As we progress into the 21st century it is difficult to imagine a world without print. In fact, there are very few places on earth were print does not exist, no signs, billboards, newspapers, letters, packaging, books or money. For the last 500 years, printing has been a growth industry, and as we will discover, the industry to mass-produce a product.
To discover the history of automation and process integration in the prepress and print industries, we journey back in time, back to the Han Dynasty circa 220 A.D. in China. Here, an inventive soul carved the image of flower on a piece of stone then, made a hand rubbing of the image using dyes to mark a piece of silk cloth. This seemingly innocent act is the first known example of print and it would change the way humans communicate for millennium to follow.
In Chinese culture, four great inventions are celebrated to this day, inventions they spread to the rest of the world. They are the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and print. Two of these inventions create the foundation of our industry today; papermaking pre-dated the invention of print by almost 200 years. In these early years though paper was not a suitable substrate for printing, in fact it was mainly used for another purpose that is still popular today. Think soft, absorbent; multiply rolls used in a small private rooms for hygiene, (yes the Chinese invented toilet paper around 25 A.D.) documents on the other hand, were written on parchment or velum, a substance made from animal skins.
Although the term prepress would not be used for centuries, it clearly predates print; the stones must have been engraved prior to printing. To understand how prepress has led the advancement and technical evolution of the print industry, we need to follow the path of innovation a path that leads us from the Orient through Persia to Medieval Europe.
From China, printing travelled through Korea to Japan, in the early years, printing was mostly used to decorate textiles. (We will discover in later years that prepress technology and textile technology share unique relationships). The art of printmaking relied on stone carvings until the Tang Dynasty (670 A.D.) it is here that woodblock carvings began to replace stone, it is during this period as well that paper began to be used as a print substrate. Two early uses of paper printing are of Buddhist texts, the Dharani Sutra printed on hemp paper around 650 to 670 A.D. and the Lotus Sutra approximately 690 to 699 A.D.
From the birth of print to the earliest examples of printed-paper spans a period of six hundred years. This evolution continues at an increasing pace throughout history. Next, we will explore the origins of two technologies that enabled development of the modern printing process.
Image Source: Jin dynasty government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons