Visual Report on the History of Print/Graphic Design

Rock paintings

As long as there have been a form of human, there has been graphic art. The main foundation of what we now know today can be traced back as far as 30,000BC in the form of drawings.

There is evidence of this in the Chauvet caves in the South of France where the primitive people who lived there drawn the animals which surrounded them, showing great attention in particular to horses. Similar drawings can be found within the Lascaux caves from as early as 14,000BC. Other examples include the Bhimbetka rock shelters in India and Aboriginal rock art found in Kakadu national park in Australia.

Drawing of a horse from the Chauvet caves

Drawing from Lascaux cave














Woodblock printing

Woodblock printing is believed to have first appeared in China around the year 600, which allowed the wipe spread printing of books and various other forms of text. says about woodblock printing:

“Wood for printing blocks usually came from date or pear trees. Text to be printed was first written on a sheet of paper. The paper was then glued face-down to the wood block and, using a knife, the characters on the paper were carefully engraved on the wood. The surface of wood block was then inked and covered with a sheet of paper. By gently brushing the paper over the engraved characters, the text was printed.”

The oldest book to be made in this way which is still around today is The Diamond Sutra, created in 868, which is currently housed in the British Library in London after being locked away in a cave for 1000 years.

The original form of woodblock printing

Movable Type Print

However, this practise was found to be very time consuming, which led one man to invented movable-type printing sometime between 1041 and 1048. He did this by making individual stamps from clay, wood was often uneven after being dipped in ink, and his invention helped reduce the time it taken to print from several days to several hours. This type did not take off though due to the sheer size of the Chinese character set.

An example of movable type printing stamps

Movable Metal Type Print

Next up in the evolution of print, comes what many well respected sources consider to be one of the greatest things ever invented – The movable metal type print. Many believe that Johannes Gutenberg to be the brains behind it but he merely improved technology which already existed.

It is said that the first movable metal print was invented in Korea by a monk called Baegun, who printed a book compiling Buddhist sayings. The oldest book to be printed via this method is said to be Jikji, a volume of which can be found in the National Library of France.

Gutenberg’s Press

Gutenberg Press

While Johannes Gutenberg may not have invented it, he took the idea and made it much better and efficient, as all Germans do, as he went on to build his press over a decade. It worked by arranging

specially made pre cast letters and symbols in the order he wished and would then coat them in an oil based ink, rather than a water based one which was the common thing. This meant that he could print at a much faster rate than block printers.

The invention of the Gutenberg Press is so important to modern day printing because it is what started the Printing Revolution.

As printing presses popped up around Europe, and even the world, in the same ilk of Gutenberg’s Press, some decided to try to improve upon it. In 1800, Lord Stanhope created one made entire from cast iron which reduced the amount of force needed, while in 1810, Friedrich Koenig created the first non man powered pressing, which used steam to operate. The invention of the rotary printing press wouldn’t be too far behind these either.






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