The pace of development in the civilized world has always been associated with literacy . Thousands of years ago only nobles , scribes , and priests could read , but gradually more people became literate and there was a growing demand for information . Early printing methods were slow and expensive , but this changed in the 15th century with the invention of the Gutenberg press .
Characters carved in stone , such as the hieroglyphics on ancient Egyptian pyramids , stand as testimony to humankind's desire to spread information - to make things known to a wider audience . The ambition to disseminate information in a more portable form is equally old : the ancient Egyptians wrote on scrolls made from the papyrus plant , and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia ( now southern Iraq ) pressed characters into clay from around 8000 BCE . But printing - the mass reproduction of text and images - only became a possibility after the Chinese invented paper in the 2nd century CE .
The world's oldest printed book
The Diamond Sutra , an ancient Buddhist text , was printed using woodblocks in China . It actually bears the date of production : the equivalent of 11 May 868 CE
Once in possession of thin , porous paper , the Chinese , Japanese , and Koreans carved whole pages of text into the surface of wooden blocks , reproducing complicated ideographs ( graphic symbols ) in reverse so that the printed image would read correctly . They " printed " the pages on one side only , by simply brushing paper on to the inked block using a special brush . Books were back to made by sewing the pages back , and then folding them to reach an accordion - like length .
Gutenberg created movable type characters by pouring molten metal alloy into individual copper moulds , which had been shaped into letters using a hard - carved punch .
Woodblock printing could not easily be simplified in Eastern languages , because of their thousands of ideographs , but a version of movable type characters did appear in China around 220 CE . Metal type followed in Korea around 1230 . These innovations were unknown in Europe , where woodblocks were still being used to make books , textiles , playing cards , and many other products . By the 15th century , however , many Europeans were looking for ways to speed up the printing process , and the true breakthrough came with the invention of movable type in about 1440 . German Johannes Gutenberg ( see below ) found a way to cast individual letters rapidly by pouring a molten alloy of lead , tin , and antimony into copper moulds in which the characters had been stamped in reverse . Filed to a uniform depth , the characters could be set together to form blocks , and then pages , of text .
" Like a new star
it shall scatter
of ignorance . "
JOHANNES GUTENBERG , INVENTOR , 1450