History of Digital Printing Technology

Digital Printing Toronto

Most of us in modern society have become reliant on digital printing technology. However, few ever stop to wonder about its origins. The bulk of it started with the efforts of Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. What started out as a seemingly irrelevant hobby of photography turned into a highly popular modern convenience when he started manipulating his digital photography on his Macintosh computer in the 1980s.

During his experimentation, Nash realized he was unable to find an output device compatible with the colour on his computer screen. After much trial and error, he discovered the continuous-tone Iris printer, an inkjet model that was new at the time commonly used for creating pre-press proofs. He made the decision to invest $126,000 for one of his own in order to make prints of his digital photography. The result? His investment paid off as he went on to host critically acclaimed photo and art exhibits all across the globe.

In the Beginning

The history of digital printing technology developed over time, and there were several steps along the way that got us where we are now. What we now have as a desktop publishing tool, others used to utilize industrial pre-press proofing and fine art devices to intricately create what they needed. The evolution progressed as follows:

  • Short runs by hand that required one-off reproduction
  • Very low quality stenciling and mimeographs
  • Digital, magnetic tape, or punch card storage of text that was used in line printing

While these advancements certainly made their mark in the printing industry, there was still a desired innovation yet to be discovered- high-quality colour output.

The Introduction of Digital Colour

In 1993, Benny Landa provided the world with a new level of abilities when he introduced his E-Print 1000 digital press. With this device, users were then able to utilize colour digital printing in their projects, and this ability quickly took the world by storm. With this advancement, there was certainly money to be made, and entrepreneurs in the print industry used their imaginations to discover them.

Those needing short-runs and variable data printing quickly found that the E-Print 1000 digital press was the perfect solution, and it didn’t take long for this to become the number-one choice for these purposes. The new colour technology drew a clear line between itself and other forms of printing including:

  • Gravure
  • Lithography
  • Flexography
  • Letterpress

The Many Benefits of the Digital Press

When it comes to making a good case for itself, the digital press certainly has a lot going on in its favor to back up its popularity over older printing methods. Just some of the features it has over offset production include:

  • Elimination of the need for a variety of chemicals for use, significantly lowering costs and time for businesses to provide their customers with their products
  • Direct application to substrate surface using inkjet and laser technology
  • Elimination of the ink permeating the media as is common in offset production

The New World of Variable Data Printing

Variable data printing is a form of digital printing in which elements such as text, graphics and images can be changed from one print job to the next without slowing down the process. When production digital print technology hit the scene, even this ability was enhanced. Customers are now able to enjoy a number of features including:

  • Varied sets of personalized texts and pictures
  • Quick ability to customize to a variety of markets
  • Individual customization

An Exciting Future in Digital Printing

Considering all the possibilities with modern digital printing technology, it’s no surprise that the industry is expected to grow. In fact, according to a Smither Pira report, it’s expected to reach $187.7 billion by 2018. While just a few short years ago printing technology accounted for less than 10 percent of the market share, it’s expected to soon hit nearly 20 percent. As technology continues to innovate, we can expect to see further advancements in this exciting and ever-changing field.

A Brief Overview of the Printing Press History

history of the printing press

During the late 1400’s, the Renaissance had spread north into the regions that are now Germany, France, England, and Spain. During this migration, the movement took on different conditions as Italy promoted the monarchial state and lay piety. However, in Spain, France, and England, the nature of the culture leaned more toward democracy. This ultimately led to the preservation of apostolic purity in this region while Italy questioned the origins of Christianity.

After 1450, cases of plagues and famine declined, and this led to economic prosperity. This factor and the printing press allowed for further spread of the Renaissance. As a result, there was an influx in the institution of new schools and colleges primarily to accommodate the growing interest in young men wishing to offer their services in the church or civil service.

Around the same time, the Chinese paper money and playing cards made their way to western society. However, they were not in the form we think of today. They were made using wooden blocks in order to print large quantities identical in appearance. The blocks had characters and pictures carved into them, and ink was transferred from the block to the paper. While this produced the desired result of interchangeable copies, the process was quite time consuming.

As literacy began to grow among populations and the need for written records to facilitate the relationship between more modern governments and their people increased, it was clear that a more efficient printing system was necessary. The wooden block method was simply not meeting the need, especially considering the durability was not suitable as repeated use often led to splitting. It was also necessary to create a new block for every new impression that was needed.

Johannes Gutenberg, the son of a noble family of Mainz, Germany, was behind the scenes during this time working on printing with movable metal type. In his former work of stonecutting and goldsmithing, he discovered an alloy of lead, tin and antimony which casted well, was able to melt at a low temperature, and would prove durable in the press. This allowed for the reuse of separate pieces of type that could be arranged in any order the user wished.

The type was created by carving a mirror image of each letter on small blocks that would then be placed together to form words. Using this innovative system, it was possible to mass-produce books and other large bodies of text to provide to the public.

Enthusiastic with his discovery, Gutenberg embarked on a large scale project in 1452 using a loan of printing 200 copies of the two-volume Gutenberg Bible. The end result were beautifully-bound books that sold at the 1455 Frankfurt Book Fair. While expensive to acquire (the average clerk had to spend three year’s worth of pay), this proved to be the first representation of the possibilities of the printing press.

News of Gutenberg’s method spread quickly despite his efforts to keep it a secret. Around 2,500 cities had established printing presses by the late 1400’s. Some of the key users of the press were:

German masters
Venetian printer Aldus Manutius

Aside from the fact that it was now easier to manufacture the written word, there were other positive effects resulting from the invention of the printing press. For starters, since it took far less time to produce, books and other printed materials could be sold at a far lower price. Furthermore, libraries were able to better stock their shelves for people eager to acquire knowledge on a more attainable budget. Perhaps most importantly, the printed word allowed for the sharing of ideas and knowledge, putting more power into the hands of the people.

The private lives of people, nobles and layman alike, were greatly improved as books on all subjects could be acquired more easily. There was also a decreased chance of text becoming corrupted due to handwritten errors. This resulted in a higher reliability in both critical scholarship and science. While it may be easy to overlook such a seemingly simplistic invention by today’s standards, we wouldn’t enjoy the technology currently available had it not first been for this truly magnificent tool.



Over the past few years, we’ve seen a real push for businesses to become more green, and understandably so. After all, there’s only one Earth!

But going green is a little harder for us Printers. On top of being responsible for printing thousands of paper items a year, we also have to worry about our chemical emissions as well.

Many printing inks on the market contain a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) with chemicals to help it evaporate into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, VOCs are also a major component of urban smog, as it produces ground-level ozone.



At VX, we only use inks that have little to no VOC in them. This considerably reduces our chemical emissions. We also make sure to dispose of our inks and ink cartridges professionally. We don’t dump our ink down a drain or put it in the garbage.


Although this may be the digital age, printers still go through an awful lot of paper. Since VX thinks the world looks better with trees in it, we use 100% recyclable material for our print jobs. Whether it’s on paper, a banner or on vinyl, if we printed it, you can recycle it when you’re done with it.

We also use post-consumer and reclaimed materials for our projects as well. This helps us do our best to produce materials in an environmentally friendly way while also reducing scraps and waste.


Many businesses leave lights and equipment on even after business hours, which needlessly waste energy. At VX, we always make sure to flick the lights off when we’re leaving our facility. All of our equipment is also shut down, including computers.


We’re always looking for new ways to improve our operations to better our environment. Given our industry, we know we won’t be able to eliminate our carbon footprint. But we are always open to ideas on how to better “greenify” our business!

Have a suggestion on how to make VX even greener? Let us know!