The Printing Press, A Revolutionary Invention

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The printing press, a revolutionary invention

Origins and evolution:

The birth of the printing press dates back to China, in 593, when they reproduce for the first time and multiple, drawings and texts with the help of printing characters carved in wooden boards (xylography). The invention is due to the Buddhist monks, who impregnated the color sizes to print with them on silk or rag paper. While the first printed book (a Buddhist sutra with illustrations) dates from the year 868. This need to print books arises from disputes between scholars to the authenticity of ancient texts, deciding from that moment to reproduce by engraving the texts of cultural importance, for their popular diffusion. Mobile printing characters and, with them, typographic composition, are due to Chinese alchemist Pi Cheng (1040). This will combine the years of tradition of xylography with the inheritance obtained for more than two thousand years of stamping techniques with stamps, creating standard types that could be manufactured in series. The created signs corresponded to complete words. They were performed with clay on negative molds and subsequently cooked. Once finished they joined on a metal frame composing phrases, together with adhesive mass, and proceed to the impression. With the typographic composition a much faster and faster printing mode arose than the xylography. From then on, culture was able to reach all the layers of society.

These techniques arrived in the West much later. The Dutch Laurens Coster (S. XIV) It will be the first to use mobile types of wood, although universally it is considered the inventor of the printing press to Johannes Gutenberg (S. XV), for its creation of molten lead types, much more resistant (typography). Gutenberg knew the difficulty of printing with whole pages carved in wood and devised a more rational printing mode, based on mobile types. Thus, in 1437 he commissioned a Tornero of Mainz, Konrad Sasbach, the construction of his printing press and he created the molds for the Fund of Lead letters, which later joined, one by one, forming the words in relief in the callcomposition galley to be able to print with them on paper. In 1447 he managed to print a small calendar and in 1451 a Latin grammar, although his peak work would be a Bible. From his death, 1468, his invention extended gradually throughout Europe, and remained practically unalterable until the beginning of the 20th century. Within the history of printing, however, the techniques have been happening and varying over time. Thus, the first remains found in the hollow technique date from 1446 and belong to a German teacher who recorded about copper plates with the help of a buril. Once covered with ink, it was retained inside the lines of the recorded image while the rest of the ink disappeared when cleaning the iron. Then the impression was made on wet paper and with the help of a press. This technique would be improved in 1878 by the Austrian Karl Klietsch, using cylinder application (heliogrably). In 1710, two inventions give a great boost to the printing techniques: – the one made by Jakob Christof Le Blon, which discovers the tricromy (reproduction of images in colors from three basics: red, blue and yellow) – that of the DutchmanJ. Van der Mey, who invents, in collaboration with the German preacher Johannes Müller, the stereotypy. This process will allow massive, fast and cheap reproduction of relief printing forms based on lead plates.

In 1796, the Austrian Alois Senefelder invents the printing technique called lithography. This is the first plane printing process. For this technique, limestone plates are used as support that absorb fat and water substances, although they do not mix each other. If it is drawn or written on this stone with a fatty color and then the surface is moistened with water, it will penetrate the stone only in those places not covered by the written strokes. If you apply then fat of printing on the stone, the wet areas do not accept it, while it is attached to the rest of the plate, being able to proceed to the impression. Subsequently, in 1826, Alois would patent color lithography, achieving a simplified technique for what until now could be done by hand. Although this technique would be improved in 1867 by C. Tessie du Motay, with photolithography, following the investigations of the chemical properties of a chromate tail subject to the action of light;Investigations that have previously conducted William Henry Fox Talbot (1832) and Alphonse Louis Poitevin (1855). In 1822, after the Frenchman Simon Ballanche conceived the idea of building an automatic machine to compose texts, the American William Church manages to build the first machine of this type, the component. The idea was to machining and facilitating the complicated task of manually composing the types of lead of typography, one by one, forming complete texts, as was done from Gutenberg. Anyway, the fact that the machine made certain mistakes made it not universally imposed. We would have to wait for the invention of linotypia in 1884. In 1846, the English Smart invents a rotary for lithographic print. Thus arises the first automatic offset printing press. Although in 1845 Richard Hoe (USA) had already obtained a patent referring to the first modern rotary. The great demand in this period of large runs from the existing newspapers, even exceeding book production, made possible the success of the rotary. Thus, in 1848 the London newspaper The Times first puts a rapid rotary of this type.This machine was perfected by Augustus Applegath and Edward Cooper, English engineers, following the principle of the machine invented by Hoe, although it continued working only with loose paper sheets. Some years later, in 1851, the British builder T. Nelson finally manages to develop a rotary for printing on continuous paper and, later, in 1863, the American inventor William A. Bullock will obtain the patent from the first rotary press for the printing of books on continuous paper, model for later rotary. From this moment on there will be some problems, which will be corrected years later. They are, for example, the bottlenecks produced in the cut and folding phases of the printed material, as well as the slow task of the composition of the texts by hand. It will be in 1884 when Ottmar Mergenthaler manages to mechanize this last process with linotypia.

Following the chronological progression, there were some attempts such as the English Black, which invented in 1850 an automatic folding machine capable of folding in eighth up to two thousand sheets per hour, being equipped with folding and cutting devices. It is also important to mention English technicians Johnson and Atkinson, who in 1853 managed.000 daily characters. This data is especially relevant because since the manual instrument devised by Gutenberg to melt types, this technique had barely varied. For its part, in 1859 the English photographer Warren de la Rue develops a new procedure that allows to prepare plates to print books made of tail and glycerin. This technique, called hectography, will soon become the standard procedure used to print normally small runs. In 1881, the Muniqués Georg Meisenbach, obtained a patent referring to a photographic process of printing known as autotypia, based on the techniques of the helio -spell and the properties that acquired certain resins through the action of light on them (paled, they wereDarkened …).Although British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot is considered inventor of autotypia, in 1852. In 1890 Max Levy will introduce various improvements, getting a higher quality in the images (finerst plots). In 1884 an important milestone in the history of printing, the invention of linotypia by German watchmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler, based on the totally automated composition of the texts. Innovation consisted of the possibility of being able to write one by one the lines of the text through a keyboard, instead of composing them letter with letter with their corresponding types of lead manually. Thus, once the composition of a line was finished, the negative print mold, with liquid lead, obtaining a lead seal for printing was melting. In 1904 the technique of lithography, and in general and world of printing, reaches its maximum point with the development of offset printing, used today. The offset was developed by two technicians independently. On the one hand the German Caspar Hermann and on the other the printer Ira W. Rubel. Although it is Hermann who obtains his method from the historical tradition of lithography, Rubel also found the invention but in a casual way, after a failure of one of his operators in a rotary. Currently, self-edition, with the incorporation of computers to the multiple facets and stages of the edition, has meant a revolution of unpredictable consequences in this field. An open window to the freedom of editions The already close 21st century (Internet, CD-ROM, multimedia, document edition from the home or work center, etc.).

Printing today:

The printing press has made all knowledge to any part and any person since, it is not only cheaper, but the printing press allows a copy of an original of today, of our past, even very old, and of anyType of subject.

The printing press has also got culture to expand to any point on the planet and anyone else regardless of race, sex or their economic capacity, another thing is the political regimes that may exist in some countries.

If the growth capacity of a country is measured by its culture, the printing press is the essence of it since, thanks to it, knowledge can be communicated and we can have it not only in public spaces but in private spaces, as they canbe our own home. In addition, the printing press has made knowledge important, but also, thanks to its own evolution, books have been created for entertainment, playful, etc., They have also entered our homes.

The technological media have somehow braking the evolution of the printing press in many ways. However, it is clear that, no matter how much technology can move forward, knowledge or enjoyment through books, these are still something that our society does not want to abandon. In fact, the physical format is something that, in most cases, the person needs to have, either because of the texture, it can touch, by the smell or, simply, because it is something that does not have to plug, because we can use itat any time and anywhere, etc.

The printing press, no matter how time passes, will always be an element that will never go out of style and evolve over time and adapt to the needs of knowledge, the playful and the needs of people.


If we see it the rational point of view, we could define the printing press as a mechanical way of reproducing letters and images in a metallic support and, subsequently, transfer them to the paper. It is very basic, very simple and, at the same time, impossible to reduce it only to this. Definitely, it was a great social and economic advance for the world.

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