Printing is the process of creating an image or picture, usually on paper. This may include postage stamps, business cards, brochures, catalogs, shopping bags, leaflets and more. Historically, printing has evolved over the centuries. Today, it is more commonly carried out as an industrial process, rather than a specialized art.

The first printed books were found in Shu, China, in the ninth century. By the twelfth century, Chinese libraries held thousands of printed books. However, many of these were religious texts. They included Buddhist scriptures and Confucian classics. Printed books also contained mathematical texts and textbooks.

In the fourteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press. It was an important step in the development of mass communication, because it enabled the spread of information throughout Europe. Although early printing presses were relatively simple, they were effective enough to produce numerous impressions. These could be reprinted if sufficient subscribers were gathered.

Before the printing press, the majority of books were religious in nature. The church regulated the content of the texts and had a strong monopoly on what was considered appropriate. Traditionally, printing used a block of stone or clay for the surface of the print. To get the ink on the paper, it was pressed against the plate.

Other types of printing include xylography, planographic printing, and screenprint. Xylography, for example, is the art of printing on wood. Unlike traditional printmaking processes, in which the ink is pushed onto the surface of the paper, xylography involves drawing directly on the printing surface.

Printing has advanced from its origins, and the most common type of printing now uses digital technology. Many modern printers incorporate other techniques, such as offset printing and thermographic printing. Digital printing makes prints inexpensive and easy to use.

The introduction of the printing press revolutionized the structure of society. Booksellers negotiated with publishers at trade fairs, and printed material became available to the public. Publishers developed new ways to fund projects, and cooperative associations emerged in France and England.

Several forms of printing are still used today, including screenprint, xylography, and laser printing. Some of the most famous modern prints are Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa and Utagawa Hiroshige’s The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido.

The introduction of the printing press changed the way Europeans thought about reading and wrote. It contributed to the development of education, and ensured that the same information would be printed on the same pages. With the rise of printing, the social and political power of monarchs shifted.

While most of the books published in the Middle Ages were religious in nature, a number of secular texts were also published. These included dictionaries, mathematic texts, and Buddhist scriptures. At the same time, tables of contents and indices became more common.

Besides books, printing also changed the social nature of reading. Rather than relying on oral reading, people started to read silently. There was an increase in literacy, and critical reading was born.