Printing Timeline

  • The earliest surviving woodblock printings are from China. They are of silk printed with images of flowers in three colours and date from before 220 CE.
  • In China from about 500CE block printing with blocks with multiple separate compartments  were used to allow different dye colours to be put in different compartments permitting multi colour block printing with one impression.
  • From the 7th C prints are found on paper in China.
  • Paper as a writing medium was in widespread use in China in 3rd  C.
  • In 751 Samarkand had the first paper mill in the Islamic World. Paper reaches Europe via Bagdad and Muslim Iberia in 11c.
  • By the 9th C in China printing on paper had taken off and the first extant complete printed book containing its date is the Diamond Sutra (British Library) of 868. See object 2 link
  • This technique was transmitted to Europe via the Islamic world, and by around 1400 was being used on paper for old master prints and for playing cards.
  • Block printing developed in Arabic Egypt during the 9th C  mostly for prayers and amulets.
  • Block printing first came to Europe as a method for printing religious images on cloth, where it was common by the end of the 13th C.
  • Printing in Europe switched to paper when paper became readily available at the end of the 14th C.
  • Around 1040 the first known movable type system was created in China.  
  • Copper movable type printing originated in China at the beginning of the 12th century. It was used for printing  paper money. See object 19 link
  • Around 1230, Koreans invented a metal type movable printing using bronze. The Korean form of metal movable type was described by the French scholar Henri-Jean Martin as “extremely similar to Gutenberg’s.”
  • Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the first movable type printing system in Europe. His innovations included using an advanced alloy for the type, advances to the screw-press, the use of an oil-based ink, and the creation of a softer and more absorbent paper.
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Printing on fabric

Printing on fabric, especially in multiple colours is a complex business. Many dyes require a mordant to fix the dye, i.e. make it stay in the cloth.

The most common mordants  were  minerals called Alums based variously on potassium, sodium or aluminium  salts. 

Once the mordant has been applied  and dried the fabric can be dyed. By applying the mordant to only parts of the material it is possible to create patterns.  

A substance like wax can also be used to cover parts of the material that are not to absorb the dye  to create more complex patterns. This  technique is called resist dyeing. By repeatedly applying resists in different patterns and applying different dyes complex colour patterns can be created. 

Carving through the resist allows fine lines to be created  and the  use of stencils can give repeatability to the design.