A Quick Glance at the History of Print
Reproducing text and images through the process of printing has a long history that goes back as early as 3000 BC.
From the days of duplication via stamps in China and Egypt, technology continues to march forward, bringing complexity and convenience to us in printing today.
How did they do that? Here’s a brief look at some highlights of our industry.
Screen printing originated in China almost 2000 years ago, when human hair was stretched across wooden frames to create a screen with attached stencils.
Today’s version of this technique involves a mesh stencil for each printing color that passes through screens, one color at a time, onto the apparel (think graphic T-shirts, posters, trade show fabrics, and more).
Gravure printing originated during the Italian Renaissance in the 1300s when fine engravings and etchings were cut by hand into soft copper.
Today, images are engraved onto a cylinder and printed using a rotating printing press. Once a staple of the newspaper photo features, this process is still used for very long print runs (i.e., magazines, mail-order catalogs, wallpaper, etc.).
Letterpress printing was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century and was widely used for book printing and other uses until the later 20th century.
Operators composed and locked movable types into the bed of a press, then inked it and pressed to the paper to craft impressions on the media.
The first lithographic printing press was created in England around 1875, allowing images on metal plates to be transferred to rubber blankets or rollers, and then onto the print media.
This is especially effective for rough-surfaced media like canvas, cloth, or wood. Today, most types of high-volume books and magazines are printed with offset lithography, which has been a common form of printing since the 1960s.
Laser and 3D Printing
IBM introduced the first laser printer in 1975.
This electrostatic digital process repeatedly passes a laser beam back and forth over a negatively charged cylinder to define a differentially charged image. Using heat to fuse the elements, the cylinder selectively collects electrically charged powdered ink and transfers images to paper. 3D printing, invented in 1981, is a layer-by-layer process for crafting three dimensional solid objects (of almost any shape) from a digital file. From prosthetics to movie props, graphic concepts now come to life in fantastic ways through 3D print.
From ancient cultures to modern-day graphics, printing has permeated almost every aspect of life and culture. With rapid advances in technology, it will be exciting to see where print takes us next.
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