Printing is the process of producing an image on a surface, such as paper. The image can be either a picture or a text. There are many different types of printing, from business cards to leaflets. It has evolved rapidly, and now can be done easily and inexpensively.
Traditionally, prints were made of stone or other hard surfaces. In the early 16th century, Albrecht Durer used a woodcut technique to make prints. They were viewed as a way to strengthen the power of monarchs and religion.
Before this, books were mostly printed on scrolls. By the ninth century, printed works were common all over China. Books of all kinds, from Buddhist scriptures to Confucian classics, were available. Those who wanted to buy a book would go to a private dealer or a library. If they were interested in reading a particular text, they were often given a prospectus to read. This prospectus provided them with the contents and a list of readers. These readers were known as subscribers.
Movable type was invented by Bi Sheng in 1041 during the Song Dynasty. This allowed the movable type to be detachable from the iron plate and to be used in various other creative ways. Eventually, the movable type was made of metal, allowing it to be put together and pressed to create a print page.
Movable type also made it possible to print on multiple surfaces. For example, a sheet of paper could be glued to an iron plate, a block of clay could be assembled and pressed to produce a print page, and a comb could be used to transfer the engraved lines to a paper.
Printed books were available in a wide variety of subjects, from theology to mathematics. People began to read more and more intensively. This was a radical change in reading habits, as it was considered unsociable and rebellious. Eventually, the church regulated content and made sure that people knew how to read.
As more books were printed, they became more widely available. People began to read selected excerpts, indices were common, and tables of contents were created. Many libraries in China held tens of thousands of printed books.
Although printing made books more accessible, it was still a labor-intensive process. The number of good impressions was limited by the materials and processes used. One could also create a copy from a photocopy or from a digital file. A dot matrix printer was more efficient than a typewriter-like printer, but it was much cheaper.
In addition to text, books were also produced in a variety of styles. Artists produced works such as Katsushika Hokusai’s famous landscape paintings, and Albrecht Durer illustrated scenes from the Passion of Christ. Other artists created printed objects, including playing cards and bibles.
Publishing was a complex process, involving many moving parts. Publishers were responsible for marketing, design, and sales. Authors who worked with an official publisher gave up their copyrights, making their work public.