Printing is the process of reproducing text or images on paper. It is used in the manufacture of magazines, newspapers, catalogs, leaflets, books, brochures, and shopping bags. There are several types of printing, such as intaglio, planographic, and relief. Each type of printing differs in its basic image carrier and in the way it transfers the image.

Before printing began, manuscripts were hand-copied and distributed. Books and texts were mostly religious in nature. Many books included Buddhist scriptures, Confucian classics, and mathematics texts. Printed books were generally more affordable than their hand-copied versions. These works were also available to be purchased from private dealers and publishers. Moreover, print shops were popular cultural centers.

In the 15th century, a German printer named Johannes Gutenberg developed a method of movable type. Rather than using a single iron plate for all printing jobs, movable type was made from hardened clay and could be broken up and redistributed as needed. This new technique allowed for more creative modes of printing.

Movable type was later adopted in China. While not yet widely used, it was an important part of the early Chinese printing industry. However, it was not until the introduction of the European-style printing press in relatively recent times that the technique became widespread.

Printing began as a very labor-intensive process. It involved creating the images by applying pressure to a surface. The number of good impressions, or copies, was limited by the materials and the process. When a completed printing run was complete, the lead was melted and the work was recomposed. Some nobles refused to have books printed in their libraries, believing that it would damage the manuscripts.

During the nineteenth century, the emergence of the rotary printing press made it possible for millions of copies to be printed per day. These machines used steam and a continuous feed to make the entire process faster and more efficient. They enabled books to be published on both sides of the sheet. This increased the availability of newspapers and spurred the growth of the book industry.

Another important development in the early 19th century was the invention of the publication syndicate. Master printers set up a distribution network for books and other works. A prospectus was given to potential buyers. Subscribers to the syndicate were listed as endorsements for the works.

Another major innovation was the invention of subscription publishing. Earlier, books were primarily produced as private editions. With the development of the subscription method, a number of books could be produced at a low price. People started reading excerpts from these books, causing critical reading to develop. Reading became a scholarly pursuit.

During the sixteenth century, the German artist Albrecht Durer produced prints of scenes from the Passion of Christ. He also illustrated the earliest versions of the Bible. Other famous artists who worked with woodcut printing include Albrecht Durer, Albrecht Altdorfer, and Albrecht Dürer.

By the mid-nineteenth century, printed books were found all over China. Moreover, many libraries contained tens of thousands of these books.