process for reproducing text and images using a master form or template
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Printing is putting words and images on paper by mechanical means. Books and newspapers are made by printing. Usually, the images are formed by ink. The ink is put on paper in machines called printing presses.

Copperplate of 1215-1216: paper money with ten bronze movable types
Jikji, "Selected Teachings of Buddhist Sages and Son Masters" from Korea, the earliest known book printed with movable metal type, 1377. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
Replica of the Gutenberg press at the International Printing Museum in Carson, California
European output of books printed by movable type from ca. 1450 to 1800 [1]
The folder of newspaper web offset printing press

Printing is one of the technologies which has changed the world. It is an efficient way to multiply writing, so that copies may be made available to all people. Printing is therefore the continuation of writing by mechanical means.



Writing originated after people had settled in permanent dwellings. It dates from 3,300 BC, which is over 5000 years ago. A variety of writing systems were invented, long before paper was invented. Clay, papyrus, wood, slate and parchment (prepared animal skins) have all been used. The invention of paper by the Chinese was a step forward.[2][3][4][5]

Early printing


The earliest printing known was in 8th century China and Korea. Whole pages carved on flat wooden blocks were used. Covered with a carbon-based ink, they were pressed onto sheets of paper.

The second stage was to use separate characters by wood carving or casting. This was done in 11th century China and Korea. It failed to be really successful, because of the structure of the Chinese written language, shared at the time by Korea, which had thousands of characters. So the method was not much better than copying by scribes.[6]

Printing was reinvented in 15th century Europe. Development was slow until Johannes Gutenberg made several improvements. In the next century print became the main means of communication between people who needed to keep precise records. With an alphabetic system of writing, print was much more economical than copying, and permitted many times as many copies to be available. This revolution in information technology helped all aspects of life in Europe, at a time when Europe was becoming the dominant region of the world.[7][8]

Along with a technology for printing words, there were various means for printing graphics. Carving on blocks of wood and engraving on copper were used up until about 1800. After that, a great many inventions arrived, including lithography and ways to print photographs.[9]

Machines to speed printing, cheaper paper, automatic stitching and binding all arrived in the 19th century during the industrial revolution. What had once been done by a few men by hand was now done by limited companies on huge machines. The result was much lower prices, and a much wider readership.


The consequences of print have been considerable. It led to the spread of knowledge, and had many side-effects. It took control out of a small class of clerks (scribes and monks) and put it in the hands of a newly educated readership. Publishing became a major industry.

Many of the first books were in Latin; some in Greek. Later, almost all books were printed in the vernacular: the language ordinary people spoke. The Bible was one of the first books printed, and one of the first to be translated into the vernacular, against strong opposition from the church. Science was given a great boost by printing, and scientific ideas are still usually first published in print. Several scholars have thought that print even changed the way people thought.[10][11][12][13]



  1. Buringh, Eltjo and van Zanden, Jan Luiten 2009. Charting the “Rise of the West”: manuscripts and printed books in Europe, a long-term perspective from the sixth through eighteenth centuries. The Journal of Economic History 69, 2, p417, table 2.
  2. Robinson. Andrew 1995. The story of writing. Thames & Hudson, London. ISBN 0-500-01665-8
  3. Christin, Anne-Marie (ed) A history of writing. Flammarion, Paris. ISBN 2-0801-0887-5
  4. Gaur, Albertine 1992. A history of writing. 3rd ed. ISBN 0-7123-0270-0
  5. Diringer, David 1968. The alphabet: a key to the history of mankind.
  6. The earliest printed book with movable type was published in Korea and is known as the Jikji.Memory of the World,, accessed November 2009
  7. Lefebre L & Martin H-J. 1976. The coming of the book: the impact of printing. NLB, London. ISBN 978-1844676330
  8. Martin H-J. 1994. The history and power of writing. The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-50836-6
  9. Bland, David 1958. A history of book illustration: the illuminated manuscript and the printed book. Faber & Faber, London.
  10. Olsen, David R. 1994. The world on paper: the conceptual and cognitive implications of writing and reading. Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-57558-3
  11. Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. 1979. The printing press as an agent of change. 2 vols, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-21967-1
  12. McCluhan, Marshall 1962. The Gutenberg galaxy: the making of typographic man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  13. McCluhan, Marshall 1964. Understanding media: the extensions of man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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