How Have Printers And Their Uses Evolved Over The Years?

Whether at offices, schools, businesses, or corporations, the printer serves as one of the most common devices, enabling us to print text, images, documents, reports, assignments, which are all useful in our daily tasks. However, printers are no longer confined to printing on paper, as some models now offer various functions, which makes life pretty easier.

Yet, you might be surprised that it took over a thousand years before the printer came to what it is today. It has a rich history, appearing in different forms, reflecting people’s desire for advancement, speed, and technology. In this article, discover the key periods in printers’ history and how their usage evolved through the years.

Woodblock Printing

A wood printing block from Korea

Woodblock Printing is regarded as the oldest form of printing. It was initially devised in China, dating around 200AD. This printing technique requires carving text or decorative work into pieces of wood. Once done, the woodblock is inked, and the textile or paper is placed on top. Pressure is then applied for the ink to transfer to the material. Its invention became momentous and soon reached countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Persia, Russia. Meanwhile, Europe adopted block printing from the Muslims around 1400, over twelve centuries after it was first developed.

Movable Type

A page printed using the movable type printing technique

Movable type printing technology was developed around 1041 AD during the Song Dynasty. The system was a development from woodblock printing. Before, text or designs were needed to be carved in full.  On the other hand, the movable type featured the utilization of moveable components (per letters, numbers, and punctuations), which are then placed or configured in any order to achieve the desired result. The tiles were first carved out of clay but soon shifted to more durable materials, such as wood and metal, which also paved the way for clearer and better prints.

Printing press

A Gutenberg Bible

The printing basics in this era were still generally the same and entailed inking the text blocks and placing them on paper, applying pressure to create the impressions. However, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized it by creating a hand-operated device with a press. It made printing significantly efficient, faster, and less costly. Moreover, printed texts, which used to be only for the rich, reached the lower class people, providing them access to knowledge. In 1455, “The Gutenberg Bible” became the first mass-produced book, with 180 copies made.

Rotary Press

Hoe’s Rotary Press

Created in 1843, its inventor Richard March Hoe improved the printing press by placing impressions on cylinders instead, which allowed them to print on rolls of paper or other mediums and permitted the continuous feeding of paper through the press, making printing incredibly faster.

Screen Printing

T-shirt screen printing

Invented in China between 960-1279 AD, screen printing is a printing technique done using a mesh stencil and pushing ink to the open apertures to create an impression on textile or paper. However, it only catapulted to popularity and became widely used in 1910, when silk mesh, a better and more profitable medium, became available. Today, screen printing is used across the world, typically for t-shirt printing.

Dot Matrix Printing

A dot matrix printer

Rudolf Hell invented the facsimile-based dot-matrix teleprinter in 1925. It signaled the start of dot matrix printing, a printing process that utilizes a similar mechanism to a typewriter. A cloth ribbon soaked with ink strikes the paper to create the impression. It is located on a print head that moves in a back-and-forth and up-and-down manner to complete the print. This led to the first commercial dot matrix printers in the late 1960s, used in homes and offices until the 1990s.

Inkjet printing

Inkjet Printer from EPSON

The concept of inkjet printing came in the 1950s. However, inkjet printers at that time were only made to replace noisy and relatively slow dot-matrix printers used by many publishing industries. The technique halted the need for direct contact through paper, unlike the previous method, as the ink was applied into the medium by spraying it through a nozzle. Through the years, inkjet printing technology has been widely improved. Today, it is still widely used in many home and office printers and remains the best-recommended option for high-quality printing.

Laser Printing

HP LaserJet 4200

With the advancement of technology, laser printers came after. It prints by projecting the text or image to a cylinder called a drum through a laser beam, providing it a static charge. Afterward, it attracts the oppositely charged toner and transfers it to the paper by melting through high temperature.

3D printing

3D Printer

In the 1980s, printing reached new heights as the process transcended what used to involve only creating text or images on paper or fabric. In the decade, people were able to print three-dimensional figures using additive manufacturing. Today, it is used in many industries, from construction, aviation, the food industry and medicine.

Multifunction Printer

Multifunction Printer

3D printing was already a mammoth feat, but the printers’ evolution and expansion of usage seem ceaseless. In the 1990s, printers were equipped with other functions, such as copying, scanning, and fax, which provided convenience while significantly reducing cost by throwing the need to purchase separate devices.


Printers since saw additional features, such as digital and wireless printing, which made it easier to print at the comfort of people’s homes. Thanks to inventors’ creativity and brilliant minds, printers had evolved much from when they were first developed. Who knows what more exciting things are there to come in the future of printers? Let’s all wait and find out.