The history of printing can be traced back to the earliest known clay tablets from the Near East. Over the course of time, individuals started to learn other means to apply and distribute visual or written information on thin slates with other materials like wood, clay, stone and sometimes even ink. It was only a matter of time before people developed more permanent forms of printing and more sophisticated methods to stamp images onto these materials. Printing development moved forward and became much more complex and much more expensive as early civilizations developed more complex machines to manufacture printed textiles.
One of the earliest types of printing development was the Chinese printing press, which used vertical slats of clay called ‘censorship blocks’ in order to print text. In general, censorship blocks are rectangular in shape and made of either wood or metal. They were joined together by vertically inserting little strips of metal called ‘roman heads’ into the block. The printing process took between two and four hours, depending on how complex the block design was.
The development of the printing press spread gradually across the Middle East, especially Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq and Iran). By the 7th century B.C., scribes in ancient China had devised a similar method to stamping images onto textiles. The development of alphabets and signs (called ‘maagals’) also led to the evolution of the printing press technology in China. The first recorded use of this technology was in the annalofelabra, a record-keeping tool used by the Chinese high priests. The use of alphabets led to the first written record in China, which were called ‘hundred characters’ or ‘katakoms’ by the early Mongolian and Tibetansan writers.
The development of the printing press continued to progress in Europe during the Middle Ages. In Europe, the development occurred first in the Italian city-state of Milan. The printing press was developed in this city and was used by the Catholic Church to mass produce printed texts for worship and missionary activity. This made the Milanese press the first “pocket press,” since this type of presses were first designed to be carried in pockets. The Venetian town of Genoa developed a similar press, but it was not used to mass produce printed pamphlets. It was instead used to mass print documents and legal briefs.
Printing continued to evolve in Europe throughout the following centuries. In fifteenth-century Spain, the development of movable type printing press took place. This development came about as a response to developments in printing technology taking place in Europe’s cities like those in Rome. As printing technologies improved, so did the capabilities of the printing press. Printing developed in other areas of Europe, including England, during the fifteenth century.
A printing press was developed in England during the sixteenth century for the printing of text. Most early pamphlets that are known to have been published in England were printed from a copypress or printer that was commonly referred to as a “poster press.” The development of printing made pamphlets less expensive to produce and more affordable to send across the country. This made the printing of pamphlets across the country possible.
A printing press developed in Italy around the fifteenth century to mass produce text pamphlets. By this time, printing could be done on a large scale, making improvements to the inked document printing process. An example of this development would eventually become the facsimile machine, which would eventually become very popular in Europe. The development of the printing press involved the development of a more automated process of transferring the inked design to paper.
Throughout Europe, ink engraving continued to progress. By the eighteenth century, it had developed to the point where an artist could inlay designs onto a medium. After the development of the printing press, pamphlets and textiles became cheaper and more accessible to ordinary citizens, as well as the higher social classes within society. These improvements to printing media would ultimately make the pamphlets more appealing to the average person. Printing media would also become more widely available throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to improvements to the railroad. This would further improve the appeal of print materials to the general public.