A Short History of Printing
Hello. Today I am going to talk about the important inventions in printing throughout history. Now, this is no means a comprehensive history of printing but rather the highlights of printing that have impacted graphic design throughout history. So to begin we need to go
back about 1800 years from the invention of the telegraph to the first century in China. During the Eastern Han Dynasty around 104 a.d, a eunuch of the imperial court named Cai Lun invented a new type of paper, here seen on the left. It was said that he took bamboo fibers
and the inner bark of a mulberry tree. He then added water to these and pounded them using a wooden tool when they were pounded thoroughly he poured the whole mixture over a flat woven cloth letting the water drain out. When it was dried, only the fibers remained and with this Lun realized he had made a lightweight material that had a good writing surface. So you can imagine that having a writing surface that was lightweight allowed for more information to be stored in a smaller amount of space and carried easily. Woodblock printing or the woodblock that you see in the middle here was invented in 220 a.d in china as well. The ability to reproduce one image quickly started here. It was limited though to just
one design. Could you imagine if you had a typo and had to recarve the whole block? To solve this problem Bi Sheng invented moveable type. All the way on the right and the printing press. This is still in China. Moveable type was invented around 1025 using wood but because of the unevenness and grain of the wood, they created moveable type out of ceramic clay for a better impression in the paper. And just for reference, the Chinese
alphabet had over 20,000 characters of which an educated Chinese person will know about 8,000. Moving over to Europe from China about 400 years later we have Johannes Gutenberg inventing metal moveable type and a printing press to handle that movable type. This can also be considered letterpress. The actual printing press is a little bit different for letterpress, though. He invented moveable type by casting the type on a matrix and hand mold. The small number of
alphabetic characters, 26 for English, needed for European languages was an important factor in its acceptance and widespread use. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony. And these materials remain standard for the next 550 years. If you are ever in the letterpress studio in Carnegie we actually have some metal type you can see and we also have a very large selection of wood type.
At this time in Europe, there are only 30,000 books. Johannes Gutenberg started the printing revolution and just for reference and comparison one could replicate 3,600 printed pages a workday with Gutenberg's press, versus only 40 pages by hand printing with other presses, and then only two to three pages by hand copying. So that definitely sped things up. Up until this point in Europe, books were copied by monks by hand or were printed using woodblocks making the duplication of books expensive, time-consuming, and generally reserved for aristocrats and religious institutions. So if you were a commoner you may have had to travel in order to actually read a book. The arrival of mechanical moveable type
printing made the replication of books cheaper and more widely available to the everyday person. Introducing the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and revolutionary ideas transcended borders, captured the masses and the reformation, and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. And I would say all classes. Well middle and lower class. The printing press spread within several decades to over 200 cities in a dozen European countries and by 1500, about yeah by 1500 printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than 20 million volumes. So
in the span of 50 years, we go from 30,000 books in Europe to 20 million books in Europe. In the 16th century with presses spreading further afield their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. The operation of a press became synonymous with the enterprise of printing and lent its name to a new medium of expression and communication "the press." If you would like to pause the video and then go into the description and click on the link for the Gutenberg press you can see how this press actually works. So you can take a look at the affordances, signifiers, constraints, conceptual mapping, and whatnot.
\Because I can probably guess that just by looking at the photo on this slide you might not have any idea of how that works or how it might interact with the human body. So go ahead and pause the video take a look at that and then come back. Okay. What did you think of that? Quite the, quite the invention? Although the Chinese had been mass-producing books since the 9th century, now it was possible to speed up the process without sacrificing quality. Gutenberg's inventions did not make him rich
but it did lay the foundation for the commercial mass production of books. Johannes Gutenberg's bible seen here on the screen is probably the most famous Bible in the world. It is the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using moveable type. Printed in 1455 by Johannes Gutenberg and his associates Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, there's an interesting story here. A little bit of drama. Johann fust wound up loaning Gutenberg some money
to print the bible back in 1450 or so, because it took him about five years to print these bibles. In 1455 right almost when Gutenberg was done with these bibles Fust sued Gutenberg for non-payment and the court sided with Fust and Gutenberg lost his rights to his printing shop and consequently, Fust and Schoeffer finished out the printing and subsequently profited off of the bible but they still credited Gutenberg for the printing. Kind of a mixed bag on that story good and bad. Only 48 copies are known to have survived of which 12 are printed on vellum and 36 on paper. 20 of those are complete two of them are at the British Library. One printed on paper and one on vellum. And many copies including the British Library's paper copy
married the new technology of printing with the old and hand-painted decorations to imitate the appearance of an illuminated manuscript. So as you see here on the right the opening page begins with a large letter i which fills most of the left-hand margin. Similarly in the second column, the letter p extends into the space between the columns. Inside the letter is King Solomon wearing a white crown and a red and white cape. In addition, the page is decorated with birds and a climbing monkey. It's quite a lot. Some interesting points aside from what you see on the screen. Like I said it took them about five years to complete and the size of these pieces or sheets of paper is a little over 11 and three-quarters inch wide by about 16 and a half inches tall. So what I would like you to do is pause the video real quick
and get out your tape measurer and measure out 11 and three-quarter inches wide by 16.6 inches tall. And then think about how you would experience this book. How you would hold it up. Over on the left-hand side on screen this book was 14 pounds that's a lot.
So measure, think about that, and then come back. Okay, so what did you think about that? It's quite a large unwieldy size to be able to look at it close to your body and holding it upright would definitely build your biceps with that. The large margins allowed illuminated decoration to be added by hand. In addition to the pages being printed
there would need to be another person that would illustrate the amount of decoration, depending on how much each buyer could or would pay. So if you didn't want to pay for that you didn't have to have it. If you wanted to pay for it of course you could have whatever you wanted. In the description, there's also a link to see the actual bible. I think it's through the University of Texas. then we move along about 300 years later lithography is invented by the German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works. Although it can be used to print text
or artwork onto paper although it can be used to print oh wait a second I messed that up. It can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or another suitable material. Lithography originally used an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth level lithographic limestone plate. The stone was treated with a mixture of acid and gum arabic. Etching the portions of the stone that were not protected by the grease-based image. When the stone was subsequently moistened, I don't care for that word uh, these etched areas retained water. An oil-based ink then is applied
and it would be repelled by the water. Sticking only to the original drawing. The ink would finally be transferred to a blank sheet of paper producing a printed image. And I believe if you are in printmaking here at Drake you can learn how to do this process. So again you can pause the video and then take a look at the video link for the lithography process in the description.
To see how it actually works and then come on back. Okay. What did you think of that? Quite an involved process. Think of the impact that this had on the replication of images and the more photo-realistic quality of images even though photography wasn't quite invented yet. About a century later one of
the largest traveling circus acts in America was using lithography to advertise for their events. Lithography allowed the artist and printer to make multiple copies of one design quickly and efficiently printing with layers, of course. For each color here notice the lively colors and almost realistic but still fictional replication of animals and people. Lithography was also used for product packaging during this time and up until the mid-1950s. If you wind up seeing an old cracker tin or a label on an old wooden crate odds are that it was printed by lithography. Around 1839, this was about 40 years after lithography was invented, in the mid-1820s Joseph Niépce first managed to fix an image that was captured by the camera but needed at least eight hours to several days of exposure on the camera to produce an image and the results were pretty crude. Niépce associate Louis Daguerre went on to develop the daguerreotype
process which was the first publicly announced and commercially viable photographic process. The daguerreotype required only minutes of exposure in the camera and produced clear finely detailed results. The details were introduced to the world in 1839 a date generally accepted as the birth year of practical photography. Which is what you see here on the screen.
Subsequent innovations made photography easier and more versatile. New materials reduced the required camera exposure time from minutes to seconds and eventually to a small fraction of a second. New photographic media were more economical, sensitive, and convenient. This innovation gave society a way to document reality that could not be replicated in a drawing painting or woodblock print. Think about how a user would experience the resulting photo. Remember up until this point people just enjoyed drawings, sketches, paintings, and lithography.
This was huge, especially a century later when we entered world wars and were able to document the horrors of war through real-time photography. About 50 years later when the industrial revolution was underway about 1877-1878. And scholars were obsessed with identifying cataloging and potentially mechanizing nature. Muybridge's photo sequence of a moving horse was a milestone. Remember at this time the horse was the source of all locomotion of importance. No automobiles yet but there were trains. We went to war on horses and any kind of
large-scale movement was done on horses. So to understand how they moved was really critical. For years the public debated the workings of a horse's gallop the "unsupported transit controversy" asked whether or not all four of a horse's hooves came off the ground when it runs. And this apparently polarized both scientists and casual observers. But I mean really? This is what divided people? One person with a big stake in this debate was not a scientist but a racehorse enthusiast, Leland Stanford the 19th-century robber baron and founder of Stanford University, who was as ambitious as he was wealthy and believed that emerging technology would help settle the "unsupported transit controversy." One of the stories that you often hear or read is that Stanford placed a bet with the owner of the San Francisco newspaper for $25,000 which is the equivalent of $620,000 of today's money. And the camera was
going to prove whether or not the horse had all four legs suspended in the air when galloping. That may be an exaggeration but what is true, though, is that to make his fastest racehorses go faster Stanford wanted to understand the most granular details about how they moved and he believed the photographer Eadward Muybridge would help him do it. Muybridge set up a series of cameras with trip wires to activate the cameras. When the race was over he developed the photos on-site to show the audience so there would be no doubts about it. And as you see here all four legs do come off the ground.
In order to view his work, he had to invent a machine that would spin images around to make it look like they were moving. So he wound up inventing the zoopraxiscope. A device that created the primitive gif-like image of a running horse that many people associated with Muybridge. It would project sequential images that were traced from a photograph onto a glass disk. When the disks spun rapidly and consistently it created a looping moving picture of a galloping horse. So in many ways, this invention was a frustrating one after producing groundbreaking photography Muybridge's work can only be enjoyed as motion pictures if they're reproduced on drawings on a glass disc. Remember there was no TV at this point in time and this would have been considered entertainment.
Feel free to pause the lecture and in the description area, there's a link to the video so you can see how the zoopraxiscope actually works. Okay, welcome back. Pretty interesting? Moving along. In 1875, so around this time offset printing is invented. And offset printing is a common technique in which the image is transferred, or offset, from an image plate that is inked to a rubber blanket and then onto the printing surface. When used in combination with the lithographic process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat image carrier. Ink rollers transfer ink to the image areas of the image carrier while a water roller applies a water-based film to the non-image areas. So this image, this method of printing is still
in use today and is the most efficient process for printing publications with a quantity over a thousand copies. Today's web offset printing process feeds a large roll of paper through a large press machine in several parts. Typically for several meters which then prints continuously as paper is fed through, typically used for newspaper printing. So this would be one gigantic roll of paper that would roll through the printer, the offset printer, continuously. So you wouldn't be feeding sheet by sheet but it would just be one gigantic roll.
Development of the offset press came in two versions in 1875 by Robert Barclay of England for printing on tin and in 1904 by Ira Washington Rubel of the United States for printing on paper. This revolutionized the turnaround time from design to print to being in the hands of users. And it can print 270 sheets of paper per minute. Quite a difference from Gutenberg's printing press. So in a little over 14 minutes of printing offset would exceed the number of pages Gutenberg can print on his press in one whole day. Amazing, Amazing.
Moving along quite a bit actually. About 60-70 years later phototypesetting is invented. And phototypesetting machines project characters onto film for offset printing. In 1949 the Photon Corporation in Cambridge Massachusetts developed equipment based on the Lumitype of Renee Higonnet and Lewis Moyroud. The Lumitype-Photon was first used to complete published books in 1953 and for newspaper work in 1854. The major advancement presented by the phototypesetting machines over the linotype
machine or moveable type in Gutenberg's press was the elimination of metal type. This "cold type" technology phototypesetting could also be used in office environments where hot metal machines, lead type, letterpress, and moveable type could not. The use of phototypesetting grew rapidly in the 1960s when software was developed to convert marked-up copy, usually typed on paper tape to the codes that control the phototypesetters. This method of preparing images for print lasted well into the late or lasted well into the 1980s when computers became more available and software was developed to export designs. In 1984 the Apple computer was released and it would be a paradigm shift in the world of graphic design. From compositions pasted together for photo setting to digital files that would print directly to the printer.
And if you're interested in seeing how phototypesetting actually works pause the video and in the description is a link to the YouTube video. So that was quite a process of putting your work together to then send it to the phototypesetter to then produce the work for print. And seven years later after the Apple computer was released we have the ability to print from a computer image file directly to a printer as a final output. The greatest difference between
digital printing and traditional methods such as lithography or letterpress or movable type is that there's no need to replace printing plates. Whereas in analog printing the plates and or movable type are repeatedly replaced. This results in quicker turnaround times, the lower cost when using digital printing, and the ability to print small quantities with the quality of an offset. Let me start that again. This results in quicker turnaround time and lower cost when
using digital printing and with digital printing, you have the ability to print smaller quantities than that with the quality of an offset print. The most popular methods include inkjet or laser printers that deposit pigment or toner onto a wide variety of substrates including paper, photo paper, canvas, glass, metal, marble, and other substances. Inkjet printers are smaller printers along with our large format printer in Carnegie, they lay a thin layer of ink on the substrate which the ink permeates. So it soaks in. Laser printers on the other hand, lay a thin layer of pigment powder that is then baked onto the paper with a diffuser fluid and heat like the color printer in Carnegie Hall and like you see here on the screen. So bringing this all together through the lens of human-centered design. Printing focuses on the people. So the printers and designers, how work gets prepared to print,
then how does it get printed. Each machine along the way considered the best way to print but not always the easiest way by the human operator. So ergonomics and human factors haven't always been considered, but that transition from the designer to the actual print has been. Finding the problem. The ability to disseminate thoughts and communicate information in a lightweight long-lasting and portable way. Thinking of it all as a system. So settling on a language, a way to
represent the characters of that language, devising a way to replicate the characters and complex thoughts that would be easy to manage within the capabilities and dimensions of a body. And then what is the end result we care about? Being able to spread ideas and language like I talked about with Gutenberg's press. Dissemination of ideas leads to a spread of knowledge and power to benefit everyone. Thank you for hanging in there and listening all the way to the end!