Printing has come a long way since its invention back in 200AD. Back then, woodblock printing was the only option.
Things moved forward quickly over the next 1700 years, with the introduction of Movable Type, Etching, Rotary Press & Hectograph all making their stamp, and then eventually being replaced. However, the advances in technology and the printing innovations that have taken place over the years are really quite astonishing.
Join us as we take you back in time to look at the evolution of printing over the last 100 years…
1910 – SCREEN PRINTING
Screen printing first appeared in a recognisable form in China way back in 960AD.
However it was early in the 1910’s that printers began experimenting with photo-reactive chemicals, thus revolutionising the screen printing industry.
Technique: Screen Printing involved a blade or squeegee moving across the screen (a piece of mesh stretched over a frame) to fill open areas with ink. Blocking stencils prevented ink from reaching certain places.
Fun Fact: World Famous artist, Andy Warhol is credited for popularising Screen Printing. His iconic 1962 depiction of Marilyn Monroe was screen printed in garish colours.
1923 – SPIRIT DUPLICATOR
The Spirit Duplicator was more commonly known as the Ditto Machine in America, or the Banda Machine in the UK.
Before photocopying technology was introduced, Spirit Duplicators were popular in the production of newsletters and fanzines.
Technique: This method used two sheets, called spirit masters. The top sheet was typed, written or drawn upon and the bottom one was covered in wax. The pressure placed on the waxed sheet then produced a mirror image of the desired marks.
Fun Fact: Because of its ability to produce multiple colours in a single pass, the spirit duplicator was popular with cartoonists.
1925 – DOT MATRIX PRINTING
German inventor, Rudolf Hell invented a dot matrix based device in 1925. It was called the Hellschreiber and was patented four years later in 1929.
Until the 1990’s, Dot Matrix printers were by far the most common form of printer used with personal and home computers.
Technique: Much like a typewriter,a print head moves back-and-forth or up-and-down and prints on impact, striking an ink-soaked cloth ribbon against the sheet paper or other material. However, unlike a typewriter, individual letters are drawn out by a Dot Matrix, allowing various fonts and graphics to be reproduced.
Fun Fact: Like Dot Matrix versions, nearly all inkjet, thermal and laser printers print closely spaced dots.
1938 - XEROGRAPHY
Originally named Electrophotography, Xerography was invented by Pal Selenyi, a Hungarian physicist in 1938.
Technique: A dry photocopying process where areas on a sheet of paper are sensitised by static electricity & sprinkled with a resin that is fused to the paper.
Fun Fact: This technology still exists in modern day photocopy machines & laser printers.
1951 – INKJET PRINTING
While similar technology was patented back in 1867, the first commercial inkjet product was released in 1951 by manufacturing giants, Siemens.
Although introduced in 1951, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that inkjet printers could reproduce images created by personal computers.
Technique: A high pressure pump directs liquid ink through a microscopic nozzle creating a continuous stream of ink droplets.
Fun Fact: One square meter of inkjet print contains around 20 billion droplets.
1957 – DYE SUBLIMATION
This method of printing focusses on the science of sublimation.
Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from solid to gas – without passing through the intermediate liquid phase.
Technique: Sublimation dyes are transferred to sheets of transfer paper via liquid gel ink. The ink is then deposited on high-release inkjet papers. After the digital design is printed onto sublimation transfer sheets, it is placed on a heat press along with the substrate to be sublimated.
Fun Fact: Today, Dye Sublimation is a digital method of printing commonly used for decorating apparel, signs, banners and novelty items.
1969 – LASER PRINTING
Laser Printing was invented by then Xerox product developer, Gary Starkweather in 1969. Already working within the photocopying market, Starkweather had the idea of using a laser beam to draw an image on paper. He then adapted a Xerox copier, which became one of the first commercial laser printers on the planet.
Technique: Text and graphics are produced by repeatedly passing a laser beam over a negatively charged cylinder - called a drum. The drum selectively collects electrically charged toner (powdered ink) and transfers the image to paper.
Fun Fact: The first laser printer designed for office use was sold for the equivalent of £13,200.
1972 – THERMAL PRINTING
Traditionally light and small in size, Thermal Printers are ideal for portable retail applications such as point of sale systems.
During the 1990’s many fax machines also used thermal printing technology.
Technique: A printed image is produced by heating thermal paper when it passes over the thermal print head. The coating turns black in the heated area, thus producing an image.
Fun Fact: The 1998 Game Boy Printer was a small thermal printer used to print out elements from some games.
1981 – 3D PRINTING
This method is also known as additive manufacturing.
In 1981, Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute invented two additive methods for producing 3D plastic models.
Technique: When it comes to modern day versions, imagine an inkjet printer – but on steroids. Where an inkjet printer puts a single layer of ink on top of the page, a 3D printer adds new layers on top of each layer until the object is completed.
Fun Fact: 3D printers have been used to print a huge variety of different objects, including jewellery, clothing, medical prosthetics, food and houses.
1991 – DIGITAL PRINTING
Digital printing allows digital-based images to be printed directly from a personal computer or other electronic devices.
This method has revolutionised the printing world, allowing for shorter turnaround times and far greater flexibility.
Technique: Digital printers assemble images from a complex set of numbers and mathematical formulas. These images are captured from pixels – a process called digitising. The digitised image is used to control the deposition of ink or toner, which ultimately, reproduces the image.
Fun Fact: Digital printing uses a colour management system, which keeps images looking the same despite where they are printed.