Salt Lake Mailing & Printing Blog

Historical Forms of Printing

Throughout history and all over the world, many different forms of printing have been utilized to communicate and share culture, religion, and art. Starting with the carved cylinder seals of Mesopotamia in 3000 BC, printing was done by rolling these cylinders onto clay, to make art.

Before the use of block printing, in China and in Egypt, there were small stamps used for making seals. Throughout Asia, India, and Europe, printing was done on fabric, with wood blocks, before it was ever done on paper. It began in China around 220 BC and in Egypt about 600 years later. Until the 17th century, Europe continued to use this method to decorate silk.

Stencils, another method of printing, have been used for decorating cloth for many centuries. The oldest known version of stenciling is 2600 BC. At this time, color was extracted from plants and flowers for stenciling. It was even used for publishing. Stenciling, still very common in the mid-1450’s was also utilized for making playing cards and wood decorations.

Moveable type, arguably the most important invention for printing and publishing prior to the computer era, was invented in 1040 by Bi Sheng of China. Johannes Gutenberg, of Germany, is credited with developing European moveable type technology in 1439. The mass printing of the Gutenberg Bible, in1455, initiated the spread of his printing press technology throughout Europe.

The rotary printing press is a technology developed by Richard March How in 1847 and greatly improved by William Bullock in 1863. Rotary drum printing utilizes a cylinder, much like ancient times. But the key difference is that instead of a carved wooden cylinder, the raised printing surface was wrapped around the cylinder, inked, and then rolled onto the paper or other printing surface.

Other historical forms of printing include lithography, using chemical reactions to print, and intaglio printing, in which an image or text is incised into a matrix. Ink was placed in the recesses of the matrix incisions. After cleaning the surface, paper gets pressed against the matrix, with the ink adhering to the paper from the precise incisions of the matrix.

When looking at its origins, it is hard to believe that printing today is so detailed, intricate, fast, and easy. Today’s printers can whip out beautiful reincarnations of whatever is on the computer screen as fast as the computer user can create them. Still, we must give credit to those in history whose intelligence and creativity have given us the ability to know what happened in history, as their prints of art and text linger, providing information, knowledge, and understanding.

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