Before the invention of the moveable type printing press, printing consisted of presses that had each plate hand-crafted. This meant that only important books, people who could afford the costly process of crafting plates or short flyers could be printed with the old style of printing presses.

The Pre-History of Modern Printing

The earliest form of printing actually occurred in 868 CE in China with the “Diamond Sutra.” Printing plates for it were suspected to have been carved out of wood or stone and then rolled with ink or paint before being transferred to parchment by hand. Copies of the Diamond Sutra were then hand-copied by monks who were members of religious orders.

The Gutenberg Press and the Beginning of Modern Printing

Historians generally come to the consensus that modern printing began with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type press around the year 1439. Gutenberg’s method of moveable type consisted of having a printing plate for each letter hand-crafted out of a durable alloy consisting of lead, tin and antimony. Each plate moved independently and was a wide departure from the way printing worked previously.

Advancements in Printers

Gutenberg’s press made printing cheap enough so that books other than the bible could be printed. the middle class in Europe was then able to afford printed material and now a scientist in Finland would be able to share his findings with someone in Portugal simply by having a paper printed up. Gutenberg’s innovation was, however, only the first in a series of printing improvements that would ultimately make printing more affordable for the common person and business.

It wasn’t until 1811 that Friedrich Koenig harnessed the power of a steam engine to fuel his printing press. Before Koenig’s invention, presses were widely operated by hand. Fully continuous, mechanized printing didn’t occur until 1846 when Richard March Hoe invented the rotary printing press in America. Both of these innovations made printing faster and printed works cheaper, but they also made the cost of a printer too expensive for many people to afford..

The Revolution That Electronics Brought to the Field of Printing

The revolution that electronics brought in the early 20th century gave a way for people to afford the devices required to print. Chester Carlson’s invention of electrophotography, or perhaps better known as xerography, in 1938 gave way to photocopying and was the precursor to laser printing.

In 1972, an engineer employed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center by the name of Gary Starkweather created the first laser printer. The Xerox 9700 was released to the public in 1977 and was a major hit with businesses because it was a cheap and easy way for employees to make copies.

In 1976, the first inkjet printer was invented. It wouldn’t become a household item until Hewlett-Packard released its first Deskjet printer.