A very, very brief history of type technology

Before the printing press
Back in the middle ages books were rare items written by scribes. Originally these scribes were based in monasteries but by the 12th century there were many working for the university market.

As you can imagine, creating an entire book by hand was extremely labour intensive and took a very long time.

The invention of moveable type
Johannes Gutenberg was a German craftsman and inventor who perfected the method of printing from movable type; a system of printing and typograph that uses movable components to reproduce the elements or a document, usually individual letters or punctuation.

Many attribute Gutenberg as the inventor of movable type, however the Chinese actually invented it several centuries earlier.

It is certainly true to say however, that Gutenberg’s method and his introduction of moveable type printing to Europe in 1439 ignited the Printing Revolution and is considered widely as the most important event of the modern period.

Industrial Revolution
The printing press and the science of type cutting saw very few changes from the late 1500s to the late 1800s, just a handful of minor refinements. But with the industrial revolution, and the major innovations which resulted, came huge developments in printing technology.

With the introduction of steam power, hand operated printing presses were replaced with rotary steam presses, finishing the same jobs in 16% of the time.

Phototypesetting (the bit between the printing press and computers)
Phototypesetting was a method of setting type by using a photographic process to generate columns of type on a film or photosensitive paper for reproduction.

Phototypesetters were produced in mass from around 1949 but they were quickly made obsolete with the growing popularity of personal computers in the 80s.

Let’s get digital
Today our computers and laptops come with a long list of fonts to choose from. We simply select and type, it really couldn’t be easier and for those not satisfied with Times New Roman or Arial, the internet bares an innumerable selection to pick over and download for free or for a price.

Though it may seem to many that the development of type technology has come to a standstill, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Where the creation of a typeface used to be in the hands of the professionals, today you can design your own digital font in the comfort of your home using software on your desktop.