Printing History: Invention of the Printing Press

30. March 2013 08:00 by Calvin Yu in Technology News  //  Tags:   //   Comments

While technologies we rely most dearly on today such as cell phones, the internet, and GPS systems may have only been invented in recent years, there are still technologies created hundreds of years ago we still use today. A technology that we see every day in life that was invented over 550 years ago is printing with ink. We see this technology from the newspaper you read in the morning, to the lined notebook you write on at work, to the magazine you read after a work day. Well, even 500 years ago, you were able to purchase a book printed with ink in very similar style as to what you would see today.

How was the printing press invented?

In 1450, a goldsmith by the name of Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in his hometown of Mainz Germany. As a handyman by profession, Gutenberg was able to construct the first mass printing machine from both the existing technology of the wine press, and new technologies he created.

 Wine Press

The wine press depicted above was able to provide Gutenberg with the model he needed to build his own printing machine. His earliest version of the printing press was a wooden contraption that allowed him to slide paper in and out and squeeze water from the paper after printing. The first books he ever printed in mass were bibles written in Latin. With his process, he was able to print 3,600 pages per workday, compared to 2,000 pages with block printing. However, block printing also required a heavy amount of labor, while the printing press required significantly less.

How it Works?

Wood Printing Press

The original printing press was constructed from wood. The model depicted above was commonly used from 1650 to 1850 and allowed for books to be mass produced and not exclusively for the wealthy. The original structure ranged from 5 to 7 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 7 feet tall. The press used the moveable-type system for printing which was originally developed in China around 1040. This works by having small metal pieces with a raised letter on each piece that were stamped with ink, and pressed onto damp paper to withhold the ink better.

What kind of ink was used?

Traditionally, before Gutenberg’s invention, ink that was used for printing was water-based, which was mostly used for block printing (the earlier form of printing developed in Asia). However, when tested with the printing press, the water-based ink would run off the letters, and Gutenberg quickly found out he would need to create a thicker style ink that would stick to the metal. In order to turn the printing press into a success, Gutenberg created a formula for an oil-based ink that led to a higher quality of printing with his metal-type letters.

The ink that Gutenberg developed in his workshop was made of many elements including copper, lead, titanium and sulfur. Many of his original prints had a glittering surface which was due to the high level of metal content in his ingredients. Today, printer ink cartridges are made in factories in mass by combining a color pigment with a varnish to create each colored ink. These days ink making includes far less elements from the periodic table, but is still a continually improved upon product and increasingly important.

How Did the Printing Press Affect the World?

Before the printing press, the creation of books, newspapers, or religious documents would need to be done by hand or by block printing. After more than 10 years of perfecting his printing press, by 1450 Gutenberg released it to the world. By 1480, there were printers active in 110 different places throughout Europe. By the end of the 15th century, the printing press could be found in approximately 270 cities. In those quick 50 years, the printing press produced an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. This invention opened new opportunities for authors to have their work widely read and the invention of the phrase “bestseller”.

Despite the popularization of the printing press, it took over 100 years before the first newspaper was created and released. The newspaper industry would quickly change the face of the printing press as it would cause this invention to be popularized worldwide. Until the early 1800s, Gutenberg’s invention remained almost untouched in advancement. However by the 17th century it would become steam powered for more widespread and efficient production.

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