Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

History of the Book: Printing

This guide provides introductory resources to learn about the History of the Book.


In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg printed the first books using movable metal type and a printing press. While people had experimented with printing for many years at this point, no one (in Europe) had previously used type cast in metal that could be reused over and over, reset in whatever order was necessary for a certain project. This innovation launched a new phase in the history of the book. Books became much easier, faster, and cheaper to manufacture now that they weren't being written out one by one. Books produced between 1450 and 1500 are known as "incunabula" and were designed to mimic the styles of manuscripts.

New presses were invented over the years, and eventually new technologies led to new methods of printing that didn't use the movable type that had been the standard for hundreds of years. However, letterpress printing is still an art form being practiced around the world, and much information exists about its evolution. This section of the guide provides resources for learning more about the history of printing, as well as the actual processes of the craft.

What's in this Guide?

Use the tabs above or the links below to navigate this guide.


This documentary, "Presswork," details the Rare Book School's project by the same name, using two replica 18th century printing presses to teach both students and the public about various historical printing processes. The video includes demonstrations of these presses in action, as well as the work necessary to prepare them for use.