Sunday, June 4, 2017

History of Printing and Types of Printing Process

Printing History
Printing history is quite fascinating, especially when you think about all ripples that printing caused in society. Evolution of print or the process of reproducing text and images has a long history behind it.  From Cylinder, seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East,  Mesopotamia. They are linked to the invention of the latter's cuneiform writing on clay tablets to 3D printing in this era is the ongoing process used as printing.


An impression or mark left on a surface or soft substance by pressure, especially that of a foot or hand.


Is a technique or the process of reproducing text and images on paper. Though the paper is the most common material, it is also frequently done on metals, plastics, cloth, and composite materials. On paper, it is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing.

History of Printing

The use of round seals for rolling an impression into clay tablets goes back to early Mesopotamian civilization before 3000 BCE,  Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning 'between two rivers’) was an ancient region in the eastern Mediterranean bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and in the southeast by the Arabian Plateau, corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey. The 'two rivers' of the name referred to the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers and the land was known as 'Al-Jazirah' (the island) by the Arabs referencing what Egyptologist J.H. Breasted would later call the Fertile Crescent, where Mesopotamian civilization began. where they are the most common works of art to survive and feature complex and beautiful images. In both China and Egypt, the use of small stamps for seals preceded the use of larger blocks. In China, India, and Europe, the printing of cloth certainly preceded the printing of paper or papyrus. The process is essentially the same - in Europe special presentation impressions of prints were often printed on silk until the seventeenth century. The development of printing has made it possible for books, newspapers, magazines, and other reading materials to be produced in great numbers, and it plays an important role in promoting literacy among the masses.

Cai Lun was a Han Dynasty Chinese eunuch and official. He is traditionally regarded as the inventor of paper and the papermaking process, in forms recognizable in modern times as paper (as opposed to papyrus). Although early forms of paper had existed in China since the 2nd century BC,[1] he was responsible for the first significant improvement and standardization of paper-making by adding essential new materials into its composition.

In A.D. 105, Cai invented the composition for paper along with the papermaking process—though he may have been credited with an invention of someone from a lower class.[5] There is also a legend that says Cai received inspiration for making paper from watching paper wasps make their nests. Tools and machinery of papermaking in modern times may be more complex, but they still employ the ancient technique of felted sheets of fiber suspended in water, draining of the water, and then drying into a thin matted sheet.
In Seventh Century Gospel of John in Latin is added to the grave of Saint Cuthbert. In 1104 it is recovered from his coffin in Durham Cathedral, Britain. The Cuthbert Gospel is currently the oldest European book still in existence.

Bì Shēng (990–1051 AD) was the Chinese inventor of the world's first movable type technology. He had previously prepared an iron plate and he had covered his plate with a mixture of pine resin, wax, and paper ashes. When he wished to print, he took an iron frame and set it on the iron plate. In this, he placed the types, set close together. When the frame was full, the whole made one solid block of type. He then placed it near the fire to warm it. When the paste [at the back] was slightly melted, he took a smooth board and pressed it over the surface, so that the block of type became as even as a whetstone. 

In 1465 the first drypoint engravings are created by the Housebook Master, a South German artist. Drypoint is a technique in which an image is incised into a (copper) plate with a hard-pointed ‘needle’ of sharp metal or a diamond point.

In their print shop in Venice John and Wendelin of Speier are probably the first printers to use pure Roman type, which no longer looks like the handwritten characters that other printers have been trying to imitate until then.

In 1476 William Caxton buys equipment from the Netherlands and establishes the first printing press in England at Westminster. The painting below depicts Caxton showing his printing press to King Edward IV.

William Caxton shows his printing press to King Edward IV
That same year copper engravings are for the first time used for illustrations. With engravings, a drawing is made on a copper plate by cutting grooves into it.

By the end of the century, printing has become established in more than 250 cities around Europe. One of the main challenges of the industry is distribution, which leads to the establishment of numerous book fairs. The most important one is the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In 1800 Charles Stanhope, the third Earl Stanhope builds the first press which has an iron frame instead of a wooden one. This Stanhope press is faster, more durable and it can print larger sheets. A few years later another performance improvement is achieved by Friedrich Gottlob Koenig and Andreas Friedrich Bauer who build their first cylinder press. Their company is still in existence today and is known as KBA.

In 1837 Godefroy Engelmann is awarded a patent on chromolithography, a method for printing in color using lithography. Chromolithographs or chromos are mainly used to reproduce paintings. The advertisement below is from the end of the century and shows what can be achieved using this color printing technique. Another popular technique is the photochrom process, which is mainly used to print postcards of landscapes.

The Illustrated London News is the world’s first illustrated weekly newspaper. It costs five pence in 1842. A year later Sir Henry Cole commissions the English painter John Callcott Horsley to do the artwork of (arguably) the first commercial Christmas card. Around 1000 cards are printed and hand-colored. Ten of these are still in existence today.

Around the same time, the American inventor Richard March Hoe builds the first lithographic rotary printing press, a press in which the type is placed on a revolving cylinder instead of a flatbed. This speeds up the printing process considerably.

The Czech painter Karel Klíč invents photogravure in 1878. This process can be used to faithfully reproduce the detail and continuous tones of photographs.

In typesetting, Ottmar Mergenthaler’s 1886 invention of the Linotype composing machine is a major step forward. With this typesetter, an operator can enter text using a 90-character keyboard. The machine outputs the text as slugs, which are lines of metal type.

Lothar Meggendorfer’s International Circus is a nice example of the quality that could be achieved in those days. This pop-up book contains six pop-up scenes of circus acts, including acrobats, clowns, and daredevil riders.

In 1890 Bibby, Baron and Sons build the first flexographic press. This type of press uses the relief on a rubber printing plate to hold the image that needs to be printed. Because the ink that is used in that first flexo press smears easily, the device becomes known as Bibby’s Folly.
The first laser printers, such as the IBM 3800 and Xerox 9700, hit the market in 1975. They are prohibitively expensive but useful for applications such as cheque printing.

Desktop publishing takes off in 1985. The combination of the Apple Macintosh computer, printers and imagesetters powered by Adobe PostScript and the layout application Aldus PageMaker makes publishing more affordable.

In 1992 Australia is the first country to use polymer banknotes for general circulation.

Australia issues the first polymer banknote in general circulation

Digital printing takes off in 1993 with the introduction of the Indigo E-Print 100 (and Xeikon DCP-1.

Offset presses still evolve incrementally. Two prime examples are the introduction of the KBA Cortina, a waterless web press for newspapers and semi-commercials, in 2000 and that of the giant Goss Sunday 5000, the world’s first 96-page web press, in 2009.

Bigger changes happen in digital printing with machines that evolve as fast as the companies that produce them. Take the NexPress for example. It is initially a joint development from Heidelberg and Kodak. Kodak takes migrates to and the Manroland DICOweb get most of the attention.

On of the bigger players in the market is HP, especially after its acquisition of Indigo in 2001.

Other big players in the market are Konica Minolta with the Bizhub digital presses and Canon with its Imagepress range. Part of Canon’s growth is through its acquisition of Océ in 2009.

Types of Printing Process

There are a wide variety of technologies that are used to print stuff. The several classifications for printing. These can be made based on the type of media used, the type of ink used or the method used to apply the ink to the media. The main industrial printing processes are:

Lithography aka Offset Printing
Digital Printing: Inkjet & Laserjet
Gravure Printing
Silk Screen or Screen printing

Offset Lithography Printing

This is one of the advanced methods of printing. It uses large and expensive printing presses and produces the highest quality of printing available. In offset printing, the design is typically provided in digital form, as a computer file. This file is processed on a computer using software to make it ready for printing (this is called pre-press). The next step involves the making of ‘plates’ that will be used in the offset printer. The number of plates made equals the number of colors used in the print run. Typically, the least number of colors used is 4, with other options being the 6 and 8 color processes. Using the ready-to-print file as a source, the plates are made and then loaded into the offset printer. Each of these plates is used to print its corresponding color onto the media. Once all the colors have been printed, we get the final design which is a result of the combination of the 4 single-colour impressions (assuming a 4-colour process). The number of colors used, whether 4, 6 or more is based on the quality desired. The higher the number of colors used, the higher the quality of the print but this also increases the cost of the print run.

Digital Printing: Inkjet & Laserjet

Inkjet – In an inkjet printer, the image that needs to be printed is created by small droplets of ink that are propelled from the nozzles of one or more print heads. Inkjet devices can print on a wide range of substrates such as paper, plastic, canvas or even doors and floor tiles. Inkjet printing is used a lot for posters and signage. It is also economical for short run publications such as photo books or small runs of books. In-line inkjet printers are sometimes combined with other types of presses to print variable data, such as the mailing addresses on direct mail pieces.  The press shown below is the HP PageWide C500, meant for printing on corrugated board.

In Laser printers, the image that needs to be printed is formed by selectively applying a charge to a metal cylinder called a drum. The electrical charge is used to attract toner particles. These particles are transferred to the media that is being printed on. To make sure the toner is fixed properly, the substrate passes through a fuse that melts the toner into the medium. Laser printers are not only used in offices but also for small run printing of books, brochures and other types of document. These printers are also used for transactional printing (bills, bank documents, etc) and direct mail.

Gravure Printing

Gravure is a printing method in which an image is applied to a printing substrate by use of a metal plate mounted on a cylinder. Unlike other processes, gravure uses a depressed or sunken surface for the desired image. The image to be reproduced is etched into the metal plate, sometimes with the use of a laser. The metal plate is bathed in ink during the process and then wiped clean before application to the substrate. While gravure printing can produce high-quality results rapidly, the costs are significantly higher than other printing methods, including flexography or various forms of digital printing.


In flexography, the content that needs to be printed is a relief of a printing plate, which is made from rubber. This plate is inked and that inked image is subsequently transferred to the printing surface.  The process can be used to print on paper as well as plastics, metals, cellophane and other materials. Flexo is mainly used for packaging and labels and to a lesser extent also for newspapers.

Screen printing

Screen printing basically uses a stencil to transfer ink onto the media to be printed. To create the stencil, a special light sensitive emulsion is applied to a screen and it is allowed to dry. The design to be screen printed is then printed onto a transparent overlay. This overlay is then placed over the screen and the screen is exposed to a UV light source. The clear parts of the overlay expose the screen to the UV light and this causes the emulsion to cure in those locations. The stencil is then washed to remove the unexposed part of the emulsion leaving a negative mask of the design to be printed. The screen is then placed over the media that is to be printed and the ink is drawn over the screen using a bar with a rubber blade called a squeegee. This forces the ink through the mask causing a design to be printed onto the media. The same process can be used to print multiple colors onto the media. Different screens will have to be made for different colors.

3D Printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is, for instance, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. This CAD file is created using a 3D modeling application or with a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner can make a 3D digital copy of an object.