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The History of Printing

The Origin of How Printing Came to Be

Printing may seem like it came along in the late 1990s with the invention of computers and the inkjet printer, however, printing actually runs parallel to civilization as we know it. From woodblocks to digital printers, we’re covering the journey of this technique through the ages.

Woodblock Printing

Woodblock printing is one of the first known forms of printing ever documented, circling back to China in 200 AD. This technique allowed designs to finally be replicated by carving into the wood and then covering the caved edges in ink. The ink was then pushed onto fabric or a wall to produce decorative artwork or lettering.

Movable Type

Also in China in 1049, movable type was similar to that of woodblock printing but it was used specifically for individual characters. Before this was created, people would have to write out an entire sentence or paragraph on one block, but after the fact, they were able to create one character per block, making it much less easy to make mistakes.

The Printing Press

Europeans finally took a page out of the Chinese book and created the printing press in 1440. Johann Gutenberg, widely known as the most important person in the evolution of printing, developed this method to help create and disperse books in mass quantities so they were no longer just available to the rich. The printing press used the technique of moveable type on a larger scale and was able to mass-produce the ‘The Gutenberg Bible’ in 1455, printing 180 copies.


Etching, a similar process to woodblock printing, was developed in 1515 as a way to decorate metal armor. The steps consisted of pouring an acid-resistant substance onto the metal and etching designs into the armor. Once the etching was complete, the metal was dipped in acid, removing the areas not protected by the acid-resistance substance, and then ink was poured on top and sent through a press to create a print.

The Rotary Press

The Rotary Press was the printing press 2.0. In 1843, Richard March Hoe created a way to expedite printing by wrapping paper around giant cylinders. The prints were carved into the cylinders themselves and as the paper was fed through, the cylinders would copy the ink onto the paper. This helped develop the mass production of books and newspapers.

Offset Printing

Although this type of printing method was created almost 150 years ago in 1875, offset printing is still one of the most common ways to print large runs of magazines and posters. By transferring ink from a plate, to a rubber blanket, and then to the printing surface, this method allows for quick, efficient production and has not been altered much over the years.

Inkjet and Laser Printers

Developed around the same time, inkjet and laser printers did away with the actual need for ink to be pressed onto paper. Created in 1951, inkjet printers used the method of applying ink to paper by feeding it through a machine and spraying the ink through jets. Laserjets worked similarly but used a laser beam to pass back and forth over a negatively charged cylinder within the printer. Both printers are still commonly used today.

Digital Printing

Digital printing, created in 1991, is the last stop on our journey. Digital printing was the first time printing became easier and more accessible to everyone. By using pixels to capture the images ready for print, the printer then replicates it with the appropriate amount of ink, toner, and exposure, creating the end result.


If you’re curious about what type of printers and ink we use, we’re here to help! With over 30 years of printing, packaging, and labeling experience, our team is prepared to support you. To learn more, contact us today at (904) 263-2804 or sign up for a free consultation.


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