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printing, means of producing reproductions of written material or images in multiple copies. There are four traditional types of printing: relief printing (with which this article is mainly concerned), intaglio, lithography, and screen process printing. Relief printing encompasses type, stereotype, electrotype, and letterpress. Flexographic printing is a form of rotary letterpress printing using flexible rubber plates and rapid-drying inks.

For an account of type design, see type; typography. See also book; bookbinding.

Relief Printing

Early History

The story of the invention of printing and of its early days is told in the article type. In the 15th cent. the art spread, directly and indirectly, from Mainz to many parts of Europe. It was brought to England in 1476 by William Caxton; to the New World in 1539 by Juan Pablos, who set up his press in Mexico City.


The first papermaking machine producing a continuous roll of paper and capable of delivering sheets in specific sizes—the Fourdrinier machine—was installed in London in 1803. Steam power was successfully applied to the printing press in 1810 by Friedrich Koenig, a German. The invention did not improve the quality of the product but greatly increased the output of the machine. In Koenig's press, the type bed remained flat as in hand presses, but the paper was pressed on the type by a cylinder. The Adams power press was invented by an American, Isaac Adams, in 1827.

In 1846 and 1847, Richard March Hoe designed a rotary press in which stereotype plates were for the first time arranged in a true cylinder. In 1866 a press known later as the Walter press was patented in England; in this press the printing surfaces were not types but stereotype plates curved to form parts of cylinders. The invention of ways of making paper in sheets of any desired length, so that paper could be fed to cylinder presses from rolls, assisted in increasing the speed of printing. Machines for folding newspapers were incorporated with the power cylinder press.


Not until the late 19th cent. were typesetting machines invented. The Linotype machine, invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in Baltimore in 1884, produced a metal slug corresponding to a single line of type as set by hand in printing. It was first put into operation at the New York Tribune in 1886. Operated from a keyboard like that of a typewriter, the machine assembled brass matrices into a line, cast the line, and distributed the matrices. The Intertype machine was substantially similar to the Linotype machine, and the matrices made by either machine could be used in the other.

The third principal typesetting machine is the Monotype, patented by Tolbert Lanston in 1887 and first produced commercially in 1897. The Monotype makes each character separately, assembling the characters as in hand composition, for which the Monotype characters can be used. Before electronic composition, monotype had an advantage in setting certain kinds of copy, e.g., mathematical and scientific material, where special symbols or other problems may be involved.


In intaglio printing, such as the etching and the steel engraving, the design to be printed is lower than the surface of the plate, which is wiped clean before each impression, leaving the incised design filled with ink, which the paper receives. In gravure intaglio printing, tone is produced by varying the thickness of the ink of the printing surface through depressions of varying depth; minute points constitute the clean surface that keeps the paper from being pressed into the depressions. In photogravure the gravure plate is made by a photographic process. Rotogravure is photogravure adapted for printing by a rotary or cylinder press.


The third kind of printing, lithography, also known as planographic printing, was devised by Aloys Senefelder. Flat stones were the first lithographic plates and are still used, although a variety of thin metal, plastic, and paper plates are now also employed. A drawing is made on the plate with greasy ink or crayon, and water is then applied to the plate. When the plate is inked for printing, the greasy parts accept the ink and the wet parts do not. Preparing a printing surface so that ink will adhere only to parts of it is basic in all planographic printing.

Collotype, also called photogelatin, is a lithographic process that uses a gelatin-faced plate to achieve the tonal distribution obtained through screen dots in engraving. It is chiefly used in the reproduction of fine illustrations or of scientific subject matter requiring accuracy of detail.

Photolithography, offset, litho-offset, and offset lithography are synonyms in commercial printing for the most widely used form of planographic printing, based on a modification of the lithographic press featuring a rubber-covered cylinder between the printing cylinder and the impression cylinder. The plate cylinder transfers the image to the rubber blanket cylinder, which in turn offsets it on the paper carried by the impression cylinder. Offset and other forms of planographic printing, through many technical refinements, make possible increased production speeds, improved quality in the reproduction of fine tones, and a substantial reduction in the number of impressions required to reproduce full-color copy.

Screen Process

The fourth traditional type of printing, screen process, includes silk screen and has special applications in the printing industry. Silk screen printing is a form of stencil printing, i.e., printing where the ink is applied to the back of the image carrier and pushed through porous or open areas. The image is on a piece of silk stretched on a frame and backed by a rubber squeegee containing ink. The nonprinting areas on the silk screen are blocked out, and the ink is pushed through the porous areas corresponding to the design; the process is widely used for posters and for printing on glass, plastics, and textured surfaces. Mimeographing is another commercial application of stencil printing.

Illustrations and Color Printing

In three kinds of printing—relief, intaglio, and planographic—illustrations are often produced by the halftone process, in which a plate is made by photographing through glass marked with a network of fine lines (see also photoengraving). A usual form of color printing is by the Ben Day, or Benday, process, invented by New York printer Benjamin Day, which utilizes celluloid sheets to achieve proper shading and color. Printing in colors is sometimes done, as excellently in Japan, by applying inks of different colors by hand to the printing surface, but usually a separate printing surface is used for each ink.

In full-color printing four standard colors are used—yellow, cyan (a hue between blue and green), magenta, and black—the first three being the complementary colors of blue, red, and green. Other colors are produced by printing one color over another, as green by printing cyan on yellow. Black is used to print the text accompanying the illustration, and it is often used as a fourth color in the illustration itself to add strength and detail.

Modern Innovations

In recent years the use of photographic processes has expanded greatly, and the development of electronic devices, as well as other technological advances, has introduced a new era in the evolution of printing. The development of typewriters and personal computers capable of delivering justified and proportionally spaced copy has made possible the production of camera-ready books and has met the demands for several special types of printing.

Perhaps the most revolutionary innovation has been the introduction of photocomposition machines for setting type by photographic means. Two of these are analogous in principle to the Monotype and Intertype casting machines and have been produced by the respective companies under the trademarks of Monophoto and Intertype Fotosetter. The Linofilm is a phototypesetting machine developed by the Linotype Corporation. The Photon machine, invented by the Frenchmen René Higonnet and Louis Moyroud, using an electric typewriter connected with a computer and a photographing unit, is noteworthy. Almost exclusively electronic, it can deliver justified type on film in a wide variety of styles at extraordinary speed.

Today photocomposition has been adopted in lithography, gravure, and letterpress printing, and its use, together with other electronic techniques, has revolutionized the printing industry (see optical sensing). In recent years some newspapers have started to use pagination systems, in which newspapers are electronically composed by computer, output to a negative, and a plate is made of the negative.

Many reproduction processes other than those cited above have also been developed. Xerography, or electrostatic printing, has been widely adopted for photocopying; it is also the basis of the laser printer, one type of computer printer. It is also an effective means of producing master plates for offset printing. One xerographic device is used for making full-size reprints of out-of-print books from microfilm. Other duplicating processes of commercial importance are the Multigraph, which operates on the letterpress principle; the Multilith, basically a small offset press; the Ditto, a duplicator using a special fluid to remove ink from the master plate and transfer it to the paper; and the well-known photostat process. The development in the 21st cent. of machines for on-demand printing (using xerography) now allows an individual to print an appropriate computer file as a bound book in a retail store in a matter of minutes.


An excellent selected bibliography is H. Lehmann-Haupt, One Hundred Books about Bookmaking (1949). See W. Chappell, A Short History of the Printed Word (1970); L. Febvre and H.-J. Martin, The Coming of the Book (1976); E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) and Divine Art, Infernal Machine (2010).

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printing with movable types, or letterpress, as opposed to printing using carved wooden blocks, was invented by Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz c.1440, though there is evidence that a Dutchman, Coster of Harlem, made a similar breakthrough about the same time. One of Gutenberg's associates, Peter Schoffer, produced a psalter in 1457, the first known book with a printed date. In 1462 the sack of Mainz dispersed printers and their equipment, the process being introduced to England by William Caxton in 1476. It did not reach Scotland until 1507 when the first printing press was set up in Edinburgh by Walter Chapman and Andrew Myllar.

Early printers used a wooden press, types, paper, and ink. The primitive press, constructed of wood and iron, was a screw press resembling a wine or cloth press. The plate, or ‘platen’, was applied by a vertical screw, hand operated by a lever, to the printing surface, or ‘forme’, placed horizontally on the bed of the press. Ink was applied to the type by dabbers, known as ink balls, a technique which survived until the development of the ink roller at the beginning of the 19th cent. Printers at first made their own types, but typefounding, an early instance of mass production, soon became a separate trade. Although many improvements were made, the process remained essentially the same until the early 19th cent.

Printing and publishing, which were closely allied, grew slowly until the latter half of the 18th cent. This was partly due to censorship, which intermittently constrained publication, and partly to the high cost of paper, which was also heavily taxed. While censorship continued until the early 19th cent., paper became cheaper and could be produced in continuous sheets following the introduction of paper-making machines developed in France by Nicholas Louis Robert (1798) and Henri Fourdrinier (1806). John Dickinson, an English paper-maker, patented the first cylinder machine in 1809. Paper could thus be produced in larger sizes and greater quantities than by hand.

The 19th cent. also brought significant developments in the industrialization of printing itself. Lord Stanhope developed the first all-metal platen press in 1804. At the same time the screw mechanism was improved, resulting in greater and more even pressure on the forme, and the ink roller greatly increased the speed of production. The improved Stanhope press doubled the output of the traditional wooden press. Even greater gains in productivity were made following the introduction of the first practical mechanized printing press developed by Friedrich Koening in 1811. It was designed to feed single sheets of paper through a cylinder press and in 1814 was modified for The Times, to become a two-feeder machine printing on both sides of the paper at once. The first power-driven platen press was developed about 1822.

The Times continued to lead the field with a steam press, producing 5,000 copies per hour, in 1827. Another important breakthrough was the rotary press with types fastened round a cylinder, introduced in 1848, and, after a further period of development, the continuously running rotary press, where a stereotyped printing surface was attached to the cylinder, pioneered at The Times in 1868. With subsequent refinements, this remained the standard method of newspaper-printing for over a century.

Pictorial reproduction was greatly influenced by the development of photography. Wood blocks and wood engravings, the commonest means of illustration, were gradually replaced by the photo-engraved line block and later by the half-tone block in which gradations of tone were simulated by typographic dot-formations of varying pattern and size. The monochrome half-tone process, introduced in 1872, was refined by the end of the 19th cent. to allow full colour reproduction. Similar technology was adopted in the book-printing trade.

Composing methods, using movable type, underwent a parallel revolution with the development, initially in the USA during the 1880s, of composing and casting machinery operated from keyboards. For nearly a century, the text to be printed was cast in hot metal, using monotype to set single characters or linotype to set text line by line. Thus, despite mechanization, printing remained a skilled occupation and historically a highly unionized craft, notably in the newspaper industry, which expanded dramatically in the early 20th cent.

Consequently the print unions had a long history of confrontation with the press barons. The printers' solidarity was threatened and ultimately undermined during the 1970s and 1980s by a move away from hot metal to computerized typesetting using high-speed optical methods and electronic page make-up systems. The introduction of new technology led to dramatic rationalization and to redundancies in printing and related trades. In London, bitter strikes and lock-outs resulted from the movement of newspaper printing from its traditional heartland in Fleet Street to new production units in the East End. Elsewhere in newspaper-printing, notably in Manchester and Glasgow, similar effects were felt. Book-printing, like publishing, was also transformed by the new technology. Printing has always had important backward linkages to paper manufacture and the metal trades, and, with increasing mechanization during the 19th cent., to engineering. It was also closely linked after the mid-18th cent. to the development of publishing, of both books and newspapers.

Ian Donnachie

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In the Middle Ages, books were laboriously copied by hand. They were rare, carefully preserved in monasteries and private collections, and too expensive for all but the wealthiest to own. Few people were literate; books were the preserve of the aristocracy, the members of the church, and university professors.

The first printing technology in Europe used wood-blocks, which were carved with various designs and images that could be transferred to cloth and, at the start of the fifteenth century, to paper. This method was invented by the Chinese and may have been brought to Europe by overland merchant traders, or by Christian missionaries and explorers on their return from China. In the 1440s Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, developed a method of printing by movable type. Gutenberg transformed a farmer's press, loading small blocks of letter type that he cast from a metal alloy. The type was set into a wooden matrix and then covered with an oil-based permanent ink. Pressing sheets of paper against the matrix created a printed page.

Gutenberg used the press to create elaborately illustrated Bibles, as well as broadsheets, pamphlets, and color prints. The press spread rapidly through western Europe in the late fifteenth century, creating a new industry and revolutionizing communication. Venice, Paris, and the Netherlands became important printing centers; bookshops began selling their wares in every major city. Printing allowed philosophers and scholars to distribute their works all over the continent, and poets to set their verse in a permanent form. Presses were set up in the Spanish colonies in the 1530s; the first in North America was running in Massachusetts in 1638.

Printing shops operated as did many other artisanal industries in Renaissance Europe. The masters selected constructed presses, selected titles to print, and purchased materials. Apprentices mixed inks and cut and prepared paper. Journeymen were responsible for casting type, compositors set the type, and pressmen set up pages and worked the printing press. Journeymen had to serve many years of apprenticeship and had to learn Latin, the language of education, law, religious tracts, and mass communication. Printing technology spread when journeymen moved from town to town in search of new employers and opportunities to set up their own shops.

The publishing industry grew rapidly in the sixteenth century, when the first large publishing houses opened for business. Some were supported by groups of wealthy men who pooled their capital and published books as financial speculations. Others printed and sold books by subscription, in which those willing to buy a book agreed to pay cooperatively for its printing. Some books were printed in installments, in which a short section of the work was printed each time. Installment printing spread out the cost of printing and reduced the financial risk. Specialty printing houses created journals, calendars, almanacs, illustrated prints, political broadsheets, and the first newspapers.

Printing spread literacy and specialized knowledge to a wider cross section of European society. It allowed scientists to share ideas and challenge concepts that had been accepted for more than a millennium. Books allowed thinkers to openly question the authority of the Catholic Church, and unite with like-minded writers across the continent. No longer isolated by long distances and difficult travel, Europeans could garner larger followings for their ideas, and take part in open scholarly and religious debates. By the end of the Renaissance, thousands of books were being printed every year, the first public libraries were operating, and books had moved from a preserve of the aristocracy to the common possession of the middle class.

See Also: Gutenberg, Johannes; Venice

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328. Printing

See also 53. BOOKS ; 98. COPYING

an offset process that uses an aluminum plate instead of a lithographic stone. Also called aluminography . algraphic, adj.
the process in lithography of transferring writings and drawings to a stone surface. autographic, adj. autographically, adv.
a printing process by which colored lithographs are produced by a series of stone or zinc plates, each of which carries different portions of the picture to be printed, inked in different colors.
printing in colors from a series of wooden blocks.
the process of preparing a facsimile printing surface, involving the depositing of a thin copper or nickel shell by electrolytic action in a mold of the original and backing it with a lead alloy. electrotyper, electrotypist, n. electrotypic, adj.
a process for making letterpress plates by engraving a waxed copper plate, dusting with zinc, and preparing an electrotype. glyphographer, n. glyphographic, adj.
a device for embossing letters on thin sheets of metal.
permission, particularly that given by the Roman Catholic Church, to publish or print; hence, any sanction or approval.
the use of italics in printing text to indicate foreign words, abbreviations, emphasis, titles, etc.
1. the art or process of producing an image on a flat, specially prepared stone, treating the items to be printed with a greasy substance to which ink adheres, and of taking impressions from this on paper.
2. a similar process in which the stone is replaced by a zinc or aluminum plate, often provided with a photosensitive surface for reproducing an image photographically. lithographer, n. lithographic, adj.
a printing process in which types are impressed in a soft matrix, the resulting hollow spaces being filled with a heated mixture that later solidifies and can be used for printing. lithotypic, adj.
an offset printing process, similar to lithography, using metal plates instead of stone.
offset lithography
a printing method in which the image on a plate is offset onto a rubber blanket from which it is transferred onto the surface to be printed.
the production of chromolithographs printed in oil colors on canvas or cloth as well as on paper. oleographic, adj.
type used in the testing of eyesight.
a process by which a line drawing or writing on paper is transferred to a zinc plate, which is then used for printing. papyrograph, n. papyrographic, adj.
the process of producing a raised impression on wood from a photograph and using the block thus produced for printing.
Obsolete, lithography.
a technique for imitating an engraved appearance, as on business cards, by dusting areas already printed with a powder attracted only to the inks and using heat to fuse the ink and powder. thermographer, n. thermographic, adj.
1. the design, theory, and art of creating characters for printing.
2. the design and selection of printed matter.
3. the craft or business of composing type. typographic, typographical, adj.
printers, especially master printers, usually found in the names of associations of printers.
the art of engraving on wood or of printing from such engravings. xylographer, n. xylographic, xylographical, adj.

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printing Technique for multiple reproduction of images, such as text and pictures. In ancient China and Japan, carved wooden blocks were inked to print pictures. From the 10th century, the Chinese used separate pieces of type, so that each page could be printed from arrangements of standard characters. Metal type, made by casting, first appeared in Korea in c.1403. In Europe, Gutenberg and Caxton developed the use of letterpress in the 1400s. Printing expanded rapidly in the 1700s and 1800s. Lithography enabled printers to produce impressive colour prints. For text, stereotype printing plates were cast from the pages of type, so that the type could be re-used for setting other pages. Typesetting machines speeded up the process of setting up pages. The invention of photography in the 1820s led to the development of new techniques for reproducing photographs in print, such as the halftone process. More recently, production speeds greatly increased with the application of photosetting, in which the type is set photographically on sheet film, and offset printing. Today, many publications are produced using a word processor to enter the text. Desktop publishing (DTP) programs allow images of the text and pictures to be arranged on screen. The computer data is postcripted for each page, and the postscripted files transferred directly to printing plates.

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print·ing / ˈprinting/ • n. the production of books, newspapers, or other printed material: the invention of printing | [as adj.] the printing industry. ∎  a single impression of a book: the second printing was ready just after Christmas. ∎  handwriting in which the letters are written separately rather than being joined together.

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printing •matting • exacting •Banting, ranting •parting •enchanting, planting •everlasting, fasting, lasting •narrowcasting •letting, setting, wetting •self-respecting, self-selecting, unreflecting, unsuspecting •tempting •unconsenting, unrelenting •excepting •arresting, unprotesting, unresting, westing •bloodletting • trendsetting •pace-setting • typesetting •photosetting •grating, plating, rating, slating, uprating, weighting •painting •pasting, tasting •undeviating • self-perpetuating •unaccommodating • self-deprecating •suffocating • self-regulating •undiscriminating • underpainting •unhesitating •beating, fleeting, greeting, Keating, meeting, self-defeating, sweeting •easting •fitting, sitting, unbefitting, unremitting, witting •printing, unstinting •listing, twisting, unresisting •shopfitting • marketing •telemarketing • pickpocketing •weightlifting • side-splitting •carpeting • trumpeting •uninteresting • visiting •backlighting, lighting, self-righting, sighting, unexciting, uninviting, whiting, writing •infighting • prizefighting •dogfighting • bullfighting •handwriting • screenwriting •scriptwriting • copywriting •skywriting • signwriting •typewriting • songwriting • knotting •prompting •costing, frosting •self-supporting, unsporting •malting, salting •ripsnorting • outing •accounting, mounting •coating •Boulting, revolting •posting, roasting •billposting • disappointing •shooting, suiting, Tooting •sharpshooting • footing •off-putting •cutting, Nutting •bunting •disgusting, self-adjusting, trusting •blockbusting • linocutting •woodcutting • disquieting •disconcerting, shirting, skirting

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