History of Printing - Early Techniques for Printing

Printing is a process for reproducing text and images, usually with ink on paper using a printing press but it can also be done on textiles and other materials. The first printing was done on cloth in China during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) and was done in so called woodblock printing. Paper was used for printing for the first time in 7th century. Wooden movable type appeared in China by the 11th century and metal movable type in 12th century.

Picture Of Early Wooden Printing Press In 1568

The two main printing techniques in Asia were woodblock printing (so called xylography) and printing with movable type. With woodblock printing, text or image would be carved into a block of wood in negative (in mirror) and covered in ink. This block would be pressed onto paper and left a correct image. Printing with movable type was done by assembling the board with different letter types which could be changed for every different text.

Process of printing with woodblock went like this: Professional calligrapher would write a text on the slightly waxed sheets of paper. This paper would be placed face down on a wooden block that had a thin layer of rice paste. Paper would then be rubbed with a flat palm-fiber brush and the trace of ink would be left on the wood. Characters would be cut by the engraver who would cut out all the space around them with sharp-edged tools. When all cutting is done, board was placed on the horizontal table, fixed and inked with a round horsehair inking brush. Printing was done by lying of the paper on the inked surface of the block of wood and rubbing it with a long narrow pad. Paper is then taken off and left to dry. This process only allowed for one side printing.

Picture Of A Page From Bronze Removable Type Book By Hua Sui Printed In 1490

The first movable type was, again, invented in China in the 11th century and was made made of ceramics. Each character was one piece and text was arranged in an iron frame that was set on an iron plate. Characters were arranged until the frame was full and then were placed near the fire until they were warm. After that all set would be pressed with a board until they were leveled. Each character would exist in many copies to allow for repetitions. At the same time, bronze movable type was used for printing money while wooden movable type was used for printing books.

Wooden movable type, which appeared for the first time in Western Xia period (1038–1227), was more durable during excessive printing, repeated printing wore the character faces down and new character pieces needed to be carved. Wood printing existed in Europe since 1300 and was used for printing on cloth. Johannes Gutenberg, of the German city of Mainz, developed European movable type printing technology around 1439. While movable type was much quicker than wood carving in Europe, in Asia turned out slower because of problems with handling the several thousand logographs that were needed to make a text. But that didn’t lessen the importance of the printing and its influence on the culture of the world.

Picture Of Old Printing Press
Picture Of Print Machine