Goldsmith and inventor Johannes Gutenberg was the first person to build a printing press in Europe. At a time when many people could not read or write their own name and books could cost as much as several years’ wages, his invention revolutionised communication and education. Around the same time, explorers were setting out from the English city of Bristol to explore the new world, but all their documents and charts for the voyage would have had to have been painstakingly handwritten. There were no printers in Bristol at that time.
Gutenberg’s contribution to modern society cannot be overstated. Printing presses based on his design made it possible to quickly and accurately produce many copies of a document, instead of thee traditional hand written method. This meant books became affordable, and literacy increased. Soon, cities like Frankfurt, Paris, London, and even Bristol would have had their own printers. If someone had written a book, they could have it typeset and produce multiple copies which they could then sell.
But individual documents continued to be handwritten. Setting type for printing took longer than writing a single copy of a manuscript. It was also more complicated, as the type had to be inserted back to front, like a negative image is used to produce a photograph. Printers in Bristol and other cities would have had minimum order requirements. This would have been the lowest number of copies they were prepared to print, before setting the type became uneconomical. Otherwise, if you had wanted to commission a smaller print run or even create a single copy, you would have to pay more. No one would print a document for the sake of neatness – handwritten text was still considered far more elegant than printing, and carried the personal touch.
Over the following centuries, printing techniques continued to develop. Improvements were made in the neatness of text, clarity of images, and the speed of the process as a whole. Great seats of learning grew up in major cities, such as the University of Bristol, which owed much to the printers who made their extensive libraries possible. Printing was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, as it made it possible for the practices which were revolutionising workplaces to be written down and communicated for application on a larger scale.
The newspaper industry was made possible by printing technology, which led to people becoming better educated about current affairs. First steam power, and then electrical power were used to drive presses, which were improved to the point where they could create over one thousand copies per minute. Newspapers such as the Bristol Post have only been made possible due to such printers.
Today, printing technology has again leaped ahead, to the point where many of us now have a printer at home, and they are considered essential equipment in an office. They have been combined with scanners and photocopiers to produce all in one business machines. Such printers are available from Image Business Machines of Bristol.