The Evolution Of Print


In honour of it being National Science and Engineering week, we had a look back at the evolution of printing and where it all began, it has after all been quite the journey.

200AD – Woodblock Printing

The invention of woodblock printing dated back to 200AD and was evolutionary! The design was hand-carved into a woodblock and then coated in ink and pressed onto the desired material. This was the first time in history a design could be created and quickly replicated.

Moveable Type – 1041

Fast forward around 800 years and Moveable Print was created by Pi Sheng in Song Dynasty China. This was very similar in many ways to the woodblock printing; however, instead of being fixed and unchangeable like the woodblock, you could move around the pieces and place them in the desired order. Pi Sheng relief-cut Chinese symbols into porcelain clay that was then kiln-fired.

The Printing Press – 1440

In 1450 Johannes Gutenberg a goldsmith and inventor returned to Mainz Germany (after being politically exiled) with his perfected printing machine. The Gutenberg Press. He replaced the wood with metal printing pieces and incorporated the techniques of movable print but consolidated them all into one hand-operated printing device.

This machine increased the speed at which printed materials could be produced, thus closing the gap in print availability between the upper and lower classes. This also had a knock-on effect making more knowledge available to the lower class, and increasing their quality of life.


Lithography – 1796

The Lithography technique is one that is still commonly used today! Invented in 1796 by a German actor and author Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works. Lithography revolves around the relationship between oil and water which repel each other.

An image is drawn onto limestone with an oil-based medium such as a wax crayon. The stone is then covered in a solution of Gum Arabic, which is a natural gum made from the sap of an acacia tree. Using lithographic turpentine, the solution is then removed which allows the ink to take only where it’s required.

The Rotary Press – 1843

Although initially created in 1843, in 1847 Richard March Hoe patented and put into commercial use his innovation of the printing press. The Rotary Press. This press used a cylinder on which the images to be printed were curved around. The constant feeding of the material increases the productivity and speed of the machine, making it A LOT faster than the previous printing presses.


Offset Printing – 1875

In the 150 years offset printing has been around, the process remains almost unchanged and for this reason, still stands as the most popular method of print for modern-day printers. This works by transferring the ink from a metal plate to a rubber blanket onto the final printed surface. This method is often combined the lithographic method as well as the cylinders from the rotary press.

Screen Printing – 1910

Also invented in China During the Song Dynasty between 960 -1279ad. Using a mesh stencil, the ink is pushed through onto the textile/ chosen printed surface underneath. However, this method did not take off in Europe until 1910 when silk stock became more widely available.





Inkjet Printing – 1951

The world’s first inkjet printer was invented by Ichiro Endo, who worked for Canon in Japan. It took away the direct contact with ink and paper, and instead sprayed the ink through jets. This made printers more widely available, and they began appearing in offices across the world.





Laser printing – 1969

Only 18 years after the development of the inkjet printer, along came the laser printer. This advancement produced higher quality images, by passing a laser beam back and forth over a negatively charged cylinder within the printer. It then collects the electronically charged powered ink to transfer the image to paper.


Digital Print – 1991

The development of digital print made it possible to print straight from a digital file without blankets or plates!

Large format printing – 1985 – 1999

The Irish Graphics Model is 3047 was originally introduced in 1985 for Prepress proofing, and it was then used for large format printing. However, it was very expensive to run and too costly to maintain. Not only this but the prints produced on these machines were not very durable and did not last long.

In 1999 Nash Editions, working with Epson became the beta testing site for the Epson Stylus Pro 9500a ground-breaking a ground-breaking large format printer.

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