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Man’s earliest known attempt of the visual record of his life began about 5,765 years ago. After the Great Deluge (The Great Flood) that Noah, his wife, three sons and their wives began the three major civilizations in the known world at that time. It began with the cuneiform writings of the Sumerians. The beginnings of graphic design can go back to the time of the cave drawings found in Lucerne, France, and in later civilizations such as the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and early Aramaic writings and the Book of the Law during the time of Moses and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. The printed word began somewhere afterward. The Phoenicians used the first formal alphabet, the first art forms. The evidence of the first example of printing was discovered in 1908 by an Italian archaeologist on the island of Crete. He found a clay disc in the ruins of the palace of Phaistos in a stratification dated about 1500 B.C. Before the invention of printing the written word was all done laboriously by hand. The invention of printing did not put an end to the skill and art that had gone into the illuminated manuscripts, which the monks had illustrated with beautiful illuminations or colored pictures of the Holy Bible. Printers followed the traditions of the monks, and turned out books of great beauty. Artists who had copied the works of the masters turned to pen and brush to etching and engraving in metal, so that their images could be printed in large numbers. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg brought the West up to date with his invention of movable type. Historians credit his invention as the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The uses of paper were not new when Gutenberg’s type appeared. Eumenes, king of Pergamus, introduced the use of parchment for writing in 170 B.C. In making ink for printing, the Chinese lead the world in discovery by using lampblack in 400 A.D. Viscous or tacky inks essential for printing were used in Germany by Gutenberg’s time. Gutenberg is credited to the envisionment of commercial and cultural possibilities of printing as a process of graphic reproduction. With the cumulative effect of inventions of many minds in a growing civilization, we attribute the evolution of printing as a graphic art. The first books in Europe were printed in black letter or gothic type. They were designed to imitate the style of letter used by religious scribes living in Mainz, Germany, where Gutenberg began his activities. The roman letter type came later, it would have been lost if it weren’t for Emperor Charlemagne revived the ancient writings. Charlemagne encouraged the establishment of a school at Tours by an English scholar, Alcuin. The calligraphy of this school became the model for the rest of Europe. Artists began to use lithography after 1796, and even greater numbers of images could be printed. Photography and bookmaking are important productions of work from early printers, engravers, artists, craftsmen, and scientists. Through England, printing came to the American colonies. William Caxton, who brought equipment from the Netherlands to establish a press at Westminster, introduced printing in England about 1476. Among the books issued from Caxton’s press were Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Fables of Aesop, and many other popular works. Printing was used to promote colonization of the New World. There is on file in the New York Public Library a copy of such a promotion piece dated 1609. It is entitled, “Offering Most Excellent Fruites by Planting in Virginia.” One historian observed the fact that 750 of the first 900 settlers in the Virginia colonies died during the first winter was amazed at the power of the printed word. It encouraged new settlers to come to the New World, but also influenced the 150 survivors to remain. The fist printing press appeared in Massachusetts in 1638, soon after the first settlers established themselves. The first piece printed on the new pres was The Freeman’s Oath. The Bay Psalm Book was produced in 1640. Printing didn’t make headway in the colonies as it did in the Massachusetts Colony. It wasn’t until 1808 that printing spread to states as far as Mississippi to St. Louis. As migration continued west printing followed. Benjamin Franklin an important American citizen of his time began his own printing office in Philadelphia by 1732 and became the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Among his publications, Poor Richard’s Almanack became the most famous. Another great patriot of the Revolutionary Period was Isaiah Thomas. In 1770 he began publication of the Massachusetts Spy, a newspaper in which he supported the cause of the patriots. He served during the Revolutionary War as printer for the Massachusetts House of Assembly. Following the war, he re-established his business, which had been destroyed. He became one of the leading publishers of books. In 1810 he published a two volume History of Printing in America which today remains the best source on colonial printing. For the past 400 years all type was set by hand. In the 19th century men began to consider the possibility of creating typesetting machines. The first sufficient commercial machine was the invention of the linotype by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1886. Of the various metal composing machines developed only two kinds are still used today. These are the Linotype, Intertype, and Ludlow that cast slugs (one piece fully spaced lines); and the Monotype that casts individual pieces of type in justified lines. Tolbert Lanston of Washington, D.C invented the Monotype in 1887. Washington I. Ludlow suggested the Ludlow Typograph in 1906 and later perfected by William A. Reade.
The first illustrations in books were made from woodcuts. They were carved out of woodblocks by hand leaving raised surfaced designs. Albrecht Pfister in Bamberg printed the earliest book using woodcuts about 1460. Between 1570 and 1770 illustrations in books were printed by copperplate engravings, resulting in a decline in the making of woodcuts. In 1770 Thomas Bewick of England developed the technique of using a special engraving tool for cutting across the grain, instead of with the grain. Today, woodcuts are only used to give an artistic touch to certain types of printed pieces. Around 1476, engraved copper intaglio plates the forerunner of steel engravers and gravure, were first used in France and Italy. Copper engraving made it competitive to woodcuts in England about 1545, and in France about 1569. Copperplate work is still used today for invitations and announcements. Photography for graphic arts involves the photographic processes and techniques used to reproduce illustrations and art subjects. The invention ans use of photography and photomechanics completed the mechanization of the printing process; made illustrations practical and economical to produce and reproduce; and foster the phenomenal growth of advertising, periodical, book and commercial printing. The development of photomechanics closely paralleled the advances of photography. In 1826 Joseph Niepce made the first metal engraving by light using a metal plate coated with bitumen and etched after exposure and development. Photoengraving developed rapidly in America and by 1871 it was commercially used for letterpress printing. By 1880 photoengraved prints had replaced woodcuts as illustrations in books and magazines. In that year, Stephen Horgan made the first halftone photoengraving for printing. It utilized a coarse screen and was printed by lithography in The Daily Graphic of New York, the first picture newspaper. If Gutenberg stepped into a 1950’s printing plant he would have stood at the typecast, set the type by hand and pulled a proof almost exactly as he did when first invented it. Today Gutenberg may recognize the output now, but the input would be strange to him.
The age of electronics and computers has completely changed the complexity of the printing processes. In the years since 1950 presses have speeded up, but have been replaced by photo and computer typesetting; photography is controlled by densitometers, exposure computers and automatic processors; color separations and corrections are done on scanners, and half tone output films are generated by lasers, stripping is done by CAD techniques, color proofs are made from separation films or from digital data from computers, computers are used to analyze production information on presses, and bindery lines operate automatically by computers for magazine printing. The future of graphic arts is being shaped by the expansion of the microcomputer and image processing software. Printing is being used without the use of plates and films by ink jet and electronic methods. Offset presses are becoming faster in the control of inking and dampening. Lithography will be the dominant printing process well in the 21st century. Flexography with water based inks and gravure with electronic, laser, electron beam and direct digital engraving will increase in usage. By 2021, these printing processes will have about one half share of value of printed products. Publishers and printers recognize their part in the huge information industry that employs over three fourths of the work force in the United States, and many are expanding to telecommunications, videotex, interactive cable TV, direct broadcast by satellite, as supplements to printing. Graphic arts is sure to change in the years to come more than 540 years since Gutenberg the printed page and image will continue to flourish into the next century. It certain that the change will be the way it’s composed and produced, and will be around for many years for people to read, view, admire and enjoy.
Some of the well-known designers such as Neville Brody, Paul Rand, William Morris, Piet Zwart, Milton Glaser and David Carson have changed the world we live with their approach to graphic communication. Their brilliant innovation in visual communication have defined the way we look at it.
Graphic Design Defined