Salt Lake Mailing & Printing Blog

The Printing Process: History and Types

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press with movable type in 1439, he changed the world forever. While the technology of printing has changed over the years, the ability to quickly transfer words and images from one medium to another has remained an important technology in business, education, and more.

The printing revolution was based on Gutenberg Press. Before Gutenberg, printing was severely limited due to the fact that everything was done by hand. Most of the printing was done by religious orders, with members who would spend hours copying, engraving or painting the elaborate script and images.

The Gutenberg Press changed everything by introducing movable type. Instead of needing to copy everything by hand, Gutenberg created “type” – an alloy of lead, tin and antimony that had the individual letters, punctuation marks, ligatures and abbreviations placed upon it. Compositors would place the type to form the correct text, with a skilled compositor being able to assemble up to 2,000 characters per hour. Once the type was placed, multiple copies of the same text could be made.

The Gutenberg Press remained the standard of printing technology into the 20th century. However, as with most technologies, inventors began to experiment with the abilities and possibilities of the printing press, creating the varied printing options that exist today.

In modern day printing, there are nine different possibilities. The first, and most common is offset lithography, which we will explore more fully in a subsequent post. Other types include:

  • Digital – a rapidly expanding technology that is providing a viable alternative to offset lithography
  • Engraving – used mostly in fine stationery
  • Thermography – a type of raised printing
  • Letterpress – the original Gutenberg with moving type
  • Reprographics – copying and duplicating
  • Screen – the type of printing used on billboards and T-shirts
  • Gravure – a large volume printing used mostly for direct mail catalogs and magazines
  • Flexography – the type of printing used on packaged products such as can labels

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