Human history has a few common themes, one of which is the written word.

 

Ancient History

Humans have been printing as well as writing since 3,000BC – the Ancient Egyptians as well as the Chinese used stamps not unlike those available today to imprint images onto cloth. Paper wouldn’t follow for a few thousand years, when the Chinese scholar Ts’ai Lun allegedly made the first piece of paper in 750 AD, but the human race was already obsessed with printing by this stage. 

Anglo Saxon Manuscripts

In Europe, books were literally hand written until around the 11th century. The Illuminated manuscripts were painstakingly copied out by monks, and producing books was a time consuming process. The Cuthbert Gospel was one of these books; the small volume, which was taken from the tomb of Saint Cuthbert in 1104, is the oldest book still in Europe, having been hand written in the 7th century. Then, in the 11th century, it fell to the Chinese to provide the next innovation in printing. Pi-Sheng, who was to become one of the most important men in the history of printing, created clay characters which formed the first moveable type.

By the 12th century Europe was making its own paper, and by the 13th century bronze typefaces are being created. Books were definitely being printed using these early printing presses by 1397 AD.

Words and Pictures

Printing techniques were not just focused on words – images were also printed using woodcuts. Woodcuts were scenes that were engraved into a block of wood, which was then covered in ink and applied to the material to be printed on. Woodcuts were more advanced in Europe than the printed word in the 15th century, as printing was expensive and most books were still written by hand. The library at the University of Cambridge at this time contained just 122 books.

By 1507 people such as Lucas Cranach are exploring the world of colour printing. The printing press has become cheaper to manufacture and quicker to use, meaning that more books are being printed. People become more educated as material becomes more widely available however, in 1631 a version of the King James Bible is incorrectly formatted so that readers were commanded ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’.

It was not until 1837 that colour printing began to resemble what we see today, with full colour adverts appearing for the first time. Offset printing arrived in 1903 – this method is still widely used today for printing newspapers and magazines.

Printing goes 3D

This form of printing stopped being as widely used as computers became more prevalent, and digital technology has completely changed how we print today. 3D printing was invented by Chuck Hull – the process is not printing as we traditionally think of it; it works by building up layers of plastic in order to form an object.

It is thought that at some point it will be possible to ‘print’ human organs, potentially saving thousands of lives; while it may seem impossible right now, the way printing has advanced, there’s no saying that it won't eventually become a reality. Only time will tell where the printing industry will go.

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