How Printing Changed the (Medieval) World

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Johannes Gutenberg would have been honored with the Nobel Prize if he were alive during the 20th century. He would even be marveled at offset printing or wide format printing, either of which evolved from his printing press. 

The German blacksmith introduced printing to Europe during the 15th century. Prior to that, there were neither public records nor journals to tell what was of Gutenberg. What printing consultants knew was he had personal problems and was going through financial difficulties when he unveiled his invention, printing with a movable type, during an event in Strasbourg.

Gutenberg didn’t became an instant celebrity after his printing press was operated, but he achieved fame many years later, partly thanks to Pius II, who wasn’t a pope yet when he saw what wonders printing could do; in 1455, in a letter to Cardinal Carvajal, the soon-to-be pope can’t contained his impression:

“All that has been written to me about that marvelous man seen at Frankfurt is true. I have not seen complete Bibles but only a number of quires of various books of the Bible. The script was very neat and legible, not at all difficult to follow—your grace would be able to read it without effort, and indeed without glasses.” 

When the printing press came out, there were signs of unrest in Europe. The Vatican struggled to assert its authority, as not a few questioned their religious beliefs. It was also the Age of Exploration, and the discovery of new lands and people other than Europeans piqued the curiosity of many. Then over the East, The Byzantine Empire was on its final years, as Constantinopole was about to fall to the Ottoman Turks. Now, what do all of those have to do printing?

Information back then was a privilege shared by nobles and religious figures. The masses were in a dark (so to speak). No brochures to disseminate information quickly, but printing back then allowed the publication of materials that allowed the release of literary materials and other readings that awakened the majority. In other words, a printing revolution took place. It was something that neither Gutenberg nor printing management would have anticipated.

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Printing was the cellular phone (or e-mail) of the Late Middle Age. Neither peint broker nor print finishers, but the simple, movable machine that Gutenberg first introduced in Strasbourg. What happened next was never seen in Medieval Europe, a series of events that changed the continent socially, politically, and culturally. To be more specific: 

  • The Renaissance came in, an era where there was renewed appreciation on Greek aesthetics.
  • The Reformation paved the way for Protestantism.
  • If not for printing, the Age of Enlightenment wouldn’t happened at all.

Printing undergone lots of changes afterwards, with the end of 20th century witnessing the introduction of digital printing. It showed that its success – and survival – depended on the demands of the society – and on print management, as well. Nonetheless, those who will have a first glimpse of printers will be awed after they know about its storied past.

5 Types of Printing Process

Back in the days printing of books, broadsheets, brochures and other printed materials are done via a meticulous process. Thanks to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in 1439, printing process has been revolutionized and has been widely known all across Europe and America. The movable type allows a faster printing of books which in turn helped spread knowledge and education to many people.

Now printing has gone a long way because of technological advancement the people made. Books and other publications today can now be mass produced in a very short period of time while maintaining the quality of prints. There are now several ways of printing that publishers could choose from. Here are some of the well-known printing processes.

1. Offset Lithography

Famously known as Offset printing this process is considered the most cost-effective that is why many in the industry prefer this process. This also allows publishers to print high quantity of prints in faster time because the printing machine is very quick and easy top set up as long as plates are already available. Basically in offset printing, the roller plates are run through water and then ink. Ink adheres to areas with images (including texts and designs) while water on the white spaces of the layout. It is then pressed to a rubber plate before pressing on a paper. One of the major drawbacks of this printing process is the plate. Once a layout is already made into a plate, omissions cannot be easily changed.

2. Letterpress

This is the original process done by Gutenberg. Although it is clearly more advanced than the original press, the process is still the same. The image being printed is higher than the surface of the plate which will be pressed on the paper. With the technology becoming more advance, this process is becoming less famous and obsolete.

3. Digital Printing

I you will be printing a layout full of images you might want your prints to be of high quality so that the images won’t get blurry. The printing process that you should do is digital printing. This process is the most favored today because of its high quality prints and quick printing process from computer directly to the printer. Plates are not needed on digital printing so it needs lesser man power. This process however is expensive because of the ink and paper used by the printer. The colors can also be difficult to adjust or predict since the colors of the image to be printed might be different on the computer monitor.

4. Engraving

Most of company letterhead and stationery are still printed using this method. The images printed on the paper are raised or engraved creating a more defined and attractive image. This however is only used for corporate logos or formal party invitations because it is very expensive and strenuous process.

5. Electrostatic Printing

Just like the xerography process or dry photocopying invented by Chester Carlson, electrostatic printing invented by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg in 1778, does not need ink or plates to print. In this process, the paper is coated with zinc oxide which acts as insulator in the dark and conductor if exposed to light. This process is mainly used for short run printing just like geographical maps and is becoming famous because it is prints faster than inkjet printers.

If you are planning to print something, taking notes of the pros and cons of these printing processes will be very helpful. Actually there are other processes that are not mentioned but the methods in the list are the common printing methods that you can try.

Books, Papers and Ads: Looking Back on Printed Media

Thanks to Gutenberg and his famous printing press, modern people now live in a highly informational world. Information can now be passed and get from books, newspapers and advertisement. Actually, these are the three main mass media that used printing a lot. The modern era is going digital and information can now be taken from the internet which is much convenient but before all things go digital let us look back at the history of printing in relation to books, newspapers and advertisement.

Books

Before there were computers, and internet, the leading source of information of the people in 15th century were books. It used to be written in heavy tablets stored in libraries so only the rich could read these books. Thanks to Gutenberg’s printing press books were rapidly printed, reproduced and distributed to many people across Europe which in turn popularizes book reading even for the middle class. Today books are easily brought from one place to another because it is now printed in pocket sized books. These books started in 1935 by Penguin books. Their easy to carry, paperback books were sold for a few dimes. These became the turning point for book publishers. They started selling a lot of books and many people are realizing how convenient it is to read light books rather than the hard bound versions during those period.

Newspapers

Thanks to printing news information became very accessible to the mass and they could easily find out what is happening around their area. Back in the Roma days, the Actia Diurna or actions of the day was the first newspaper on the history although it was not actually written in paper but in tablet, the Actia Diurna became the primary source of news on what was happening on the senate. In 1690’s came the broadsheet (single sheet) during the colonial period which became successful because of the improved printing process used for books. Actually booksellers and print shops became the focal point of the modern newspapers because of these one paged publication of news local and foreign. In 1690 Boston bookseller, Benjamin Harris published the first broadsheet, Publick Occcurences Both Foreign and Dometick. Unfortunately, it only lasted for a day for Harris failed to secure a permit which was necessary during that time. This event started the printing of modern newspaper and journalism.

Advertisements

While printed books and newspapers were mostly letters, printed advertisement in pre-modern era usually employ pictures and colors to attract buyers. Before advertisement were etched or painted on rock, which was evident in 400BC rock arts in India. All these changed thanks to the advancements in printing, printing of advertisement became very affordable. Soon even newspapers allowed ads on their pages to get income. The first recorded paper who published a paid advertisement was a French newspaper, La Presse in 1836. Advertising printed on newspaper became the first of many mediums used by different companies to attract consumers. Now advertising is also seen on magazines, TV programs, radio stations and even billboards.

Books, newspapers and advertisements were not only a source of information for people but it also became a source of entertainment for many people.

It is just sad that more and more people are getting into digital versions of these mass media making the printed medium less famous and used. Books for example have their e-book version which readers could conveniently read on their tablet computers. The possibility that printing and printed mass medium will not be available anymore because of the digitalization of many information, is not impossible. When that time comes, the world will not be as wonderful and interesting for sure.

3 (Old) Trivia about Printing

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If you’re about to enter the printing industry or have your own printing business, then it’s a must to know its history. Keep in mind that knowledge makes a competent employee/employer. 

You wonder if such knowledge is beneficial, but if you pause for a moment, then you’ll notice that the industry has gone a long way. Technology changed the (printing) landscape, such that most equipment require little supervision. The presence of technicians trained in printing maintenance is still needed, though, as that’s the only thing that the industry then and the industry now have in common. 

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You don’t need to know everything there is to know about the industry’s history. You don’t have to visit some museums to see some antiquated equipment either. Out of curiosity, it’s nice to know what’s printing back then, but to make us the best in the industry, it’s great to find out how printing evolved. So here are three that changed the course (of printing):

  • Woodblock. This technique orginated from China, with the earliest example dating back to 200 A.D. If you travel to East Asia, you might stumble upon some locals still using this old method. Old it is, but it’s still a popular choice in that part of the world. A block is carefully prepared as a matrix, the areas to show (in white) are cut with a knife. The block is cut along the grain of the wood. It’s necessary to ink the block and bring into contact with a paper in able to achieve an acceptable print.
  • Movable. This system of printing was first introduced around 1040 A.D., during the Song Dynasty. Bi Sheng invented it, paving the way to movable type technology. If not for Shen Kuo, a scholar during that era, Bi Sheng’s achievement wouldn’t be known nowadays. In his book, “Writings Beside the Meng Creek”, Shen gave details on that technology that would changed the printing world back then. Here’s an interesting part:

“He took sticky clay and cut in it characters as thin as the edge of a coin. Each character formed, as it were, a single type. He baked them in the fire to make them hard. 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.”

Anyone in the (printing) industry would knew the rest. 

  • Printing Press. This technique uses applied pressure to an inked surface resting upon a paper or cloth, thus transfering the ink. In some ways, this revolutionizes the industry, and credit goes to Johannes Gutenberg. A goldsmith by profession, the German introduced the first printing press in 1440. It will be nice if that equipment is still around, but it’s not. However, some materials similar to what Gutenberg used are currently on exhibit. These will remind everyond of printing’s humble beginnings – and the long road. 

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