Printing Press 101: Everything You Need to Know

Fri May , 2022

Most of us take printed materials for granted, but imagine what life would have been like if the printing press had never been invented. We wouldn’t have books, newspapers, or magazines. Furthermore, pamphlets, flyers, posters, brochures, and mailers wouldn’t exist either.

Our printing presses in Toronto enable us to share lots of information in large volumes and quite quickly.

In fact, the printing press is such a significant invention that it’s considered one of the most significant inventions of all time. Indeed, it helped shape society and how we interacted with one another while sharing insights and education.

In this post, we will explore how and when the printing press was invented and the different ways in which it has affected and shaped the world.

The History and Evolution of the Printing Press

To understand the value of the printing press, it’s vital to look into its history and understand how the technology has evolved.

1. Life before the Printing Press

Prior to the invention of the printing press, any drawing or writing was done by hand. Books were transcribed on various materials such as parchment, wax, clay, and papyrus.

However, not just anyone could write or draw, and the work was generally done by scribes who worked and lived in monasteries. There was a dedicated room known as a scriptorium where they could work in peace. They would measure and outline the layouts of the pages and carefully copy texts and drawings from different books. Then, an illuminator would begin the task of adding embellishments and designs on individual pages.

In the Middle and Dark Ages, books were usually only owned by monasteries, extremely wealthy individuals or educational institutions. Most were religious in nature.

2. The Invention of the Printing Press

The Invention of the Printing Press

Early versions of the printing technology were invented in China in the form of woodblock printing. Here, texts were printed on paper by being pressed on a wooden block.

In the early days, knives were used to carve out lines of text on blocks of wood. Ink was then applied to them before the paper was pressed on them to get the impression. However, this was still a slow process. The invention of movable type in 11th century China saw individual blocks created with characters that could be rearranged to make the process simpler and quicker. However, the susceptibility of wood to the elements meant these blocks had a limited lifespan.

When printing technology came to Europe in the early days of the Renaissance, it inspired inventors to experiment with it. One such individual was a struggling German inventor named Johannes Gutenberg, who had previously worked as a goldsmith. This gave him a professional knowledge of metals, which allowed him to create the first mechanical printing press. He made it possible to mass-produce books inexpensively and helped pull Europe out of the Dark Ages.

Gutenberg’s invention involved splitting texts into individual components, such as lower- and upper-case letters, abbreviations, punctuations, and drawings. These individual items were then cast as mirror images and assembled to form words, sentences, and pages.

In this form of printing, several lines of text would be arranged and placed on a wooden frame before an oil-based ink was applied over elements to create prints; much as what was done in terms of stamps. Unlike previous printing methods, Gutenberg used metal instead of wood. His invention became known as the ‘movable type machine’, as the metal letter blocks could easily be moved around and reused to create new words and sentences.

The first book he mass-produced was a reproduction of the Bible. His methods helped produce texts in far greater numbers and in a much shorter span of time than had been done before.

3. The Social Impact of the Printing Press

Gutenberg’s printing press brought about a revolution in the printing industry, which was followed by a massive change in society. Along with lowering the cost of books, which allowed more people to purchase them, it also brought about a rapid change in the world of literature. Thanks to new printing press technology, there was an increase in literacy, which altered the way people communicated with one another and social relationships as a whole.

After the invention of mechanical and movable type, many more new works were created by those looking to express new ideas. This brought about a change in society as education and reading were no longer for the elite but for the emerging middle class as well.

4. The Printing Press Today

The printing industry continues to innovate and thrive, and there are different types of rotary presses that are still widely used. These include the flexo, rotogravure and offset printing presses.

With the help of digital technology, printing presses have become more dynamic and varied. One can choose from a wide range of services, from text formatting and bookbinding to industrial printing.

It’s easy to understand how the printing press initiated the information revolution that is on par with the digital age we are living in. Thanks to technological advances, printing has become more accessible and affordable than ever, whether you’re printing a book or poster in Toronto or need thousands of booklets right away. It has also made it easy for anyone to design, print and mail printed materials around the world.