From Gutenberg to 3D and beyond-How printing technology has driven progress

Printing technology has often been right at the heart of the drive towards progress – with the ability to alter the way we communicate with each other and the way we do business.

Changes in the way we print have always had the power to be trans formative. Here we look at the key revolutions in the sector – and the knock-on effect they had inside and outside of the industry:

Gutenberg – The father of the printing press

While it’s fair to say that Johannes Gutenberg didn’t invent printing or typing – that came long before him –he did invent the printing press, a hugely influential moment in the history of the world, let alone printing.

Gutenberg’s press paved the way for the affordable mass production of literature – pushing Europe into the Renaissance and, arguably, its first information age spreading ideas and, importantly, literacy.

Sadly for Gutenberg, he died poor in 1468 but his legacy means he’ll never be forgotten and at least half a million books were in circulation by 1500.

Industrial Revolution fuels further growth

The Industrial Revolution picked up the baton from Gutenberg and ran with it. Steam-powered presses were now able to churn out more than a 1,000 prints an hour – making newspapers, books and pamphlets more readily available and creating a whole publishing industry that remains to this day.

This process was aided by further technological advances, such as Mezzotint to help reproduce images and Lithography,which allowed text and imagery to be printed onto different surfaces.

Mass market in the 20th century

The developments so far allowed institutions and businesses to print material and distribute them to others – with increasing scale and speed as time wore on. However, the 20th century also saw smaller businesses and consumers get the power to print.

The technology driving this push to the mass market came in several stages. The first commercial photocopier became available in 1958, with colour copiers following a decade later. That technology then fed into the first laser printer in 1969 – made by Xerox – while laser printers followed in the mid-70s.

While both types of printer mainly fuelled further commercial use for businesses initially, they became used in homes too from the 1980s, with the price of the ink and hardware eventually making them a part of the furniture in most home offices.

Meanwhile, inkjet printers – which use droplets of ink to create text and images on paper – were developed through the 70s and became commercially available by the end of the 80s.

Away from the mass market, 1993 saw the world’s first digital colour printing press launched – Indigo – allowing businesses to deliver short-run, flexible prints.

By the end of the century, printing was quicker, cheaper and more flexible than ever before with a much wider user base.

3D – another dimension

3D printing has really captured the imagination, offering a new way to fashion new materials. This technology takes us beyond the traditional uses of printing – with 3D used to make new parts or components rather than for images or written words. 3D printers are now more affordable and widely available than ever Companies like scribbler are coming with handheld 3d printer called 3d printing pens – but practical applications need to be found for them to become more widely used. They’re also adding to – rather than replacing – the uses of printers.

The next generation – technology doesn’t stand still

While 3D printers are set to grow in use, this isn’t the only show in town. Nanotechnology – the use of almost impossibly small particles of ink – could be transformative for many businesses.

Landa is harnessing this technology, offering a form of digital print solution that combines the strengths of offset and digital, with shipments on its first machines going out in 2017. The eyes of the industry will be focussed on the success of these first orders.

The printing world owes a lot to Gutenberg – and it has come a long way since. Developments in technology have meant the dissemination of ideas, images and words has become faster and more effective but there’s always a desire to go further. Businesses continue to look for the next step to stay ahead of the game and drive progress further still. The best changes have a ripple effect far beyond the world of printing – helping to change the way we all work – and there’s plenty of scope for this to happen again.

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