Printed books have been available in China for centuries, but the invention of movable type in the 14th century changed the nature of printing. The movable type printing technique, which allowed for the assembly of a page and its subsequent printing, led to the introduction of more creative forms of printing. Moreover, the introduction of movable type spurred scholarly pursuits in Song China.
The use of movable type in China did not become widespread until the introduction of European-style printing presses in relatively recent times. The oldest movable metal-type book, Jikji, was printed in 1377 in Korea. However, before this, movable type had only been used alongside block printing in China.
Before the introduction of European-style movable type printing presses, books were often purchased from private dealers or printed in China by master print shops. The process was highly labor-intensive. Many Chinese libraries contained tens of thousands of printed books. The books, which ranged from Confucian classics to mathematics texts, were bought from the private dealer or through trade fairs. They also included Buddhist scriptures, dictionaries, and other printed works.
The movable type printing process involved a small, hardened clay block that could be attached to an iron plate. Alternatively, the type could be detached from the plate, allowing it to be used anywhere. The movable type could be broken up and reassembled as needed. The movable type, made by Bi Sheng, was developed in 1041 during the Song Dynasty.
During the 15th century, Europeans began to mechanize printing. They created more complex structures to support the publisher and began to rely on specialized photographic processes. During this period, two-color printing became more common. The first color prints were published in the 1440s, less than a year after the invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. These were produced using four printing plates that were each used to print a full-color parent sheet.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, printing was increasingly mechanized and the roles of the Master Printer and the bookseller-publisher were eliminated. A new system of financing and publishing was developed. The official publishers earned a certain percentage of the profits. They were responsible for marketing and sales as well as the design and editing of the books. They also negotiated at trade fairs. They gave a prospectus for prospective buyers. The subscription list was included as endorsements.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, improvements in the press design improved the quality and speed of operation. They also forced the standardization of metadata. During this time, a continuous feed was developed, allowing presses to run faster. In addition, automatic paper reels were invented. This made it possible for millions of copies to be made in a single day.
In the late nineteenth century, the offset lithography printing process came into use. This method is now the most common. It combines the advantages of offset lithography and the advantages of the direct printing method. The image carrier is transferred from the plate to a blanket cylinder on the press. The ink is then transferred from the rubber blanket to the paper. This is a great technique for short runs of printed materials, such as newspapers and magazines. It is especially valuable for colour printing.