Gutenberg 2000
Gutenberg im Medienzeitalter
Gutenberg´s time
Gutenberg´s Invention
Ständige Einrichtungen
Gutenberg Museum
Gutenberg´s Bible


The invention

The printing trade was well established even before Gutenberg's time, using woodblock technology. A sheet of paper was placed on the inked woodblock and an impression taken by rubbing - a complex and time-consuming procedure.

The genius of Gutenberg's invention was to split the text into its individual components, such as lower and upper case letters, punctuation marks, ligatures and abbreviations, drawing on the traditions of medieval scribes. These individual items were then cast in quantity as mirror images and assembled to form words, lines and pages.

The master for each letter was cut into the face of a steel block, resulting in a precise relief in reverse – the punch.

The next step was to create a matrix by placing the punch on a rectangular block made of a softer metal – usually copper - and striking it vertically with a hammer-blow.

The resulting matrix was reworked and straightened to form a right-angled cube. This true-reading image required a uniform depth, achieved by filing over the surface. Gutenberg developed a hand casting instrument to facilitate the casting of a character,with two sections enclosing a rectangular casting channel, closed at one end by the matrix. The resulting character was then de-flashed, to remove excess casting material.

presse.jpg (13689 Byte)Each letter had a pre-determined breaking point to ensure that all letters were of identical height.

The hand casting instrument - the most significant element of the invention - allowied the printer to quickly cast the required number of a diverse range of characters . The metal used for casting was an alloy of lead, tin and further admixtures, with attributes that ensured rapid cooling and sufficient durability under the high mechanical stresses of the press.

The printing press was a screw press, specially designed to achieve an effective and even transfer of the image to paper or even parchment – a quantum leap in speed and efficiency compared with the previous method of taking impressions by rubbing.

Translation: John Burland