Printing is the process of reproducing words and images on paper, card, plastic or fabric. It can be used to create anything from a single reproduction of a priceless painting to running off millions of copies of the latest Harry Potter book.
The word printing comes from the Latin premere, meaning to press, but it is also a generic term for any type of printing that uses a physical mechanism to transfer ink or other materials onto a surface such as paper, card, or fabric. Some popular forms of printing, such as photocopying and inkjet and laser printers, use electricity to transfer ink from a machine onto a piece of paper or other material.
Many people associate the word “printing” with the earliest forms of this art form, such as the potato print and woodblock printing that originated in the ancient Egyptians and Romans. These forms of printing were later replaced by movable type (made of clay), invented in Song China by Bi Sheng, who carved characters in relief and used them as a means to write.
Movable type was a significant invention that enabled the scholarly pursuits of Song Dynasty China, and facilitated more creative modes of printing. Its popularity grew and spread into Western cultures as a means to print text without the need for handwritten letters.
Early printing presses were hand-operated, and could only produce small quantities of printed material at a time. Modern presses used to run newspapers and magazines can print thousands of pages per hour.
A common method of printmaking is the use of a printmaking plate that is covered in ink, and then pressed against pieces of paper to transfer that ink into the surface of the paper. The plate is then removed, leaving an image of the original on the paper’s surface.
There are various methods of printmaking, with each one being associated with a specific set of rules for the artist to adhere to during their work. These rules can include the creation of an edition, which is a grouping of identical prints that are created from the same matrix (an inked printing plate), and the artist’s signature, which ensures that the edition has not been reproduced by another printer.
The type of paper used is an important consideration for the quality of a print. The paper needs to be smooth and able to stand up to the repeated exposure of the ink to it. It should also be acid-free, to avoid causing any damage to the artwork.
If you’re not sure which kind of paper to choose, it’s best to ask an expert for advice. They will be able to advise you on the best kind of paper for the purpose at hand and ensure that the final print looks as good as possible.
It’s also worth weighing up the cost of paper against the print itself, especially if you’re using the same paper for different purposes. For example, it’s often cheaper to print onto paper with a higher gsm (grammage) than to use a thinner sheet for a similar job.