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A Bookish Look at the History of Printing

Monday, 04 August 2014 | By Gerry Mulvaney


By Gerry Mulvaney, European Sales Manager, Landa Digital Printing

I am often surprised how little about the history of the printing industry, that some of today’s recruits seem to know. I suppose there is not time to dwell too much on old technology in today’s graphic design and media courses at our centres of learning. In fact for some I suppose old technology is a Compugraphic typesetter or an Apple IIci.

At the risk of sounding like someone’s grandfather there is a lot more to the history of print than electronic systems and some of the print terminology still in use today stems from the very early attempts at making print an industrial process.

I was reminded of some of the bits of the history that I did not know when I was watching a fantastic YouTube video that charts the history of print from the pre-Gutenberg time almost up to the present day – more about the present day later, but take a look yourselves:

85 Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press

The first thing you will learn is that knowledge was controlled by the Church and establishment prior to the invention of printing. Of course that gave them the power of control and stopped mere mortals learning to read and write.

However around the middle of the fifteenth century their grip was starting to loosen. Universities and centres of learning were starting to be established and the main method of reproducing knowledge was by manually copying from a hand written book. But mistakes and errors could creep in and there was no uniformity in the production, something that the academics were demanding. I won’t spoil the film for you, but Johannes Gutenberg has a Eureka moment when pondering the problem of industrialising book production.

Gutenberg using woodcut printingText produced using Woodcut, one of the earliest printing techniques

The rest, as they say, is history and the film goes on to show how in the next twenty years the use of this new technology spread and became established. Books became more affordable and of course more people then started to read – the typical chicken and egg story.

Unfortunately for Gutenberg, the story did not have a happy ending. He found that his backers called in their loans and his entire stock of presses and books were confiscated by the bailiffs. He eventually got a job back in his old business but died a few years later.

Fast Forward to Nanography®

Now fast forward to the present day (something that the film doesn’t do) and you will encounter a story about a digital printing technology for mainstream applications. Whether the story of the Nanography® process is the beginning of a new story or an epilogue to the happy ending of Benny Landa’s Indigo story, only time will tell. But as every movie fan knows, an epilogue often grows into a block buster. Stay tuned.

Image source (lobby):

Landa S10 - Printing Press