Printing is a method of reproducing a picture or word on paper, fabric, plastic or another hard surface. It is an essential part of paper-based publishing. Traditionally, the printing process involves the use of a block, plate or screen to produce an image. But today, many printers use digital techniques instead. In the past, printing was a labor-intensive process.
The first printed books were produced in Shu, China in the ninth century. They contained dictionaries, religious scriptures, Confucian classics and mathematics texts. Printed books were sold by private dealers or in libraries. By the twelfth century, printing had become a cultural center in the eastern provinces of China. Books with more than one thousand pages were common.
During the Song Dynasty, a Chinese printer named Bi Sheng invented the movable type printing technique. He created small clay blocks with reliefs that he could rearrange in the printing frame. This process allowed for more creative modes of printing. As a result, scholarly pursuits were encouraged. However, the movable type did not become widely used in China until European-style printing presses began appearing in relatively recent times.
Initially, a single black and white print was produced from a single wooden block. Woodcuts were also used to print playing cards, bibles and other objects. After the adoption of the woodcut process for printing images on paper in the early 15th century, the technique was adopted by artists and printers in Europe. Besides printing books, it was also used to print textiles.
Other techniques were also developed. Early forms of printing include hectographs and spirit duplicators. Some people were free to travel across Europe and set up printing presses on their own. Others became apprenticed to printers and worked to learn how to run a press.
Another important invention in the field of printmaking was the Linotype, a typesetting machine invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1814. The machine could produce up to 1,100 impressions per hour. It was also able to print on both sides of a sheet at once, forcing standardization of metadata.
The printing industry was also influenced by the development of the alphabet. The invention of the alphabet and the printing process had an impact similar to the spread of religion. Not only were books of all kinds created, but the ability to read texts became critical. Because of this, the social nature of reading evolved.
Later, the Greeks developed lithography, a technique in which an artist draws directly onto a printing surface. Lithography is a fast and versatile printing process. A copper printing plate is etched with the image. An ink-covered metal plate is then fed through a printing press. Paper or fabric is then pressed against the etched surface, transferring the ink from the printing plate to the paper.
Although the advent of movable type in China facilitated more creative forms of printing, it was not until the European-style printing presses appeared that movable type became widespread in China. Lead types, which proved to be more durable and suited to printing than other materials, were then introduced.