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The Printing Machine

In today’s society, we are all accustomed to the printed word and picture. Face it, this is how information disseminates and becomes collected through the medium of books and magazines, soft drinks, candy wrappers, you name it. An additional insight is, that without the printed business form, most, if not all trade would have difficulty in keeping records of any transaction. Never mind an inability to advertise i.e. flyers, brochures, business cards, and such. Putting all that aside, when looking back on history the impact of the printing machine’s invention changed how information passed from source to source and its availability. Although Johannes Gutenberg is credited for the invention of a printing machine in the 15th century, the process of printing had been around since 2nd century China. Where later, out of needing to make printing easier, a Korean designed the first movable type printing apparatus around year 1039-40 (Over Night Prints, 2013). Nevertheless, the impact of Gutenberg’s printing machine was phenomenal. It changed the face of society because it made reading material readily available to the general public thus raising the literacy of the populous and removing the need for scribes. This alone was enough to take the control of information out of the hands of the church and put it in the hands of the, then growing, education and scientific communities. I find this following quote to cover this aspect of the impact very well. It is from Thomas Carlyle’s work Sartor Resartus, (The Tailor re-tailored, 1833). “He who first shortened the labor of copyists by device of movable types was

disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.” (Kreis, 2012) As a natural progression, the economy began to prosper due to printing shops opening and the creation of a new trade. This result came out of the declining spread of the Black Death, famine, and the ending conflicts of the period. At this same time, educational institutes were coming into fruition affording the upper echelons of society to prepare for government and religious stations of the period. The 15th century was a time of growth because as the populous grew, greater need for printed material resulted. Additionally, governments and businesses that relied on hand written records began to look for a cost effective method in the process of record keeping. This effectively caused the use of the print machine to grow out of demand and supply. On a further note if we consider that as education, religious and business


institutions realized a greater need for printed material it had a direct result on how thought and opinion proliferated throughout Western Europe. From a production standpoint, what may have taken a scribe close to twenty years to copy, the Gutenberg press surpassed this with the ability for producing around three hundred printed sheets daily. When considering that time period and the production rates, the Gutenberg press not only revolutionized the manufacture of books, it also initiated the standardization of languages, written and unwritten (Warnke). His press, however, made of wood, became obsolete after Earl Stanhope built a version out of cast-iron at the beginning of the 19th century. A short time after Stanhope’s addition the Columbian Press, built by an American, George Clymer, began to become the standard machinery of the day. Both machines where capable of creating 250 copies per hour approximately. These early machines made use of a flat plate to transfer the image on to the substrate i.e. paper and the operation was manual. Later that century the development of a steam powered platen press increased the productivity to 400 sheets per hour. Additional improvements to this later machine, developed by Friedrik Koenig, came in the early 1830’s when an American, Richard Hoe introduced the first cylinder press able to run, on average one thousand to four thousand replications an hour. With the continued, work of Richard Hoe the eventual introduction of the rotary press increased the production capabilities to almost 8,000 impressions hourly. (Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin). Jumping ahead to the present we have witnessed the addition of the computer to all type of machinery including the printing machine which consequently produced digital media and digital printing, outcomes from the introduction of the computer. The types of printing machines that are in use today are dependant on the type of printing needed. Sheet fed and roll fed or web presses i.e. rotary presses, both occupy the large and medium sized printing companies for instance a newspaper would use the web printer as this is designed to print on a continuous roll of paper. A smaller print shop may have a sheet fed machine that handles either a single or multiple sheets at a time. The main process we find in printing is the offset process using a four-color process as the mechanism to develop the image on a given substrate. Both types of printing machines use the offset process, which means that the image, from an image carrier, is transferred first to another cylinder, or blanket intermediary, which in turn moves the image onto the substrate. The ‘four-color’ process is the application of colors. The old way was to us a mix of Red, Green, and Blue or RGB, to define the coloration of an image. Later as technologies advanced, a more accurate process evolved into using Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black or CMYK. The later produces a closer representation and brighter color in addition to a better contrast in the final image. (Printing for Less).


It is an accurate statement that the invention of moveable print and the printing press change the world forever. The result was the growth of educational institutes and, a larger dissemination of information across all continents and countries and all classes of society. In a time when religion ruled, it began to lose its grip through the influx of secular thought due in part to the spread of the printed word. It was the beginning of the free press because the church was unable to sustain control over the type of information pouring out through the newly established business of publication in newspaper and book form. In modern times such as today, those of us who own a computer usually have a printer as well, and when thinking about the origins of such a device it make you wonder about the explosive power the printing machine welded when it became a part of the human experience.

References, Harry Ransom Center The University of Texas at Austin. (n.d.). Printing Yesterday and Today. Retrieved from www.hrc.utexas.edu: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/educator/modules/gutenberg/books/printing/ Kreis, S. (2012, April 13). The Printing Press. Retrieved from www.historyguide.org: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/press.html Over Night Prints. (2013, December 11). The History of Printing-The Printing Press to Now. Retrieved from www.overnightprints.com: http://www.overnightprints.com/history_of_printing Printing for Less. (n.d.). RGB and CMYK Color in Offset Printing-Process Printing Explained. Retrieved from www.printforless.com: http://www.printingforless.com/color.html Warnke, M. (n.d.). World-information.Org. Retrieved from World-Information.org: http://worldinformation.org/wio/infostructure/100437611796/100438659777/print?ic=100446324930

The print machine  

A brief history of the invention and impact of the printing machine