History of Printing in Asia

Exploring the Rich Legacy: A Comprehensive Guide to the History of Printing in Asia


woodcut-like flying dragon spouting fire and fleeing water.


From the development of ancient manuscripts to the advent of movable type, Asia’s contribution to the evolution of printing technology is remarkable. Delve into the profound history of printing in Asia, unraveling the journey from its inception to contemporary practices. As we navigate through this fascinating chronicle, we will come across inventions, progress, and cultural shifts. Not only did it shape Asia’s understanding of the printed word, but indeed, the world’s understanding of the printed word.

Ancient Beginnings

Printing technology in Asia traces its roots back to ancient China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The first known printed book, the “Diamond Sutra,” dates back to 868 AD. It employed woodblock printing, a technique involving text or images carved onto wooden blocks and then dipped in ink and pressed onto paper. This method marked a revolutionary shift in recording and disseminating information, impacting education, religion, and communication in society.

The Spread and Evolution of Woodblock Printing

The knowledge of woodblock printing disseminated across Asia, reaching countries like Japan and Korea. Particularly in Japan, woodblock printing or ‘Ukiyo-e’ extensively produced colorful prints representing the transient world of everyday life.

On the other hand, Korea, in the 13th century during the Goryeo Dynasty, developed a unique form of woodblock printing known as ‘Jikji.’ The ‘Jikji’ is recognized by UNESCO as the world’s oldest extant movable metal print book.

Invention of Movable Type

In the 11th century, Bi Sheng, a Chinese artisan, innovated movable type printing. He crafted individual characters on pieces of clay, allowing them to be rearranged and reused. This technique significantly improved the efficiency of printing and opened doors for mass production of texts. However, due to the extensive character set of the Chinese language, this method did not immediately replace woodblock printing in China.

Meanwhile, in Korea, the movable metal type technique was refined during the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties. The ‘Jikji,’ mentioned earlier, is a prime example of Korean movable metal type printing.

Introduction of Lithography

The 19th century witnessed the introduction of lithography in Asia. This method involved writing on a stone with a greasy substance and then using a chemical process to etch the design into the stone. Ink applied to the stone would adhere only to the etched areas, producing a print when pressed onto paper. This technique was particularly favored for producing artistic prints.

Advent of Modern Printing

The 20th century saw a rapid shift towards modern printing techniques such as offset printing, phototypesetting, and eventually digital printing. These technologies, adopted from the West, greatly improved the speed and quality of print, marking a new era in the history of printing in Asia.


The history of printing in Asia is a rich tapestry interwoven with invention, cultural exchange, and technological progress. From the early woodblock prints to the digitized processes of today, Asia has played a significant role in shaping the printing industry. As we continue to evolve in the digital age, it’s essential to remember the profound historical impact that Asian printing techniques have had on global communication and culture. Interested in learning more about the history of printing? Read our other blogs at Digital Arts Imaging!

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