I was heading towards this blog with a future enabled printing extravaganza angle – witness the Augmented Reality enabled business card from the future! etc. etc… but the real selling point of print in a digital age has always been tangibility, tactile-ness & (the final T) timelessness. Which got me thinking about the history of printables (pre-hipster timeline).
I suppose hand art on a stone wall would be the original stencil print. Dating well over 35,000 years ago. However in the realms of paper; I think the earliest printing technique was woodblock printing in China (before 220AD.)
Let’s move forward and talk about the inventor of movable type. Say hello to Bi Sheng, a commoner of China born in 990AD. His ancestry had no recorded details and Sheng was only mentioned once in an essay describing the technical process. His invention was movable type using heated iron plates, clay tablet type and a paste made of pine resin, wax and paper ash. This was then improved upon somewhere near 1300AD by a government official, Wang Zhen and then again by a wealthy printer named Hua Sui around 1490AD. Just imagine trying to create movable type for a language(s) with thousands of characters!
Let’s fly forwards and around the globe now to Germany. Meet Johannes Gutenberg, a blacksmith, goldsmith printer and publisher who introduced Europe to mechanical moveable type printing. This started the Printing Revolution. Which really brought us humans into the modern period. Mass communication that didn’t need a thousand monks writing scroll copies verbatim. Imagine commoners (getting access to BOOKS?!) This destroyed the old “Literate Elite” giving information, education and a voice to the suddenly more literate masses. Even wikipedia states that this bolstered the emerging middle class and that this invention was regarded as the most important invention of the second millennium. More words, more education, more knowledge, more discussion and new ideas. Another effect of the mechanical printing press was the decline of Latin as other more regionalised languages became the norm in locally printed materials.
Lets fly to present day where we bathe in the luxury of so many printing processes. For instance offset printing, making it possible to print enormous quantities efficiently and cost-effectively as well as the Digital Press, affordability for lower volumes down to a single copy. We have thousands of paper stocks, printing effects and so many accurate colours to choose from.
We may be seeing a rise in more digital driven design, online, on screen, on every phone – however, none of this yet has the tactile feel, the tangibility or weight that a personal piece of print work has. I feel print has it’s place in this uber modern world. Be it mixing it in with modern technology in the form of Augmented Reality or as a standout point of difference. I think print has a more personal and important part to play now as ever. Treated with respect it can be something magical.