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Useful Tips > Fun Facts From Printing's Past

Fun Facts From Printing's Past

Johannes Gutenberg Despite the fact that printed media is all around us today, most people are only dimly aware of the history of printing. For example, most people know that Johannes Gutenberg is responsible for inventing the printing press, but how many people know that the world's first movable type system was actually created in China around 1040 A.D.?

Here are some tidbits of printing history that are both interesting and informative.

The first recorded instance of movable type was in 1040 A.D. in China. The system, using ceramic materials, was created by Bi Sheng (990-1051) and was later improved upon in Korea in 1234 when a metal movable-type system was produced. This led to the printing of the world's oldest known extant movable metal print book, the Jikji from 1377.
Korean moveable metal typeset form, used to print
Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith, invented the printing press in 1450, a movable type system which he developed independently. In addition to creating this press, Gutenberg also was the first person to create type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony - the same components used today.
Woodblock
The first major book printed in the West using movable type was the Gutenberg Bible, also known as the 42-line Bible, the Mazarin Bible, or the B42. Forty-eight copies of the original edition survive to this day.
The rapid spread of printing from Mainz in the 15th century
Gutenberg's financier was a man named Johann Fust, whose name becomes Faustus when translated into Latin. The technology of the printing press was so new and astounding that Fust was accused of witchcraft, not least because the type of the Gutenberg Bible was printed in red ink, which some mistook for human blood.
42-line Bible
Modern factory-produced type was introduced in the 19th century. The letters for this type were stored in a drawer called a "job case". The capital letters were stored in a drawer above the other letters, which gave rise to the phrases "upper case" and "lower case".
Printing press from 1811, photographed in Munich
In the late 18th century the poet and artist William Blake invented "relief etching", where he painted text and pictures in an acid-resistant solution onto copper plates which he then submerged in acid, leaving only the words and pictures in relief. Blake published his own poetry in such a manner, calling the works "illuminated books".
Printing press technology remained largely unchanged until the 19th century when Friedrich Koenig started using steam to power the presses and replaced the flatbed printing surface with rotating cylinders. These two changes made printing much quicker and more affordable.
Koenig Steam Press
Inkjet printing technology was first formulated in the 19th century, but wasn't used or produced extensively until the 1950s. The first continuous inkjet printing system, the syphon recorder, was developed by Lord Kelvin in 1867. Thermal inkjet printers were introduced by Canon engineer Ichiro Endo in August 1957.
Canon Inkjet Printer
The latest innovation in printing, 3D or Additive printing, was developed in the 1980s but didn't begin to truly flourish until the 2010s. The first working 3D printer was created by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems in 1984.
Chuck Hull
In addition to the trivia above, there is much more to learn about the history of printing. The next time you read a book, a sign, a shirt, or a pamphlet, take a minute to stop and think about the rich and storied history of printing technology, something we too often take for granted.