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We talk a lot about sensitive paperwork that’s left in silly places. On desks, train seats, in restaurants, even on aeroplanes. But we don’t walk often about how that data got onto that blank piece of paper, and to give you a break from shredding, we thought we would talk about the history of the printer. After all, without it, there wouldn’t be the risk of leaving sensitive data anywhere – we’d only have to worry about digital theft. First off let’s just say that there have been a total of 25 advances in printer technology that led up to today, and we’re not going to cover all of them here! Just the major milestones.


3000 BC And Earlier – In tracing the history of printing, we got back as far as the Mesopotamians, who used round cylinder seals for rolling an impress of images onto clay tablets. In other early societies, similar stamps were used to print on cloth.


Second Century – A Chinese man names Ts’ai Lun is credited with inventing paper.


Seventh Century – The oldest European book still in existence is printed. The Gospel of St John is placed in the grave of Saint Cuthbert, and isn’t recovered until 1104.


Eleventh Century – Type characters are developed from hardened clay in China. These characters create the first movable type, suing soft material hampers. By the thirteenth century they have been developed into bronze cast characters.


Fifteenth Century – Even though woodcut had already been in use for centuries in China and Japan, the oldest known European specimen dates from the beginning of the 15th century. Woodcut is a relief printing technique in which text and images are carved into the surface of a block of wood. The printing parts retain level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed with a chisel. The block is then dipped in ink and pressed into paper. Books were still rare, as they were hand written by scribes and took years to create.


1436 – Gutenberg begins working on a printing press. It takes him 4 years to finish the wooden press with metal type.


1837 – Godfroy Engelmann is awarded a patent on chromolithography – a method for printing in colour using lithography. Chromolithography is still in use today


1903 – American printer Ira Washington Rubel produced the first lithographic offset press for paper, sparking the quick production of colour texts using machines. The technology developed rapidly from there.


1960’s – Photocopying is introduced to the world by Xeorx.


1969 – In 1969, the laser printer was invented by Xerox. This step revolutionised printing and brought it into the homes of millions. From there, dot matrix, inkjet and digital presses all developed.


And there you have it –a very, very brief history of the humble printer. This machine, which started as a colossal giant, is now an essential office tool, one we don’t think about an awful lot. So next time you print a document containing sensitive data, think back to how much advancement made that possible, and how much further we might still have to go.