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Printing, History of

Paul Arblaster


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In the broadest sense, printing is any means by which a pattern, text, or image is impressed on another surface. The creation of an impression in clay or wax with a seal, or in metal with a punch, and the printing of patterns on textiles are all ancient arts that bear some similarity to printing proper. Paper money, wallpaper, official forms, tickets, texts, images, and many other things have been and are printed with ink on paper. The concern here will be with the printing of texts on paper. By the ninth century, printing texts in ink on paper by means of relief-carved wooden blocks was a widespread practice in East Asia. The paper to be printed on was laid face down upon the inked block and rubbed over with a hand-held implement to transfer the ink. The earliest use of printing was for the reproduction of texts from the Buddhist scriptures, a ritualized pious deed not necessarily implying that such texts would be read. Some of the oldest examples of printing to survive were deposited in stupas (monuments housing Buddhist relics) in such a way as to be inaccessible to readers. Printing was, however, rapidly applied to many different forms of textual and pictorial reproduction. China was not only the place where woodblock printing (xylography) was invented, but also the first place where movable type was cast in clay or carved as individual hardwood blocks. The first recorded use ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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