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.