Before Johann Gutenberg discovered modern printing in 1450, the process of recording and preserving important events, great ideas, and production of books was done by hand. Scribes, mostly, monks from monasteries, performed this laborious task and would take them years to complete a book. Thus, the impact of modern printing to human civilization is an essential factor in educating the world. Its discovery is considered an important event in human history because of its great contribution to culture and knowledge. In 1499, there were 1,500 print shops in Europe producing 15 million books of different titles.
This ignited widespread literacy and ushered an era of enlightenment. Learning was no longer exclusive to the elite and the intellectuals. Printing was the first mass medium to allow the spread of ideas and information benefiting ordinary people who began to read and write. The Protestant Reformation would not have happened if not for the printing of Luther’s theses. Many groups wanted to control the new technology. Scribes fought the establishment of printing press for they could loss their livelihood. Eventually, governments took hold of the printing press to prevent the spread of anti-government sentiments.
The church also did the same. The development of printing was one of the keys that led to the creation of a modern society, revolutionizing education and developing language. Today, the printing press is a vital tool, as it was before, to the development of a nation and expression of freedom. From its early discovery to the 20th century, innovations in the printing process developed significantly with improved techniques and new concepts. Here we trace its revolutions through the ages. Movable Type – The first printing press invented by Gutenberg.
Unaware or not, the Chinese and Koreans already used his methods in 1041 and 1234 respectively. This technique uses separate blocks of letters or characters in mirror image, where they are moved to form a text or word like a scrabble. Prior to Gutenberg, the Chinese used clay-type blocks, which broke easily, and then wood while the Koreans constructed a metal type and established an iron printing press. They carved each character individually by hand. Gutenberg, on the other hand, used molding to mass-produce his characters. His type was made from an alloy of lead, tin and antimony, producing high quality prints.
He placed the capital letters on top of the shelf and the other letter pieces at the bottom of the shelf, hence the terms “upper case” and “lower case”. He used an oil-based ink, which he printed on vellum and paper. He based his process on presses used in wine making. His methods remained unchanged for centuries. Critics, however, claimed that Gutenberg only adapted his invention from existing methods while Dutchman Laurens Janszoon Coster also declared that he invented the printing press. Letterpress – This is the oldest form of printing in the West and originated with the invention of movable metal type.
Thousands of pieces of metal type individual character or letter are assembled on the printing surface. These characters are cast in relief to form pages of texts. Relief means that the printing surface (the black areas of the print) is raised above the non-printing surface (the white areas of the print) on the printing plate. The ink is placed on a roller to paint the plate, which is then pressed hard against the paper. To print a page with both text and graphics, a combination of woodcuts and engraving are generally used.
However, adjustments must be maintained all the time to make sure the impression pressure is just right. Typical products of this type include business cards, letterheads, forms, embossing, and hot-leaf stamping. Lithography – This technology dates back to 1798 when Alois Senenfelder developed a process of printing on a smooth surface using limestone. This method is based on the principle that oil and water do not mix. In the early days, the process used a piece of limestone where an image was placed on a flat surface with an oil-based medium. An acid said to burn the image onto the surface.
A gum Arabic, which is a water-soluble solution, was then applied. The solution sticks only to the non-oil surface and sealed it. During the printing, water adhered to the gum Arabic surfaces and avoided the oily parts, while the oil ink used in printing did the opposite. Now, lithography is photographic based and uses flexible aluminum plates instead of stones. These plates are coated with photosensitive emulsion. A photographic negative of the image is then placed in contact with the emulsion and the plate is exposed to light for a definite time.
After exposure to light, the plate is developed and washed thoroughly where the image appears in positive format just like the original. The plate is affixed to a drum on a printing machine run by rollers with ink to produce massive copies of reading materials. Chromolithography – This is the art of printing color pictures using a series of stone or zinc plates by lithography. After its invention, lithographic process was used in producing multi-colored images, known in the middle of the 19th century as chromolithography. In the 1830’s, Godefrey Engleman of France commercialized the innovation.
This type made use of variety of colors. A separate stone has to be made for each color, which means that each sheet of paper will pass through the press, as many times as there are colors in the final print. After an illustration or art was drawn, each stone was inked with an appropriate color on a press. The paper was passed from stone to stone to get the desired colors. The process was expensive and seldom-produced quality prints. Invented in 1796, the method used images drawn with greasy pens on limestones to press different colored inks on the paper.
It became the first printing process to mass-produce colored arts such as greeting cards, wedding announcements, book covers, and ad posters. This process revolutionized popular art in America, bringing color works of art into people’s homes at affordable prices. Gravure (Rotogravure) – This type is a rotary printing press where the image engraved onto a copper cylinder, coated with solvent-based fluid ink. As the cylinder rotates, it is poured with ink. This innovation uses one plate or unit for each CMYK color, cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (printing term for black).
The five basic components of each color unit include an engraved cylinder, an ink fountain, a doctor blade, an impression roller, and a dryer. During the printing, the engraved cylinder is partially submerged in the ink fountain, filling the recessed cells. Each cells transfer a tiny spot of ink to the paper. The cells can vary in depth that causes ink spots to vary likewise. As a result, it allows gravure to print wide range of tones producing excellent reproductions of photographs. As the cylinder rotates, it draws ink out of the fountain.
The doctor blade scrapes the cylinder before it makes contact with the paper, removing ink from the non-printing areas. The impression roller and the gravure cylinder sandwiched the paper, where the ink is transferred from the recessed cells to the paper. The paper then goes through a dryer before going to another color unit. The paper must be completely dry in order to absorb another coat of ink. Screen Printing – This type uses stencil and a porous fabric, which creates a sharp single color image. This is normally used in printing t-shirts, hats, ceramics, glass, metals, and woods.
This handy method makes used of silkscreen framed in wooden squares. Ink is placed on top of the screen where a rubber blade is used to spread the ink evenly across the screen. The ink passes through the holes in the screen onto the paper or fabric below, the screen is then lifted. The screen can be cleaned and reused. The process can only print one color at a time. The process is repeated if another color is applied. There are many ways to make a stencil but the most popular one is the use of photographic emulsion. The original image is placed on a transparent overlay either drawn, painted, photocopied or printed in a computer printer.
The overlay is placed on the emulsion-coated screen and exposed to strong light. The screen is washed off thoroughly. The areas of emulsion that were not exposed to the light dissolved and the washed away. Leaving a negative stencil of the image attached to the screen. Screen printing is more flexible than traditional methods because its surface does not have to be printed under pressure. Its ink can be used to work in many kinds of materials and used by many industries, from clothing to product labels to circuit board printing.
Intaglio – This printing technique uses copper or zinc plates where an image is incised onto a surface by etching, engraving, drypoint or mezzotint. The surface is covered with ink. It is then rubbed vigorously with tarlatan cloth or newspaper to remove the ink from the surface, leaving the engraved incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top, and the plate and paper are run through a printing press and with pressure transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate to the paper. This method is used in the printing of currencies.
With the advent of Digital Age comes Digital Printing. The innovations in printing are becoming more complex, state-of-the art, and very accurate in producing high quality prints. Details and color come alive and perfectly clear. Comparing the past technology to the present, we can say that the printing press has come a long way. With the entry of Desktop Publishing, one can start a home business and produce his or her own materials. These days printing businesses are still thriving. Most print shops are forced to invest in expensive cutting-edged technology to cope up with the demand.
Others remain traditional because they cannot afford such modern innovations. But no matter what kind of technology you are using or will come in the coming years, the role of printing remains the same, to spread knowledge, to educate, to inform and to make the world a global community. It can also be considered that printing changed the way the world thinks.
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