Early Printing in Graphic Design

Graphic design is an important art form for visual communication and problem-solving. It comes in many forms, using some or a combination of typography, photography, iconography and illustrations. Designers have the important role of creating and combining symbols, images and text into a new form to communicate some message. Typography and page layout techniques are the foundation in which visual designers develop upon. Graphic design is a broad field which encompasses logos, branding, editorial design, environmental design, advertising, web design, product packaging, and signage.

As Graphic Design is about visual communication, it can be found all across the world throughout history, including pre-historic cave paintings. As technology improved, graphic design became a regular tool for humans to express ideas between one another. One of the most influential devices for civilization is the printing press, which allowed knowledge to be spread easier though mass production.

A poster by Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha, papier à cigarette (Job), 1896. © Mucha Trust 2018.

A page from the Book of Hours

Illuminated manuscripts were incredibly ornate books which held religious content such as verses. They were done painstankly by hand and took years to produce. Due to the labor involved, these manuscripts were reserved for the wealthiest of patreons.

Chinese Rotating Type Case

The first innovator in printing technology was Wang Zhen, a Chinese mechanical engineer of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). While his invention was important, it did not take off due to the Chinese language being based on several thousands of complicated characters.

Detail view of the The Gutenburg Bible.

One of the first mass produced books was the Gutenburg Bible. It was also known as the 42-line bible as most of the pages were printed to fit 42 lines of text on them. 

Printing press technology continued to evolve with the needs at the time.
Below are the most notable examples:

Lithography – 1796

is a technique sometimes used to this day. involves a process of oil and water to create colored prints.

Rotary Press – 1843

A giant press using cylinders to improve printing speeds by having paper being constantly fed though the press

Screen Printing – 1910

The technique involves pushing ink through a mesh stencils onto textiles or paper.

Inkjet Printing – 1951

Inkjet printing is one of the most common ways of printing today. Direct contact with paper is no longer required, instead ink can now be applied by spraying it through jets. 

Laser Printing – 1969

Depending on the print job, Laser printing is better than inkjet. This advanced method produces high quality images by passing a laser beam back and forth, then collecting electrically charged powdered ink to transfer the image to the paper.

Digital Printing – 1991

Digital Printing made it possible to print straight from digital files, making it very easy for anyone to print from their home.

Printing Press to Printer


Wednesday – Friday 12pm – 4pm
Saturday & Sunday 11am – 5pm
1st Thursday of the month 12pm – 7pm



Fitchburg Art Museum
185 Elm Street, Fitchburg, MA 01420
Phone 978.345.4207


Click Here
Translate »