Pioneers of Printing: The Origins of Offset Printing -- drupa - May 28 to June 7, 2024 - Messe Düsseldorf

Pioneers of Printing: The Origins of Offset Printing

The development of the offset printing press came in three stages. It all started in 1875, when Robert Barclay of England patented the first rotary offset lithography printing press. Read the whole story of the origins of offset printing.

Have you ever seen how newspapers, magazines or books are printed nowadays? Surprisingly, the technology which is still in use, dates back to the late 19th century. The keyword is offset printing. But what is this exactly? Offset printing is a printing technique in which the inked image or text is moved from a plate to a rubber blanket and from there to the paper or another printing surface. Today, the offset printing press is still used to print high volumes of images or texts. It remains an effective method for printing numerous copies quickly, efficiently and in high quality.

The First Rotary Offset Lithography Printing Press

The origins of our modern offset printing can be traced back to 1875, when Robert Barclay of England combined the mid-19th-century transfer printing technology with Richard March Hoe’s rotary printing press from 1843. The result was the first rotary offset lithography printing press which replaced the flat stone by a metal cylinder. This offset cylinder was wrapped in a specially treated cardboard that transferred the printed image from the stone to the surface of the metal.

The subsequently developed offset printing is attributed to two independent inventors: the American Ira Washington Rubel and the German US-immigrant Cašpar Hermann. Around 1904, both of them created printing presses that printed indirectly, that is from the printing plate on a rubber roller and then on a sheet of paper.

Ira Washington Rubel and His Accidental Invention

When photography became popular in the early 1900s, the once flourishing lithography began to fall out of favour. Instead, photoengraving was on the rise. But when Rubel, while working with Barclay’s printing press, forgot to load a sheet during printing, he found out that the rubber mat (which was used to move the paper to be printed through the press) produced a much more accurate image than the metal. Once this kind of printing technique was refined, the offset printing press flourished again.

Cašpar Hermann Developed the First Web Offset Printing Press

About the same time, US-immigrant Cašpar Hermann from Königsberg/Germany converted book printing rotary presses into offset printing presses. He started with the one he produced for the Harris automation Press Company in Niles, Ohio. After his return to Germany in 1907, Hermann planned numerous further developments. One of them was the first web offset press, in which a continuous roll of paper is fed through the printing press. Only after being printed, the pages are separated and cut to the requested size. However, Hermann’s ideas could not be realised until 1910, when he started to cooperate with the Vogtländische Maschinenfabrik AG (VOMAG). The first web offset press was then presented in Leipzig in 1912. It was the prototype of modern offset printing presses which are still in use today.

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