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An Introduction to Printing

introduction : early history of printing : printing in europe : the spread of print : printing in england : printing in scotland : later printing illustration : type faces - gothic or black letter : roman : italic : paper : paper manufacture
Printing in Europe

The techniques of printing were developed in Europe by craftsmen ignorant of these advances in the Far East. As in China, the earliest printing took the form of illustrated sheets printed from carved wooden blocks (known as woodblock printing). These illustrations were largely religious in nature, simple in design, and meant to be coloured by hand, and were made by largely anonymous craftsmen, and very few examples have survived.

The development of printing took a dramatic step forward thanks to the technological advances made by Johan Gutenberg, a Goldsmith working in Mainz, Germany, in the middle of the 15th century.

His revolutionary idea was to use metal to cast each letter individually as a piece of ‘type’, so that a number of individual pieces (or letters) would be fitted together to make up a word, sentence, paragraph, and eventually an entire text or book. Once the printing had been finished, the type could be broken up from its settings, and re-used to print another book. This invention of ‘moveable’ (and re-useable) type enabled printing to become a viable economic alternative to making books by hand (known as manuscripts).

Gutenberg’s invention produced what is regarded as a landmark in the history of printing, and of western civilisation: an edition of the Bible in Latin, known as the Gutenberg Bible (or sometimes as the 42-line Bible, as each page is made up of 42 lines of type). It was made at his workshop in Mainz between 1453 and 1455, and was certainly complete by 1456. It consists of over 1,300 large pages, in two volumes, and although we do not know exactly how many copies were originally produced, we do know that 180 were offered for sale, and that forty-eight copies survive today, about twenty of them complete. The book was printed with two-colours, black and red, and was produced to an exceptionally high standard, even more so considering the experimental processes which must have been required to achieve any kind of result.

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