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Volume Printing Now and Then - Desktop Publishing History

"Why desktop printers and copy machines are so cool!"


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© J. Bear
Nowadays printing 1000 copies of a flier is as easy as printing one. Desktop Publishing brought document creation and printing to our desktops only a couple of decades ago — a lifetime ago for some readers but a drop in the bucket compared to the history of printing and publishing. Today, volume printing can be as simple as typing in a number in a print dialog box.
Printing Factoid #1
 It was the introduction of both the Apple LaserWriter, a PostScript desktop printer, and Aldus PageMaker (now Adobe) that kicked off the Desktop Publishing revolution. 
When was desktop publishing invented?
For really large quantities and high quality we still rely on commercial printing and copying. Yet that too has changed, getting easier and more efficient. But change has been slow.

Copy Machines aren't antiques yet

Don't look down on the lowly copy machine. Prior to the 1960's to get a large number of copies of a document required that you have it commercially printed — or use lots of carbon paper (you do remember carbon paper, right?) when first creating the document. Then came Chester Carlson and the birth of xerography. XeroxTM became synomous with photocopies, making it faster, easier, and more economical than ever to make duplicates of any type of document.

Photo-mechanical composition and laser technology advances in printing came rapidly, but not until this century. Creating type by hand didn't give way to typesetting machines such as the Linotype until the late 1880's.

The Information Highway is not so new

In America, Benjamin Franklin is famous as an inventor, a statesman, and a writer. His prolific use of the printing press was just one way in which this "new" technology shaped our nation — through the distribution of information and political idealogy during revolutionary times.
Printing Factoid #2
 While Gutenberg gets most of the credit in the history books, William A. Lavelette, a lesser-known Black American inventor, patented a printing press in 1878 which greatly improved on the quality of printing. Until his innovations, the emphasis among printers was on high volume at the sacrifice of quality and readability. His printing press was more efficient and produced more legible printing than earlier presses. 
The printing presses of the 1800's and earlier were used chiefly for widespread dissemination of books, religious, and political treatises, and other documents for the masses.

Before the desktop laser and inkjet there was the desktop typewriter

At the same time that commercial printing was coming of age, desktop printing of another type was also gaining in popularity. The typewriter would revolutionize office printing.
Printing Factoid #3
 Writers and word processing professionals are familiar with the double-spaced, front of page only format common to manuscripts and reports. Did you know that this standard format was popularized by Mark Twain, an early convert to the use of the typewriter? 
There were many early attempts at typewriting machines, but finally in the 1870's Christopher Sholes constructed a typewriting machine that incorporated the now familiar QWERTY keyboard layout. Combined with carbon paper, the typewriter was the precursor to today's desktop printer and desktop copier.
Printing Factoid #4
 The term cc, used today in all types of correspondence, including email, to identify a courtesy copy or additional recipient, originated in the heydey of typewriters and carbon paper. cc stood for "carbon copy" and indicated that a carbon copy of the original typed document was supplied to additional recipients. 

Knowledge for the masses, then and now

Yet as primitive as the early typewriters and printing presses seem today, they are major advances over the printing tools of early centuries. The 1400s saw the birth of volume printing by mechanical means.

Johannes Gutenberg's development of a printing press with moveable type took printing out of the hands (literally) of a select few and made it accessible to the general public. At the same time it made the written word available to the masses.

In fact, the widespread dissemination of knowledge (books) made possible by the printing press can be likened to the widespread dissemination of knowledge (and a large dose of nonsense!) made possible by the next major wave in printing — electronic publishing and the World Wide Web.

Printing Factoid #5
 The printing press of Gutenberg borrowed from other presses of the day: textile, papermaking and wine presses. Basically, it pressed words onto paper. 
I hope you've enjoyed this journey back in time to the roots of desktop and commercial printing. Jumping back to the present and future, in the sidebar are resources to help you get the most from your desktop printer or the best quality from commerically printed files.

Pick Your Path to Desktop Publishing
Get Started:Basic Guidelines and Requirements for Desktop Publishing
Choose Software:Desktop Publishing and Design Software
Tips & Tutorials:How to Do Desktop Publishing
Training, Education, Jobs: Careers in Desktop Publishing
In the Classroom: Back to School With Desktop Publishing
Make Something: Things to Make Using Desktop Publishing
Use Templates: T emplates for Print and Web Publishing

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