Printing is a process where an image is transferred to another surface. It can be used to produce a text, a single short run poster or even thousands of booklets. Today, printing is a digital and affordable process. However, it was very expensive and labour-intensive in the past.
Before the advent of the printing press, printing was done manually and was limited to simple images printed on wood blocks. In the early 16th century, German artist Albrecht Durer produced woodcut prints. He illustrated scenes from the Passion of Christ.
By the ninth century, printing was common in China. The invention of movable type spurred scholarly pursuits in Song Dynasty China. But in the Far East, resistance to the use of printing presses was similar to that encountered in Europe. Nobles thought that printing would sully hand-copied manuscripts.
Early printed works focused on a line of argument rather than on images. Since the church regulated what was published, printing was considered a religious act. Nonetheless, printing became a critical medium for literacy in the West. Printed books were available from private dealers or booksellers. There were trade fairs and print shops, where publishers could negotiate with potential buyers. A prospectus was often given to subscribers.
After the invention of the printing press in the 1440s by Johannes Gutenberg, printing revolutionized the social and economic structure of Europe. During this time, reading began to take on a different character as books were democratized and became more accessible to a wider audience. Books included Confucian classics, Buddhism scriptures, and mathematics texts.
The rise of printing also marked the introduction of the scientific method. In the ninth century, a special matrix was used to create lead types for the printing press. These types proved to be more durable than other types of materials.
The printing process was then further advanced by the invention of the movable type. This system allowed for more creative modes of printing and could be moved around and broken up to be used anywhere. Even with this advance, the number of good impressions was relatively low. For commercial purposes, the number was artificially restricted.
By the mid-nineteenth century, print technology was being refined and standardized. Machines such as the Koenig and Bauer machines were being built. They were capable of producing more than one million copies per day. They were also able to print on both sides of a sheet of paper at the same time. Unlike previous machines, these allowed for the standardization of metadata.
Despite their initial limitations, these innovations enabled books to be produced inexpensively. As a result, the demand for printing was increasing. Eventually, the role of the Master Printer became obsolete in Europe. Publishers developed new methods of funding projects, and cooperative associations were born.
Increasingly specialized jobs grew along with the structure of the publishing industry. The “journeyman printer” was a free-roaming professional who set type for printing and ran presses. Several types of publishing syndicates were developed, including the English-style book club and the French-style commuting club.