The Roots of the Printed Image

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The Roots of the Printed Image

A look at the early days of image reproduction. 


With images and video becoming extremely popular media in the modern world, the thought of a world without any pictures is not exactly thrilling.  But, fortunately for all of our ancestors, this world never really existed.  And, thanks to DocX and their very reasonable office printers prices, it never will.  But, just for interest’s sake, let us take a look at the history of the Western printed image.


Even when books were written by hand, they had accompanying pictures.  These pictures, however, had to be hand drawn in each and every copy of the book, making their production a long and tedious affair.  However, around the time of the inception of Gutenberg’s printing press, circa 1450, the need for mass produced images arose.  Even then, when the world was just becoming acquainted with the printed word, it craved the accompaniment of images.  Thus, the technology for printing images was developed.


Simple enough in design, the first image printer used a block of wood, or sometimes metal, into which the image had been carved or cast, to produce endless, perfect replicas of the initial illustration.  As books began to be produced at an alarming rate, so did images.


The ability to widely distribute images had a significant impact on the world.  It advanced the field of medicine, because charts and graphs were then available to more practitioners.  It also impacted engineering, as instructional graphs for innovative machinery were readily available.  However, since many people prefer recreation over work, the printed product that was in the greatest demand was the playing card.


However, soon the printed image accompanied the spreading knowledge of art.  Great art was able to be printed in books, and people were given insight into ancient architecture and sculpture.  This knowledge boom is what fuelled the Renaissance.


With the growing thirst for imagery, printers began searching for ways to add detail to their prints.  Instead of simple line drawings, they attempted to add shading.  From this desire came the introduction of Mezzotint (from the Italian, ‘Half Light’), which was introduced in the 1700s and allowed gradation across images.  This technique produced images of much greater quality and realism, and paved the way for the eventual addition of colour.


Nowadays we have excellent printing companies like DocX, whose office printers prices make printing available to everyone.  But, in its early days, printing was a revolutionary idea whose inception forever changed the world.


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