The Complete Printing Timeline: How Printing Has Evolved
Interested in printing? Click here for a complete printing timeline that’ll teach you more about how printing has evolved over the last several hundred years.
The history of printing includes many different processes used to share information. Thanks to a long tradition of printing we know details on early civilization. Printing also means there’s a written record of the progress.
The Beginning of Printing
In 1104, a book written in Latin and filled with the Gospel of John was recovered from Saint Cuthbert’s grave. It was from the seventh century in Durham Cathedral, Britain. The book is the Cuthbert Gospel. It’s thought to be the oldest existing European book.
The earliest books are religious texts, like the gospels. Published scientific and literary works improve literacy across the continent.
Printing grows again in the thirteenth century. Type made from metal developed in China, Japan, and Korea. The Selected Teachings of Buddhist Sages and Seon Masters is the oldest book printed with metal type.
Next, let’s look at printing changes century by century.
Fifteenth Century Printing
By the fifteenth century, printing methods like woodblock were widespread. People in China and Japan used woodcut for centuries. Yet, the earliest European woodcut sample is from the start of the fifteenth century.
After four years, Guttenberg has a wooden press. It uses moveable metal type. His earliest publications include a bible with 40 lines of text per page.
William Caxton opened the first printing press in England in 1476. He bought equipment from the Netherlands for his establishment in Westminster. By 1499, 250 cities across Europe have printing establishments.
Sixteenth Century Innovations
Printing improvements continued in the next century. The innovations included a new woodcut technique. Lucas Cranach invented the chiaroscuro woodcut method. It used several woodcut blocks in different colors to create an illustration.
Printer Aldus Manutius figured out a way to print more portable books. Manutius was the first printer to use italic type. Francesco Griffo designed the italic type.
Books become more elaborate. In 1525, Albrecht Durer published a book on the geometry of letters. Scholar Pietro Bembo created books on Italian poetry and language. Christophe Plantin produced fine works with ornamented engravings. Plantin also printed the first reproductions.
Seventeenth Century Developments
When printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas reprinted the Bible in 1631 they make a huge error. The word “not” was missing from the commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, and King Charles I weren’t happy. They fined the two printers and stripped of their printing license. That version of the Bible became The Wicked Bible, Adulterous Bible, and Sinner’s Bible.
In 1640 in Paris, the printing operation Imprimerie Royale du Louvre opened. It was the official government printer. The first published work was a French reprint of The Imitation of Christ. The popular spiritual book was first published in Latin in 1418.
In 1642 Ludwig von Siegen invented the mezzotint technique. Mezzotint is a technique that uses thousands of dots to reproduce halftones.
In 1710, Jakob Christof Le Blon used a mezzotint technique invented 68 years earlier. The German painter and engraver used mezzotint to engrave three metal plates. The plates were then inked with red, yellow, and blue.
William Caslon created the now famous Caslon Roman Old Face for between 1716 and 1728. He modeled the letters on Dutch ones but made them more interesting. Caslon’s typefaces remain popular. Digital versions exist today.
In 1731, publication of the Gentleman’s Magazine begins. The general interest magazine existed until 1922.
At the end of the century, Alois Senefelder invented lithography. In 1796 he used it to print theatrical works in a less expensive way. Lithography is still popular in a refined form of the original method.
Giambattista Bodoni, an Italian designer, created a series of typefaces which remain popular. Bodoni letters have thick verticals with thin horizontal lines.
Printing in the Nineteenth Century
At the start of this century, Charles Stanhope built the first printing press with a metal frame. The Stanhope Press was durable, faster, and larger than previous wooden presses. It printed larger sheets, which meant faster production.
The next improvement was a cylinder press invented by Friedrich Gottlob Loenig. The 1812 press sped up the printing process. The first thing printed on the press were sheets G & X of Clarkson’s Life of Penn.
By 1878, Czech painter Karel Klic invented photogravure to reproduce photographs. The method captured detail and continuous tones.
Along with image improvements came advances in typesetting. Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine allowed operators to enter text with a keyboard. Keystrokes on the machine made slugs or lines of metal type.
Dramatic Changes in the Twentieth Century
Screen printing entered the printing arena in 1907. That’s when Samuel Simon won a patent for the process. He used silk fabric as a printing screen. This technique was popular for printing fabrics and wallpaper. Screen printing that began in the Shang Dynasty in China, was a mainstream technique.
Xerography reached the printing scene in 1938. It’s a dry photocopying technique. Chester Carlson invented the method. The first commercial xerographic copier came out in 1949. But it wasn’t popular until the 1959 Xerox 914 plain paper copier reached the market.
Along with commercial copiers, letterpress printing presses improved. In 1948, Shinohara Machine Company manufactured a flatbed letterpress machine in Japan. The German Heidelberg Tiegel was another popular press at mid-century.
In 1973 newspaper circulation in the United States was at it’s highest. It stayed steady until a gradual decline began in the mid-1980s. Desktop publishing changed everything in 1985. Consumers began to embrace it for business and personal use.
Computers, printers, and software evolved. The new technology made printing more affordable and accurate.
Welcome to the Twenty-first Century
While digital presses were hot, offset presses evolved, too. The waterless web press systems for newspapers and commercial printers arrived in 2000.
Another upgrade was the giant Goss Sunday 5000 press in 2009. The Goss was the world’s first 96-page web press.
Digital printing machines evolved as fast as the companies that made them. Mergers and acquisitions produced big players in the market. HP acquired Indigo in 2001. Cannon bought Océ in 2009. HP, Konica Minolta, and Canon emerge as industry leaders.
In 2007, the short run on-demand book printing market grew. Xerox introduced the WorkCentre 4112 system. It combined a printer, collator, binding and cutting units. The system printed a 300-page book in under 5 minutes.
Press manufacturers experienced financial problems as the newspaper and magazine industries declined.
The Future of Printing Timeline
Equipment manufacturers recognize industry changes and continue to adapt. That’s why consumers are comfortable with web-based printing vendors.