Salt Lake Mailing & Printing Blog

Early Press-Printing around the World

In ancient history, printing began in 3000 BC, with carved cylinders rolled onto clay, to make art. Then, much later, printing was used for the decoration of cloth. The oldest discovered woodblock printings are old tattered pieces of silk, decorated with flowers stamped in three colors, from 220 BC. In Egypt, the story is similar with the oldest printed cloth dating back to 300 AD.

Printing may have started as an embellishment for clothing, but its usefulness for the written word was discovered soon after. Back in China, Buddhism beliefs that religious teachings and translations should be spread far and wide encouraged the first known printing on paper.

The diamond sutra is the oldest-known book that was printed not by hand but by wood-block printing, around 400 AD. Although a number printing was found from a somewhat earlier period, this book is most significant because it made the large-scale printing of texts a possibility. The written word could thus be shared with a much larger population than before.

In India, as with China, the influence of Buddhism was spurring forward the progress of printing. It was actually a firm religious belief that together, printing and preserving books of scripture was one of the ten most important religious practices.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Christians eventually caught onto the printing idea in the 1200’s. As with other countries, printing began on cloth. However, in Europe, these printings were not decorations but large, elaborate religious images. In the 1400’s, smaller versions of the same prints as well as printed playing cards were available for the masses.

Some controversy remains about the timing of wood-block printing and moveable type, in Europe. Some state that wood-block printing came first and others say it came second as a cheaper solution following the advent of moveable type. In any case, around 1440-1460 the invention of both types of printing had come to fruition. Moveable type became the standard that lasted all the way until the age of computers, with the easy printing we enjoy today.

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