Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
INDUSTRIALIZATION OF PRINT PROCESSES
Development of the printing press
The original method of printing was block printing, pressing sheets of paper into individually
carved wooden blocks also called xylography. It is believed that block printing originated in China, and the
earliest known printed text, the Diamond Sutra (a Buddhist scripture was printed in China in 868 A.D.
The technique was also known in Europe, where it was mostly used to print Bibles. Because of the
difficulties inherent in carving massive quantities of minute text for every block, and given the levels of
peasant illiteracy at the time, texts such as the "Pauper's Bibles" emphasized illustrations and used words
sparsely. As a new block had to be carved for each page, printing different books was an incredibly time
Moveable clay and metal type are processes much more efficient than hand copying. The use of movable
type in printing was invented in 1041 A.D. by Bi Sheng in China. Bi used clay type, which broke easily, but
eventually Goryeo (Korea) sponsored the production of metal type (a type foundry was established by the
Korean government in the early 15th century). Since there are thousands of Chinese characters (Koreans
also used Chinese characters in literature), the benefit of the technique is not as apparent as with alphabetic
Movable type did spur, however, additional scholarly pursuits in China and facilitated more creative modes
of printing. Nevertheless, movable type was never extensively used in China until the European style
printing press was introduced in relatively recent times (thus bringing the technology full circle).
Although probably unaware of the Chinese/Korean printing methods, Gutenberg refined the technique
with the first widespread use of movable type, where the characters are separate parts that are inserted to
make the text. Gutenberg is also credited with the first use of an oil-based ink, and using "rag" paper
introduced into Europe from China by way of Muslims, who had a paper mill in operation in Baghdad as
early as 794.
Before inventing the printing press in 1440, Gutenberg had worked as a goldsmith. Without a doubt, the
skills and knowledge of metals that he learned as a craftsman were crucial to the later invention of the press.
The claim that Gutenberg introduced or invented the printing press in Europe is not accepted by all. The
other candidate advanced is the Dutchman Laurens Janszoon Coster.
Impact of printing
Previously, books were copied mainly in monasteries, or (from the 13th century) in commercial
scriptoria, where scribes wrote them out by hand. Books were therefore a scarce resource. While it might
take someone a year to hand copy a Bible, with the Gutenberg press it was possible to create several
hundred copies a year, with two or three people that could read, and a few people to support the effort.
Each sheet still had to be fed manually, which limited the reproduction speed, and the type had to be set
manually for each page, which limited the number of different pages created per day. Books produced in
this period, between the first work of Johann Gutenberg and the year 1500, are collectively referred to as
The replacement of hand copied manuscripts with printed works was not received with much joy. Not only
did the authorities contemplate making printing presses an industry requiring a license from the Catholic
Church (an idea rejected in the end), but as early as in the 15th century some nobles refused to have printed
books in their libraries to sully their valuable hand copied manuscripts. Similar resistance was later
encountered in much of the Islamic world, where calligraphic traditions were extremely important, and also
in the Far East.
Despite some resistance, Gutenberg's printing press spread rapidly across Europe. Within thirty years of its
invention in 1453, towns from Hungary to Spain and from Italy to Britain had functional printing presses. It
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
has been theorized that this incredibly rapid expansion shows not only a higher level of industry (fueled by
the high-quality European paper mills that had been opening over the past century) than expected, but also
a significantly higher level of literacy than has often been estimated.
The first printing press in a Muslim territory opened in Andalusia (Muslim Spain) in the 1480s. This printing
press was run by a family of Jewish merchants who printed texts with the Hebrew script. After 1490s, the
press was moved from Granada to Istanbul (a popular destination for thousands of Andalusia Jews).
Art of book printing and typeface
For years, book printing was considered a true art-form. Typesetting, or the placement of the
characters on the page, including the use of ligatures, was passed down from master to apprentice. In
Germany, the art of typesetting was termed the "black art", and it has largely been lost, due to advances in
computer typesetting programs, which make it possible to get similar results with less human involvement.
Some few practitioners continue to print books the way Gutenberg did. There is a yearly convention of
traditional book printers in Mainz, Germany.
Printing in the industrial age
While the Gutenberg press was much more efficient than manual copying, the Industrial
Revolution and the invention of the steam powered press by Friedrich Gottlob Koenig and Andreas
Friedrich Bauer in 1812 made it possible to print tens of thousands of copies of a page in a day. Koenig and
Bauer sold one of their first models to The Times in 1814 and went on to perfect the early model so that it
could print on both sides of a sheet at once. This made newspapers available to a mass audience, and from
the 1820s changed the nature of book production, forcing a greater standardization in titles and other
metadata (computing). Later on in the middle of the 19th century the rotary press (invented in the United
States by Richard M. Hoe) allowed millions of copies of a page in a single day. Mass production of printed
works flourished after the transition to rolled paper, as continuous feed allowed the presses to run at a
much faster pace. It is interesting to note that the Gutenberg press was essentially unchanged from the time
of its invention until the industrial revolution--a testament to its effectiveness. Movable type has been
credited as the single most important invention of the millennium.
A printing technology that dates back to 1798 when Alois Senenfelder developed a method of
imaging limestone from which a print was produced. Based on the principle that oil and water do not mix,
an aluminum or plastic plate is coated with a photopolymer film that is exposed to light through a
photographic mask. The exposed areas are chemically "hardened," and the unexposed areas are dissolved
when the plate is put through a chemical process, which is the next stage. When printing a page, the plate is
dampened, and the water adheres only to the unexposed, non-image areas, which repel the greasy ink that is
applied to the plate immediately thereafter.
Lithography ("writing on stone") is accomplished according to the same principle today, but the stone has
been replaced by a metal plate and the technology of preparing the plate has become more sophisticated.
Lithography is less expensive than either letterpress or gravure printing and is a reasonable alternative,
particularly when an order calls for a short run.
Offset printing is a widely used technique where the inked image is transferred (or "offset") from a
plate first to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface. When used in combination with the lithographic
process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat image carrier
on which the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a film of
water, keeping the nonprinting areas ink-free.
The advantages of offset printing include:
· Consistent high image quality -- sharper and cleaner than letterpress printing because the rubber
blanket conforms to the texture of the printing surface
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
Usability on a wide range of printing surfaces in addition to smooth paper (e.g., wood, cloth, metal,
leather, rough paper)
Quick and easy production of printing plates
Longer plate life than on direct litho presses -- because there is no direct contact between the plate
and the printing surface.
The first lithographic offset printing press was created in England around 1875 and was designed for
printing on metal. The offset cylinder was covered with specially treated cardboard that transferred the
printed image from the litho stone to the surface of the metal. About five years later, the cardboard
covering of the offset cylinder was changed to rubber, which is still the most commonly used material.
The first person to use an offset press to print on paper was most likely American Ira Washington Rubel in
1903. Roughly at the same time, a German engineer by the name of Christopher Hermann invented a
similar machine. He got the idea accidentally by noticing that whenever a sheet of paper was not fed into his
lithographic press during operation, the stone printed its image to the rubber-covered impression cylinder,
and the next impression had an image on both sides: direct litho on the front and an image from the rubber
blanket on the back. Rubel then noticed that the image on the back of the sheet was much sharper and
clearer than the direct litho image because the soft rubber was able to press the image onto the paper better
than the hard stone. He soon decided to build a press which printed every image from the plate to the
blanket and then to the paper. Brothers Charles and Albert Harris independently observed this process at
about the same time and developed an offset press for the Harris Automatic Press Company soon after.
Harris designed his offset press around a rotary letterpress machine. It used a metal plate bent around a
cylinder at the top of the machine that pressed against ink and water rollers. A blanket cylinder was
positioned directly below, and in contact with, the plate cylinder. The impression cylinder below pressed the
paper to the blanket in order to transfer the image to the sheet (see diagram). While this basic process is still
used today, refinements include two-sided printing and web feeding (using rolls of paper rather than sheets).
During the 1950s, offset printing became the most popular form of commercial printing as improvements
were made in plates, inks and paper, maximizing the technique's superior production speed and plate
durability. Today, the majority of printing, including newspapers, is done by the offset process.
The most common kind of offset printing is derived from photo offset process. In such cases, the
documents to be printed are first recorded on film negatives. Images from such negatives are then
transferred to photomechanical printing plates much the same way as photographs are developed. A
measured amount of light is allowed to pass through the negatives and exposed the printing plate. A
chemical reaction then occurs that allows an ink-receptive coating to be activated, thus transferring of the
image from the negative to the plate.
Offset printing is the most common form of high volume commercial printing, due to advantages
in quality and efficiency in high volume jobs. However, modern digital "presses" (inkjet based) are getting
closer to the cost/benefit of offset for high quality work. However, they have not yet been able to compete
with the sheer volume of product that an offset press can produce
It requires a desktop publishing program, such as PageMaker or Quark Express, a large monitor
and laser printer. The term "desktop publishing" was very popular when personal computers began to
proliferate in the 1980s.
A desktop publishing program (DTP), also called a "page layout program," provides complete page design
capabilities, including magazine style columns, rules and borders, page, chapter and caption numbering as
well as precise typographic alignment. A key feature is its ability to flow text around graphic objects in a
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
variety of ways. Although many word processing programs offer most of these features, a desktop
publishing program provides ultimate flexibility.
Original text and graphics may be created in a desktop publishing program, but graphics tools especially are
often elementary. Typically, text is created in a word processing program, and illustrations are created in a
CAD, drawing or paint program. Then, the text and images are imported into the publishing program.
A laser printer may be used for final output, but shaded drawings and photographs print better on
commercial high-resolution image setters. For transfer to a commercial printer, documents are generally
saved in their native page layout format such as PageMaker and Quark Express or as PDF files. For
publishing on the Web, PDF files have become the de facto standard for documents that are downloaded
and read independently of the HTML pages on the site.
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