How Technology Changed the Print Industry

Technology has completely rebuilt so many industries, including entertainment, journalism, factory processing and, of course, the print sector. During the last 100 years, the print industry has combined with some of the greatest digital advancements, to revamp how we print and the results we can achieve…

Print started out as letterpress, when printers would actually use their bare hands to produce documents – yes, it was 100% manual labour.

Letterpress printing has recently undergone somewhat of a trendy makeover, with bespoke projects using the art form on the increase (read our sister agency’s blog on the re-emergence of letterpress printing).

There is even statistical research to back up the opinion that digital printing is only going to grow as further investment is put into improving techniques and machinery:

“Digital printing market analysis shows that the industry will grow from $131.5 billion in 2013 to $187.7 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 7.4%.” [Source: Smithers Pira]

In fact, further research from Smithers Pira reveals that offset printing is set to fall in volume by 2018:

“The volume of all offset prints will fall by 10.2% across the world between 2008 and 2018, while digital print volume is forecast to grow by 68.1%.” [Source: Smithers Pira]

It’s important to understand just how far print has come in such a short space of time, which is why we’re sharing this timeline from Wikipedia about the History of Printing: 

Woodblock printing 200
Movable type 1040
Printing press c. 1440
Etching c. 1515
Mezzotint 1642
Aquatint 1772
Lithography 1796
Chromolithography 1837
Rotary press 1843
Hectograph 1869
Offset printing 1875
Hot metal typesetting 1884
Mimeograph 1886
Photostat and Rectigraph 1907
Screen printing 1910
Spirit duplicator 1923
Xerography 1938
Phototypesetting 1949
Inkjet printing 1951
Dye-sublimation 1957
Dot matrix printing 1968
Laser printing 1969
Thermal printing c. 1972
3D printing 1984
Digital press 1993

It’s incredible to think that digital press was the last significant marker on the printing timeline, way back in 1993 (at the time there were only 130 websites in existence). 

Since then, there have been a number of advancements in more bespoke methods of printing, as well as constant improvements and expansions in the industry itself.

Digital print is now the biggest growth industry in the Modern Age of Print, with environmental advantages which far outweigh those of print techniques gone by, through the reduced use of chemicals, decreased waste and improved energy efficiency. 

On demand printing – using computer processing software – has also rapidly grown alongside the technological improvements of computer equipment and allows the print industry to become much more accessible to the everyday user.

On top of all of that, there is even the projected growth of websites like ours,, by 2017, Print Is Big expects online print sales to take up 50% of all orders. 

What is your favourite fact about digital printing and print technology? Let us know by tweeting @TradePrintUK