of efficiency with which printed material can be generated with the aid of Gutenberg’s printing press. Town criers were eventually replaced by fliers produced by these marvelous machines.

Significant improvements in the usability of printing presses were made in the 17th century which allowed for rapid changes in printing plates and the speed at which prints were created (Mercer ~). The result of these advances was newspapers. Lithography is a process that makes use of the immiscibility of grease and water (“lithography” 2006). The process was invented by an Austrian national – Alois Senefelder. His amazing invention spread itself with surprising spread throughout Europe and beyond, and has been received with admiration everywhere (Senefelder 1911).

The process vastly improved printing insofar images are concerned. While words are repetitive by nature and by virtue of fixed alphabet, images, on the other hand, required greater care in its reproduction. Lithography enabled printers to make fine images on paper, so much so that by the 19th century, Senefelder’s method became the preferred technique for quality illustrations in books and magazines (Mercer ~). Up until the beginning of the 19th century, hand-made paper was the usual fare of printing presses. This was an obvious obstacle for the development of modern day high-speed printing presses.

Advances in printing technology apparently inevitably led to the development of other technologies. In this case, by 1903, hand-made paper was being replaced by machine-made paper (Mercer ~). Following economies of scale, the invention of machine-made paper enabled reductions in the cost of producing the paper and at volumes greater than before – volumes which further fuels the drive for more effective and more efficient printing presses. From this point in the history of printing, we see the obvious development in two practical areas necessary for printing: quality and speed.

These factors are so pervasive in printing that, even today, they are relevant measures when one considers the purchase of a printer; that dots-per-inch (DPI) as a measure of quality and pages-per-minute (PPM) as a measure of speed are of utmost import. These are the driving forces behind the development of printing as will further be illustrated in the proceeding discussion. There were no significant changes in the mechanical composition of printing presses since its inception, up until the 19th century.

More than 400 years of printing history would pass before Lord Stanhope replaced the wooden screw printing press to one that utilized an iron-framed lever in 1803. The Earl of Stanhope also invented stereotyping which allowed for the preservation of material slated for reprinting. Stereotyping constituted the use of plaster molds or metal matrices cast after a particular print which saved time when the time came for reprinting (Mercer ~). The machines turned to steam power around the 19th century and to electricity at the start of the 20th.

Advances, then, were made not only with the mechanical features of printing presses, but the power utilized was becoming successively more efficient (Mercer ~). In fact, in 1814, Frederich Koenig’s steam based printing machine equipped with automated paper rollers was invented (Mercer ~). The stream powered machine was adopted by The Times, London in 1820 and the marvelous invention made for increasing productivity by more than 300 percent. When mechanical power was used, printing presses could only produce about 300 copies per hour, with steam power, presses were able to churn out an amazing 1,100 copies per hour.

In 1814, Richard March Hoe developed the revolving perfecting press. The invention again introduced nearly 20 times the efficiency of its predecessor; able to produce about 20,000 impressions in an hour. Paper, too, underwent development during the intervening years of development for the printing press. In 1863, William Bullock was able to perfect a method by which paper is continually fed into the machine (Mercer ~). The difference being that prior to his invention, paper had to be fed sheet by sheet.

Allowing for a continuous feed of paper again vastly improved the speed of the printing process. For more than 4 centuries, advances have been made on printing. Always, the idea was to create faster and more efficient machines. Today, regular consumers are afforded the idea of using personal computers in aid of desktop publishing. Publishers, on the other had, have also taken advantage of electronic printing with the use of software to aid in laying out publications and seeing the finished product even before the machines start running the job.

In the 17th century, 250 impressions per hour can be created; today a regular printer can produce more than 1,000 pages in that same time. Truly, the driving factors in the development of printing technology are speed and quality, and has led to developments not only on the machine utilized to print, but also on the printing methodology, ink and paper which, otherwise, would be major stumbling blocks in the history of printing.

Apex Learning (2006). Prehistoric painting. Retrieved December 21, 2006 from: http://www. beyondbooks. com/art11/2a.asp Jones, B. (2000). Manuscripts, books, and maps: the printing press and the changing world. Retrieved December 21, 2006 from: http://communication. ucsd. edu/bjones/Books/booktext. html Lithography (2006). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 21, 2006 from http://www. britannica. com/eb/article-9048518/lithography Mercer, P. (~). History of printing. Retrieved December 21, 2006 from: http://ink. news. com. au/mercury/print_museum/print_history. htm Senefelder, A. (1911). Lithography. New York: Fuchs and Lang Manufacturing Company.

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