Printing is the production of an image, text or colour on paper or other durable surfaces. It involves using a master form to produce a number of identical copies. This can be a single copy of a priceless painting, or hundreds of thousands of copies of a text or picture.
The earliest surviving examples of woodblock printing on paper are fragments from China, dated to the Han Dynasty. These include a silk with flowers printed in three colours. However, the earliest dated pieces of printing in the West are found in the Mainz Psalter (1459) and the Venice Psalter (1469).
In the 15th century, printing was big business. By the end of the century, there were nearly four hundred printers in Venice, with an estimated 30,000 in the city of Mainz. As industrial and scientific development increased, the printing press allowed for mass production of books.
Until the era of movable type, writing was based on a limited set of abstract symbols. The early “journeyman printers” had freedom to roam Europe, setting type for their printing, and then printing wherever they went.
Movable type facilitated more creative modes of printing. The word “printing” originated from the Latin premere, meaning “to make”. It was developed by Johann Gutenberg in 1440, and the printing press was introduced in Venice in 1469.
Movable type was a crucial innovation, since it allowed for more versatile and inventive forms of printing. Rather than being fixed to a metal plate, the movable type could be detached and redistributed as needed.