Printing Processes

The let­ter­press print­ing tech­niques brought to Scot­land from France by Andro Myl­lar remained fun­da­men­tal­ly unchanged for around 300 years. Some devel­op­ments did occur in the way illus­tra­tions were print­ed, but major inno­va­tions began to have an impact at the begin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, for exam­ple with the devel­op­ment of iron press­es which were capa­ble of absorb­ing high­er pres­sures. Sys­tems for mechan­i­cal type­set­ting were devel­oped in the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry: you can watch film of Lino­type (main­ly used in news­pa­per print­ing) and Mono­type (used in the book trade) machines in oper­a­tion. Oth­er sig­nif­i­cant inno­va­tions were the use of cylin­ders to car­ry the paper and the appli­ca­tion of steam pow­er, as well as the devel­op­ment of an entire­ly new tech­nique of print­ing, lith­o­g­ra­phy. Lith­o­g­ra­phy was ini­tial­ly used for illus­tra­tions, but over time, as the tech­nique was devel­oped and the use of an inter­me­di­ate ‘off­set’ stage in the process it came to be the dom­i­nant form of print­ing for many pur­pos­es. The var­i­ous process­es in use dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry are described in How it Works: Print­ing Process­es, repro­duced by kind per­mis­sion of Lady­bird Books, on the Pro­duc­tion Meth­ods page. 

Sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ments in print­ing tech­nol­o­gy were made by Scots, for exam­ple the press devel­oped by Thomas Nel­son, junior, which was shown at the Great Exhi­bi­tion in Lon­don in 1851. Because Thomas Nel­son nev­er patent­ed his inven­tion he received no ben­e­fit from his inno­va­tion despite the fact that its oper­a­tion laid the foun­da­tion for all the rotary press­es that fol­lowed. It is now on show in the Muse­um of Scot­land in Edin­burgh. Some infor­ma­tion about Scot­tish print­ing engi­neers can be found on the page relat­ing to print­ing machines.

Book­bind­ing was a sep­a­rate trade and was one of the last areas of book pro­duc­tion to be mech­a­nised. As the book and sta­tionery print­ing indus­tries were such sig­nif­i­cant ele­ments of the Scot­tish print­ing indus­try, there were also many bind­ing firms in Scot­land, although a num­ber of the larg­er firms which came into being in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry had their own bind­ing depart­ments.