moveable type

Moveable type and plate

Paper, second century – “The idea of stamping images is natural if you have paper, but until then, it’s economically unaffordable.” — Charles C. Mann

The printing press, 1430s – its invention was the turning point at which “knowledge began freely replicating and quickly assumed a life of its own.”

Moveable type – Gutenberg combined several processes that had already been developed in a novel way to print books; his methods were further improved by those who followed him. His genius was to combine type casting, ink, and a printing press into a system that could mass produce books.

Printing press – a device for evenly printing ink onto a print medium (substrate) such as paper or cloth. The device applies pressure to a print medium that rests on an inked surface made of movable type, thereby transferring the ink.

Print-on-demand – new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, which means books can be printed one at a time. “Print on demand” developed after digital printing began.

What’s the problem?
Rather than having to hand write each page of text, work out a process to assemble all the letters and spaces and transfer that directly to another sheet of paper. Then make more copies of that exact page quickly and efficiently.

  • Ask – By making a reverse image of a letter, applying ink to the surface, and pressing the reverse on a page, the normal image can be transferred to a piece of paper. Using the idea of a stamp, how can that be extended to print a whole page at one time?
  • Imagine – If the entire page of text is lined up as a reverse, how can the printing process be improved to print many copies? How can simple machines be added to make the work go more quickly?
  • Design, Build – Millions of pages of newspapers are printed every day. How can the process of printing be further improved?
  • Improve – The internet has changed how people buy books and print books. How is technology changing printing today?

That’s engineering

  • automation – the printing press automates the process of inking the reverse text, pressing it against the paper, and advancing the paper to repeat the process for the next copy of this page.

Engineering ideas

  • metal casting, forms, pressure

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • Make individual letters and words, then assemble them to use to print.

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