How were images even prepared for printing before Adobe? What was the printing process? I really seem to be missing what they were doing between the Gutenberg press and the Adobe software when it comes to images...

  • There's a youtube video you should watch. youtu.be/rBz5m3eaVbc
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 11:33
  • 2
    There's a great deal which can be written on this topic. There were actually 2 areas of work.. design and production. Billy's video is an excellent example of production work... the folks in the better offices just sketched up the ideas. It was the people the windowless, basement, offices who actually built mechanicals (production boards) like the one shown in the video. It took craftsmanship. Its similar to how The Beatles revolutionized music by both writing and performing their music. That's what computers did for design.. made many people both designer and production artist.
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 12:21

2 Answers 2


The goal is to get images and text onto something that can carry ink and apply it to paper. For many years that has meant an offset printing plate. Even today, just because the image is digital, it still needs to get onto an offset printing plate, which still must be done photographically, either by passing light through a piece of film to expose the plate, or focusing light under electronic control, somewhat like using a digital projector ("direct to plate") to expose the light-sensitive emulsion on the plate. Look up "offset printing" and "lithography" and you will learn about these technologies. It's vitally important for graphic designers to understand the printing process or they can't possibly be effective and efficient.

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    Interesting that this was selected as the correct answer. I don't feel it addresses the "before Adobe" aspect at all. If anything, this addresses "before platemakers".
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 3:51

Well, there is no way to resume the history of printing technology in some paragraphs. But here is an overview so you can google specific topics.

I. For centuries most printing technologies were silk printing or some kind of wood cutting. That was way before Gutenberg.

II. Gutenberg did not invent printing systems per se, but (as far as I know) improved mobile types made of metal, some oil-based formulas, and press mechanisms.

III. Some improvements during the centuries were faster ways to produce lines of text, but all images, of course, before the invention of photography were made by hand. Think of Durer's engravings, Lithography, etc. There is a lot to talk about regarding improvements in how to draw images, of course, camera obscura or other devices, perspective, etc.

IV. Photography is of course a great deal, but photography, not only to capture images, but to prepare substrates. Photo-sensitive varnishes to protect metal plates and make engravings, or to replenish oily inks, adapting the hand-drawn lithography to a photographic process.

V. More photography inventions allow screening images to produce gradients, color filters for color separations, and chemistry to improve color reproductions. The originals were assembled on a cardboard and prepared to be printed photographed by cameras this big: https://www.google.com/search?q=lithographic+camera

VI. The digital era, to produce texts on photographic laser printers started to make the usage of metal mobile types obsolete. You sent your texts to a bureau that capture them and printed it on strips of 1 column of text, that were part of a physical original that was, again photographed to be transferred to plates.

VII. Some publishing systems were not WYSIWYG, but instructions on how to modify the text, something like an HTML markup language, where you indicate that some text should be in bold, but without seeing the result on the screen.

VIII. Desktop WYSWYG software, like Aldus PageMaker and Ventura publisher, then Quark Xpress. Aldus then was bought by Adobe.

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