Printing has been an integral part of our society for thousands of years. Without it, the greatest scientific discoveries would have arrived centuries late, and news of historic events would never have reached us.

From the creation of woodcut printing in 200AD to modern-day digital printing techniques, through the years people have continued to find new and inventive ways to speed up and automate the print process…

Printing press

The printing press

A lot of the printing techniques we see today are owed to Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the first ‘movable type’ printing press in the middle of the 15th century. Four years in the making, the press rapidly increased the speed at which printed materials could be produced while also reducing the cost – resulting in printed texts becoming more widely available.

The rotary press

Invented by Richard March Hoe in 1843, the rotary press was the natural successor of the printing press. The first press suitable for large print runs, the rotary press was capable of printing up to 8,000 sheets an hour thanks to a rotating cylinder which paper could be continuously fed through.

The rotary press

Invented by Richard March Hoe in 1843, the rotary press was the natural successor of the printing press. The first press suitable for large print runs, the rotary press was capable of printing up to 8,000 sheets an hour thanks to a rotating cylinder which paper could be continuously fed through.

Letterpress printing

Letterpress originated in the 1400s and was the primary form of printing for 500 years and remained in wide use for books and other uses until the second half of the 20th century.

It is a relief printing process, which initially utilized raised metal type and engravings to imprint words and designs directly on a page.

Letter Press
A letterpress block of type – note this is all in mirror image as the image is transferred DIRECTLY onto the paper.

Litho printing (offset printing)

Although it was developed almost 150 years ago in 1875, litho printing is still the most popular way of printing long runs and gives the best quality. The process requires a method of transferring the original image onto a thin sheet of metal as a flat image (a litho plate).

Once the plate is attached to the top cylinder of the litho press, the image gets transferred to a rubber cylinder and then finally on to the paper – in much the same way today’s machines do.

Digital Printing

In the last 50 years or so, printing has evolved to become progressively more digital. Thanks to the invention of Inkjet Printing in 1951, direct contact with paper was no longer required and the ink is applied by spraying it through jets.

Laser Printing then came onto the scene in 1971 thanks to the Xerox Corporation. This method involves using a laser to transfer the image to a photosensitive selenium cylinder (called a ‘drum’) and then using toner to apply it directly to the paper.

Litho Printer
The litho plate is attached to the top cylinder. It transfers the image to the lower cylinder and then onto the paper below it.

However, due to high costs, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 1990s that laser printers became widely accessible to the public. 1991 was the real dawn of the digital age. The invention of Digital Printing made it possible to print straight from a digital file, meaning printing got faster and became more easily accessible to the masses.

You can see this Albion Press in our reception, dating all the way back to 1890 when it was used for the production of small quantities (approx. 100 copies) of posters, leaflets and small books. It is a fine example of a Letterpress Block printing press where the type (in mirror image) is pressed directly onto the paper. 

Looking to the future

Print has come a long way but with technological developments coming in thick and fast, there’s a lot more to be excited about for the future – especially when it comes to the likes of 3D printing and other developments such as nanography.

Today at A3, we achieve premium Digital Printing using our two top-of-the-range Heidelberg Versafire Digital presses, while our Litho Heidelberg Speedmaster can print an A2 sheet at a whopping 13,000 sheets per hour (single-sided) in full colour.

We also have on display in our reception an antique ‘Hand Press’ dating back to 1880 which is currently being restored.

Please get in touch today to find out more about the best printing options for your project.

You can see this Albion Press in our reception, dating all the way back to 1890 when it was used for the production of small quantities (approx. 100 copies) of posters, leaflets and small books. It is a fine example of a Letterpress Block printing press where the type (in mirror image) is pressed directly onto the paper.