History of Printing



(images used in timeline were collected online)

Historical Evaluation of Printing:

While printing has evolved a substantial amount over time, from the humble woodblock to the widespread digital printer, the technological progression of printing has been one filled with many inventions and leaps in sophistication. Although there are many milestones in regards to the evolution of printing, there are a few more notable and substantial ones that hold more weight over smaller iterations. One of the earliest known forms of printing is woodblock printing, which dates to the 200s. This form of printing was achieved via the use of a relief pattern with the raised areas on the stamp taking the ink. This stamp would then be pressed onto the paper or cloth and the areas that were recessed on the stamp would leave ‘white’ or blank areas.

An evolution of the woodblock was movable type, which came about in 1040. The way movable type works is like woodblock printing, except on a more mass produced and commercial scale. Multiple pieces of metal type are used to print text and are easy to handle and move. The printing press in 1440 quickly followed with Gutenberg pioneering his printing press, the Gutenberg press. This was improved upon by Friedrich Koening who designed a non-manpowered printing press using steam. Most printing presses during this time work by applying pressure and therefore pressing ink onto a surface.

Multiple printing houses were constructed, mainly in Europe, and the press itself evolved further with the introduction of the rotary printing press, an early precursor to offset printing. However, this came shortly after lithography, a method of printing onto a smooth surface. This technique required the use of chemicals and various ink and water mixtures to interact with ink. The ink sticks to the positive image, usually made up of a chemical, and would be cleaned away by water to leave a negative part to the image. Lithography was improved to allow colour and made use of multiple stones, each with their own colour, to create a reproduction of an image.

Leaping forward in time to the 1870s, the offset press was created and became a widely-used printing technique. It used a method whereby an image is transferred to a rubber blanket from a plate and then to the desired surface. Although the press is usually used for printing on paper, that only came about in 1904 when Ira Washingston Rubel developed the press further. Beforehand though the press was initially used to print onto tin. Offset printing can also be used in tandem with the repulsion of oil and water, similarly to the lithographic process.

Over thirty years after the invention of the original offset press came the Photostat and rectigraph. This machine acted as a primitive photocopier and made use of a large camera to photograph documents.

Screen printing followed shortly after the Photostat and was a technique that proved useful for people wanting to print simple designs and logos onto clothing and posters. The screen printing method requires the user to transfer ink, using a blade that is dragged across the screen, to the desired surface with the help of a stencil. Screen printing is still widely used today for printing designs and logos onto clothing.

Inkjet printing revolutionised printing and came about in 1951, roughly 40 years after screen printing was invented. This method of printing utilised drops of ink to recreate digital images and made printing more accessible than ever. Instead of ink, the laser printer made use of an electrostatic process and used a laser beam that it passed over a negatively charged cylinder to create images with a different charge. This cylinder then transfers electrically charged ink onto the desired surface, of which is promptly heated to cause the ink to become fused with the surface.

Three years after laser printing was introduced thermal printing was invented. Thermal printing creates an image via the selective use of a heated print head on a special type of paper. Wherever the heat occurs, the area turns dark. Moving along twelve years, 3D printing was born and heralded what futurologist Jeremy Rifkin claimed to be the beginning of the third industrial revolution. It was certainly revolutionary at the time and is still going strong even today, evolving all the time with both practical and entertainment based uses being developed and improved upon constantly. 3D printing is done via multiple layers of material being ‘printed’ atop one another while being guided by a computer that is usually following the specifications of a digital 3D model.

Even more recently, though still quite a while ago, digital printing was invented. Even though it was developed over twenty years ago back in 1991 it is still going strong. This is probably because it embraces the new modern world and makes use of tried and true printing methods to achieve both small and large scale printing output. Digital printing uses either both inkjet and laser or one or the other. The large scale popularity of printing directly from a digital image to a large variety of media has allowed almost anyone with a computer and a laser or inkjet printer to be able to tangibly behold a print of a digital image.



Bibliography and Referencing:

Arkin, J. (2010). How Do Thermal Printers Work? | Printer & Printer Ink Related Articles. [online] Printerinkcartridges.printcountry.com. Available at: http://printerinkcartridges.printcountry.com/printcountry-articles/printer-ink-cartridges-information-facts-downloads/how-do-thermal-printers-work [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

Zebra Technologies. (2016). Direct Thermal & Thermal Transfer Printing FAQs | Zebra. [online] Available at: https://www.zebra.com/us/en/resource-library/getting-started/direct-thermal-thermal-transfer/direct-thermal-faq.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

En.wikipedia.org. (2016). History of printing. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_printing [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

Bpsnet.org.uk. (n.d.). History of Printing. [online] Available at: http://www.bpsnet.org.uk/history_print.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

Rouse, M. (2010). What is inkjet printer? – Definition from WhatIs.com. [online] WhatIs.com. Available at: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/inkjet-printer [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

Steins, J. (2010). Woodblock Printing ~ An overview of the history of relief printing. [online] John Steins. Available at: http://www.johnsteins.com/woodblock-printing.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

Castleink.com. (2016). Thermal Printers – Learn How do Thermal Printers Work?. [online] Available at: http://www.castleink.com/category/333/How-do-Thermal-Printers-Work%3F.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].

Woodford, C. (2016). How does printing work?. [online] Explain that Stuff. Available at: http://www.explainthatstuff.com/how-printing-works.html [Accessed 6 Nov. 2016].


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