The development of printing in the 20th century

The development of printing in the 20th century

Beginning with the invention of the offset techniques, the 20th century saw the steady development of innovations in the direction of mass production, speed, and economy.

At the same time, lithography was undergoing a new evolution. After the first mechanical presses had been perfected, this process had developed along two lines: (1) printing on thin sheets of metal (for example, tinplate for packaging canned foods) using a transfer process (1878) in which the impression cylinder carrying the metal sheet to be printed did not come in contact with the stone but did with an intermediary cylinder covered with rubber, the blanket, which transferred the image from the stone to the metal; and (2) printing on paper, which was done only comparatively infrequently in the last years of the 19th century, on cylinder or rotary presses.

In 1904 at Nutley, New Jersey, an American printer, Ira W. Rubel, discovered that an image accidentally transferred from the plate cylinder of his rotary to the rubber blanket of the impression cylinder during a paper-feed stoppage could itself be used for printing and in fact produced a superior impression. Rubel and an associate constructed a three-cylinder press, the first offset press, the term since used to describe this increasingly popular printing device.

As the century progressed the techniques of putting the image on the printing machine grew in complexity, using more and more the advances of computerisation. Slowly towards the end of the 20th century dramatic changes hit the print and publishing world when more and more the printed page was dropped to be replaced by a digital screen onto which word and illustration was individually viewed.

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