Typography has changed considerably since 1450 when Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg compiled the technology necessary to build a mechanical printing press. (Meggs 80) This Blog will cover a selection of the advances made in the period of time just before Gutenberg’s death in 1468 to the early 20th century.  

In this roughly 600 year span we see many significant changes in the technology relating to the printing industry. Along with technological shifts we see a morphing of styles and conventions in the industry. Despite these changes we also see a remarkable continuity. The first iterations of fonts made for the purposes of printing where intended to look as if the letter forms were made by hand. This humanist style proved popular for a time probably due to readers familiarity with the style. Probably a significantly less important reason but oft repeated story is that of Johann Faust who financed the work of Gutenberg. Faust seeking to turn a profit on his investments seized Gutenberg’s press and several nearly completed 42 line bibles. When attempting to sell the bibles Faust was accused of witchcraft due to their profound similarity (Meggs 81)

Today we can still see examples of conventions established before the birth of the printing press. The continued importance of the glyph david-hillman-millenium-stampsis one of these conventions. A glyph is an image conceived to denote specific meaning as supposed to a phonograph an image made to denote specific sounds. See David Hilman’s “Millennium Stamps” from 1999 for a (somewhat) contemporary of the use of the glyph. (Meggs 517)

The advance of analog mediations in printing was most pronounced in in the nineteenth century. Several technical achievements made it possible to craft more accurate reproductions of font as well as images. Typewriters and typesetting machines became commonplace driven by a desire to speed up the process of putting printed words on a page. (Meggs 161) Steam powered printing presses made printing faster and cheaper. Chromo-lithographic presses allowed people for an expanded use of color printing on an array of substrates or materials.first-steam-cylindrical-press See the first steam cylinder press invented in 1814 by Friedrich Kooning. (Meggs 159)  In 1826 Joseph Niépce takes the first photograph pushing gap between life and reproduction ever smaller. (Meggs 162)

Meggs B.Philip, Alston W. Purvis, “MEGGS’ History of Graphic Design” 6th ed Wiley 2016


Yvonne Rainer, No Manifesto, 1965

Rifka, Shifra. “Alternative Facts.” Sophia Katz. Land of Milk and Honey. Suspect Studio, 2017.

1st image:  Meggs B.Philip, Alston W. Purvis, The first steam-powered cylinder press. 1814. MEGGS History of Graphic Design 6th ed Wiley 2016.

2nd image: Meggs B.Philip, Alston W. Purvis, David Hillman, Millennium Stamps. 1999. MEGGS History of Graphic Design 6th ed Wiley 2016.


Blog design and images by Sophia Katz