From Egypt over China to Europe: we owe the book in its contemporary form to a centuries-long evolution influenced by power, religion, and inventive spirit. Novum publishing traces back the history of printing and shows how it works today.


The Egyptians already did it: they imprinted characters in vessels or bricks made of clay in order to communicate or record events and facts. This was the primitive precursor of actual printing. Cicero was the first to establish a kind of typeset by composing individual carved or cast letters. But it would still take more than a millennium before the typeset was finally invented.

To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.

Marcus Tullius Cicero.

It was 593 BC when the Chinese emperor Wen Di ordered the collection of all writings that had not yet been published in order to cut them into wood and to distribute them. This method is called woodblock printing, another precursor of printing which made it possible to copy large amounts of information for the first time.

The genius Gutenberg and the history of printing

Johannes Gensfleisch from the German city of Mainz – called Johannes Gutenberg – finally paved the way for printing as we know it today. Gutenberg made his type pieces of metal, he invented printing ink by adapting regular ink for his purposes, and finally, the printing press itself was his invention, too. Movable type page setting was born. Gutenberg used this new method mostly for printing Bibles in Latin. The oldest Gutenberg Bible dates back to 1451.

In the centuries that followed, the first printing plants appeared everywhere in Europe. Mostly, letters of indulgence, calendars, books, and Martin Luther’s writings were printed. However, the number of printed items was completely different from what we are used to today. At that time, an edition consisted of about 200 copies.


Revolutionary typesetting methods

The practice of using manually movable type page setting only changed when typesetting machines were introduced, especially linotype machines in 1886. Printing changed completely due to these new typesetting methods. Now it was possible to combine the single characters and lines as needed so that publishers and newspapers had much more creative freedom. The new technology helped stimulate the book market and the editions grew steadily. The international book market established itself as an important economic factor.

Today, books are produced either with offset printing (using printing plates or printing templates) or digital printing. The latter is the main reason why books can be produced fast, easily and at low-cost “on demand” today.


Digital printing, the method of the future

In the future, digital printing will become even more important. The book trade has an annual turnover of several billion Euros, not only thanks to the numerous booklovers but, above all, because of digital printing. And the book market will definitely keep growing – much to the joy of all bibliophiles.

There is one question that remains unanswered, though: what will come after digital printing and which printing methods will be developed in the future? But until then, let us enjoy our passion for great words, or even better: let us write something ourselves and become part of the history of printing.


We wish you creative inspiration!


novum publishing