Note: This is the second post in a four-part series discussing the history of printing. Check back here for the next installments! Read Part I here.
Gutenberg’s printing press had already made its mark on the world, changing the way people shared, created, and consumed information. But printing was still expensive and slow. In 1798, that began to change when Alois Senefelder invented lithography printing.
Lithography had many advantages over the letterpress printing that Gutenberg invented, but its main benefit was that the paper used was cheaper. In lithography printing, a limestone printing plate is greased and then treated with acid and gum arabic, fixing the image into the stone. Cold water is then applied to the stone, followed by lithography ink. The ink coheres to the greased portions of the stone while the water repels it away from any areas that should not be printed. When paper is pressed on the stone, it creates a mirror image of the plate.
Lithography was a significant advancement in printing technology. However, it was very difficult to create the reverse lettering on the plates to print, and large quantities still couldn’t be printed quickly. In 1903, Ira Washington Rubel developed part of the solution to this drawback: offset printing, another form of lithography. Offset printing was of a higher quality than regular lithography.
By the 1950s, offset printing was the primary form of commercial printing. In fact, offset printing is still in use today for some books, newspapers, and magazines.