Orig­i­nal­ly print­ing tech­niques were import­ed into Scot­land from France, which is where Androw Myl­lar was trained. Usu­al­ly appren­tices were bound to a mas­ter for 7 years to learn the craft, after which they became jour­ney­men. At this point it was com­mon for a new­ly trained jour­ney­man to move to a new office in search of work, and by the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry some out-of-work print­ers tramped round the coun­try in search of work. Ben­e­fit soci­eties (known as Typo­graph­i­cal Soci­eties) devel­oped in larg­er towns to pro­vide ben­e­fits to sick and out-of-work mem­bers, and also to pro­vide a small sum to men tramp­ing in search of work. These grew into the print trade unions.

The mas­ter print­ers also came togeth­er to dis­cuss mat­ters of inter­est and to deal with the local branch of the union.

World famous print­er-pub­lish­ers based in Scot­land in the nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­turies include Bartholomews, Black­ie, William Collins, MacLe­hose (one of the print­ers to Glas­gow Uni­ver­si­ty) and Thomas Nel­sons.  A dis­tin­guished name from the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry is the Foulis Press of Glas­gow, which pro­duced beau­ti­ful­ly type­set and care­ful­ly print­ed clas­si­cal texts. Oth­er impor­tant com­pa­nies includ­ed post­card pub­lish­ers and print­er, Valen­tine, based in Dundee.

Some Scot­tish print­ers were respon­si­ble for tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions, for example:

  • In the late eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry William Ged invent­ed the stereo­typ­ing process, although his attempts to exploit it com­mer­cial­ly were a fail­ure and left him embit­tered, the process has been wide­ly used since.
  • Thomas Nel­son, son of the founder of Thomas Nel­son & Sons, invent­ed a rotary press: it was demon­strat­ed at the Great Exhi­bi­tion of 1855.  As he did not patent his inven­tion, he did not reap any finan­cial ben­e­fit from an inven­tion from which the news­pa­per press­es in use for the next 100 years were descend­ed. This press is now on show in the Nation­al Muse­um of Scotland
  • Alexan­der Neill Fras­er of the print­ing com­pa­ny Neill & Co, based in Edin­burgh was an ear­ly pio­neer of mechan­i­cal type­set­ting, invent­ing a machine for type­set­ting and dis­trib­ut­ing used type which pre­dat­ed the Mono­type and Lino­type sys­tems.  The machines were not only used in their own works, but were sold else­where well into the twen­ti­eth century.
  • Thomas Cos­sar, of the Gov­an firm of John Cos­sar Ltd, who devel­oped the Cos­sar Patent Flat Bed Web News­pa­per Print­ing Machine based on the com­pa­ny’s Wharfedale press: and ear­ly mod­el which was used to print the Strat­hearn Her­ald is now in the care of Nation­al Muse­ums Scotland.

The Scot­tish Book Trade Index, host­ed on the Nation­al Library of Scot­land’s web­site, brings togeth­er direc­to­ry entries for indi­vid­u­als active in the print­ing and the allied trades in Scot­land before the mid-19th century.