The most touching epitaph I ever encountered was on the tombstone of the printer of Edinburgh. It said simply: “He kept down the cost and set the type right.” —Gregory Nunn

Welcome to Compass Rose Horizons.
We offer expert proofreading, editing, book design, eBook conversion, and transcription services.


Newspaper Printing

U.S. News & World Report employee working on producing an issue of the magazine at the presses and plate making room in the production plant, Dayton, Ohio, 1957.

Printing is a process for production of texts and images, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing.


Printing was first conceived and developed in China and Korea. Primitive woodblock printing was already in use by the 6th century in China. The oldest known surviving printed document is a Buddhist scripture recently discovered in Korea, which dates to 751. The oldest surviving book printed using the more sophisticated block printing, the Chinese Diamond Sutra (a Buddhist scripture), dates from 868. The movable type printer was invented by Bi Sheng in 1041 during Song Dynasty China. The movable type metal printing press was invented in Korea in 1234 by Chwe Yoon Eyee during the Goryeo Dynasty—216 years ahead of Gutenberg in 1450. By the 12th and 13th centuries many Chinese libraries contained tens of thousands of printed books. The oldest extant movable metal-type book is the Jikji, printed in 1377 in Korea.

There is little direct evidence, but it is highly probable that the Far East printing technology diffused into Europe through the trade routes from China which went through India and on through the Arabic world. Johann Gutenberg, of the German city of Mainz, developed European printing technology. Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer experimented with him in Mainz. Basing the design of his machine on a wine-press, Gutenberg developed the use of raised and movable type, and from the start used oil-based inks.

The development of the printing press revolutionized communication and book production leading to the spread of knowledge. A printing press was built in Venice in 1469, and by 1500 the city had 417 printers. In 1470 Johann Heynlin set up a printing press in Paris. In 1476 a printing press was developed in England by William Caxton. The Italian Juan Pablos set up an imported press in Mexico City in 1539. Stephen Day was the first to build a printing press in what is now the United States at Massachusetts Bay in 1628, and helped establish the Cambridge Press.

Early print shops (near the time of Gutenberg) were run by “master printers.” These printers owned shops, selected and edited manuscripts, determined the sizes of print runs, sold the works they produced, raised capital, and organized distribution. They hired apprentices, journeyman, compositors, and pressmen to help out.

  • Print Shop Apprentices: Usually between the ages of 15 and 20, worked for master printers. Apprentices were not required to be literate, and literacy rates at the time were very low, in comparison to today. Apprentices prepared ink, dampened sheets of paper, and assisted at the press. An apprentice who wished to learn to become a compositor had to learn Latin and spend time under the supervision of a journeyman.
  • Journeyman Printers: After completing their apprenticeships, journeyman printers were free to roam Europe with their tools of trade and print where they journeyed to. This facilitated the spread of printing to areas that were less print-centered.
  • Compositors: Those who set the type for printing.
  • Pressmen: Those who ran the press, a physically demanding job.

The earliest-known image of a European, Gutenberg-style print shop is the Dance of Death by Matthias Huss, at Lyon, 1499. This image depicts a compositor standing at a compositor’s case being grabbed by a skeleton. The case is raised to facilitate his work. The image also shows a pressman being grabbed by a skeleton. To the right of the print shop a bookshop is shown.

In Prints and Visual Communication, William Ivins offers the following concise history of a series of rapid innovations in image and type printing at the end of the eighteenth century:

“At the end of the eighteenth century there were several remarkable innovations in the graphic techniques and those that were utilized to make their materials. Bewick developed the method of using engraving tools on the end of the wood. Senefelder discovered lithography. Blake made relief etchings. Early in the nineteenth century Stanhope, George E. Clymer, Koenig and others introduced new kinds of type presses, which for strength surpassed anything that had previously been known.”

In 2006 there are approximately 30,700 printing companies in the United States, accounting for $112 billion, according to the 2006 U.S. Industry & Market Outlook by Barnes Reports.

Methods and Formats of Managing Financial Outlay

Court records from the city of Mainz document that Johannes Fust was, for some time, Gutenberg’s financial backer.

By the sixteenth century, jobs associated with printing were becoming increasingly specialized. Structures supporting publishers were more and more complex, leading to this division of labor. In Europe between 1500 and 1700 the role of the Master Printer was dying out and giving way to the bookseller/publisher. Printing during this period had a stronger commercial imperative than previously. Risks associated with the industry, however, were substantial, although dependent on the nature of the publication.

Bookseller publishers negotiated at trade fairs and at print shops. Jobbing work appeared in which printers did menial tasks in the beginning of their careers to support themselves.

Between 1500 and 1700, publishers developed several new methods of funding projects.

  • Cooperative associations/publication syndicates—a number of individuals shared the risks associated with printing and shared in the profit. This was pioneered by the French.
  • Subscription publishing—pioneered by the English in the early 17th century. A prospectus for a publication was drawn up by a publisher to raise funding. The prospectus was given to potential buyers who signed up for a copy. If there were not enough subscriptions the publication did not go ahead. Lists of subscribers were included in the books as endorsements. If enough people subscribed a reprint might occur. Some authors used subscription publication to bypass the publisher entirely.
  • Installment publishing—books were issued in parts until a complete book had been issued. This was not necessarily done under a specific time-allotment. It was an effective method of spreading cost over a period of time. It also allowed earlier returns on investment to help cover production costs of subsequent installments. The Mechanick Exercises by Joseph Moxon, published in London in 1683, is said to be the first publication done in installments.

Publishing trade organizations allowed publishers to organize business concerns collectively. Systems of self-regulation occurred in these arrangements. For example, if one publisher did something to irritate other publishers he would be controlled by peer pressure. These arrangements helped deal with labor unrest among journeymen, who faced difficult working conditions. Brotherhoods predated unions, without the formal regulations now associated with unions.

Modern Printing Technology

Books and newspapers are printed today using the technique of offset lithography. Other common techniques include flexography, relief print (mainly used for catalogs), screen printing, rotogravure, inkjet, hot wax dye transfer, and laser printing.

Digital printing primarily uses an electrical charge to transfer toner or liquid ink to the substrate it is printed on. Digital print quality has steadily improved from color and black & white copiers to sophisticated color digital presses like the Xerox iGen3, the Kodak Nexpress, and the HP Indigo series presses. The iGen3 and Nexpress use toner particles and the Indigo uses liquid ink. All three are made for small runs and variable data, and rival offset in quality. Digital offset presses are called direct imaging presses; although these receive computer files and automatically turn them into print-ready plates, they cannot do variable data.

Small press and fanzines generally use offset printing or xerography. Prior to the introduction of cheap photocopying the use of machines such as the spirit duplicator, hectograph, and mimeograph were common.

Is Your Manuscript Ready for the Printer?

Printing methods have changed a lot in the last ten years. Let us show you how you can embrace the new technologies and get your book to your audience in a cost-effective manner. E-mail: to learn more.

About Us
Contact Us
Proofreading & Editing
Editorial Rates
eBook Conversion & Design
Typesetting & Book Design
Gift Certificates
Now Available
Upcoming Releases
Grammar Tips
Publishing-Related Articles
Style Guides
Compass Rose Horizons