Printing made easy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2008, 12:00am

Printing and Presses

Choose the right antonym (opposite): common, unofficial, with difficulty

Until the invention of the printing press, books were handwritten. This made books rare and very expensive.

Fabric designers in ancient times used carved woodblocks to decorate cloth and paper. In ninth century China, printers used the same method to print texts.

As Chinese writing uses characters, woodblock printing was efficient. But as European languages build words from single letters, woodblocks were great for printing pictures but not for text.

This changed when German inventor Johannes Gutenberg created type: small metal blocks, each with a single raised letter. Gutenberg arranged his type into rows, put them into woodblock printing presses, and printed pages.

Because type could be rearranged easily, and reused for many years, this form of printing was very efficient. In 1454, Gutenberg produced 180 copies of the Bible in just one year. It was a job that would take official copyists decades.

Today Gutenberg is credited with the invention of the modern printing press.

Johannes Gutenberg (1400 - 1468)

Fill in the gaps: quarrelled, partnership, financiers

Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born around 1400 in Mainz, Germany. The Gutenbergs were goldsmiths. When his father died, Gutenberg moved to Strasbourg. He tried various jobs, but finally bought a ________________ in a block-printing firm.

When Gutenberg went back to Mainz in 1448, he persuaded ________________ Johann Fust and Peter Schoffer to help him set up his own printing press. Gutenberg created metal type and the business became successful.

However, when the three partners ________________ in 1455, the financiers took over the business. Left with no money, Gutenberg disappeared for many years.

Fortunately Gutenberg's achievement was recognised in his lifetime. In January 1465, the ruler of Mainz gave the inventor a state pension and a place at court.

Bi Sheng (990-1051 AD)

Choose the correct alternative:

Chinese inventor Bi Sheng was the first to create letters or characters that can be reused/refused.

Working between 1041 and 1048, Bi Sheng craved/carved characters into blocks of clay and baked them hard in a fire. He then arranged these blocks in a metal frame, and hand-printed books and poems.

However, as Bi Sheng's type broke very easily, later printers used wooden characters. It wasn't until 1490 that Hua Sui made bronze type. His first book painted/printed with this type, Zhu Chen Zou Yi, is now in the National Central Library of Taipei, Taiwan.

Making Paper

Find words that mean: material, mash, have enough money

Ts'ai Lun, an official at the imperial court of China around 105AD, invented paper. He created it from cloth, mulberry fibres and hemp.

In the late 1700s European manufacturers made paper from wood and vegetable pulp. As this new paper was a lot cheaper, more people could afford to buy books.

fab fact!

The word 'paper' comes from the papyrus reed that grows along the shores of the Nile in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus fibres to make sheets that could be written on. Papyrus is so tough, some records still survive today.

fab fact!

In Europe, the first books were made on parchment, a thin material made from animal skin. Unfortunately this was very expensive. In Gutenberg's time, a book cost as much as a farm!

fab fact!

The oldest-known woodblock-printed book from China is a Buddhist scripture of the Wu Zetian period. Printed between 684 and 705AD, this treasure was discovered in Turfan, Xinjiang province in 1906.


Answer the following questions. To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1. What are ancient Egyptian documents made of?

a. velum made from animal skin

b. silk sheets made from mulberries

c. papyrus reed

2. Woodblock-printed books first appeared in China:

a. around 800BC

b. around 800AD

c. around 1200AD

3. Who made type from baked clay?

a. Bi Sheng between 1041 and 1048

b. Ts'ai Lun around 105AD

c. Hua Sui in 1490

4. Who made paper from cloth and hemp?

a. Bi Sheng between 1041 and 1048

b. Ts'ai Lun around 105AD

c. Hua Sui in 1490

5. What was Gutenberg's profession?

a. financier

b. court official

c. goldsmith

6. What was Gutenberg's first big printing project?

a. The Bible

b. Anderson's Fairy Tales

c. daily newspaper for Mainz


Antonyms: rare, official, easily

Fill in the gaps: partnership, financier, quarrelled

Correct alternative: reused, carved, printed

Synonyms: fibre, pulp, afford

Quiz: 1. c, 2. b, 3. a, 4. b, 5. c, 6. a