A German businessman, Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, invented the printing press.
The history of printing dates back centuries before 1440 to China where the earliest printed book the “Diamond Sutra” was printed in 868 CE.
Woodblock printing, the earliest known type of printing was used in Asia, Japan, and China during those early years.
A printing press has three important parts to it; an inked surface, a print medium (usually paper or cloth), and a gadget that applies pressure. It works when this gadget applying pressure in pressed firmly on the inked surface, which is resting on top of the print medium.
When they come together, a copy of the print medium is created on the inked surface because of the pressure put on it.
There are many types of printing, but all of them transfer ink from one surface to another and create a copy of the surface image by doing so.
In the early days before Gutenberg invented the printing press, printing texts, pictures, or patters were done on only cloth (because paper was not invented at that time).
This type of printing was called woodblock printing. It involved carefully carving out patterns on wood block so that they appear to stand out on the surface of the wood (embossed), and then inking this block, which is then placed tightly on the cloth.
It is very much similar to how we dip our finger on ink to get a fingerprint, like stamping.
When the goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, he improved on the technology that was already available at that time.
To do this, Gutenberg combined the ideas that were already there with a few inventions of his own.
He invented the screw press that allowed direct pressure to be applied onto a flat surface, he improved the way it pressed down so that it pressed down over the entire paper evenly, and introduced an undertable that allowed the printed sheets to be changed quickly.
This type of printing was called the movable type, because of the movable undertable.
The metal that Gutenberg used for typesetting (the moulds from which the designs and prints are made) was a lead based alloy, which was so excellent that it is even used today.
He also invented the matrix, which is a special type of hand mould with all the metal letters needed for printing.
Another important development that came at this time was the design of the book, as we know it today.
Starting from the Middle Ages right up until the Roman period, people used scrolls.
During the Roman period, the scrolls were replaced by a design called the codex, which is the design of the books we use today.
This design is easy because unlike in the scroll, pages can be turned in this and it is easier for the printing process too.
Another important development was the breakthrough in papermaking. With many people manufacturing more and more paper, the printing press became popular too.
Soon the idea of printing and the printing press spread to many Western and Eastern countries by the end of the 15th century.
This huge craze meant that many authors whose work had not been read by many people earlier could have copies of their original books published.
Many scientists were now able to show the world their inventions, and communicate with other scientists across the world because printing allowed them to send copies of their work.
Printing many copies of the same material now meant that people did not attend public readings like before. Instead, they enjoyed private reading because there was enough to go around!
With the increase of education, and more people learning to read and write, printed copies of important work allowed for more people to learn more things faster.
With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the idea of a hand-operated printer (which was how Gutenberg’s printing press worked) was replaced by a mechanical one.
Lord Stanhope built a mechanical printer from cast iron in 1800, which reduced the amount of work done by hand, by 90%.
This was an incredible leap forward. This new printer was able to print 480 pages in a hour, which was double the amount that Gutenberg’s printer did.
Over the course of the next few centuries, the printing press went through many chages and revolutions.
Today we have printers (and scanners) in our own home, which are programmed to print at the press of a button. They can print in colour, in black and white, and on many different surfaces.
Gutenberg’s invention in 1440 changed the entire world in a way that he himself would probably have not dreamed of, and every time we print something, we should remember it would not have been possible if not for Johannes Gutenberg.