The invention of printing engravings on paper was connected to three factors: the idea of using an engraved plate as a means of reproducing an image, the availability of paper and the means of applying pressure. The precise location at which these came together has been the subject of debate, with both Germany and Italy having its proponents. Most scholars believe that the practice of impressing paper on engraved plates originated in the workshops of south German goldsmiths in the Rhine Valley in the second quarter of the 15th century. Goldsmiths would make a record of designs incised in metal by filling the lines with ink and impressing paper against it. These printed designs could be used to help in the transfer of symmetrical and repeated elements and for training and record-keeping.
The first important centre of paper manufacture in Italy was set up at Fabriano c. 1276. Other mills were established in northern Italy during the 14th century, supplying not only Italian but also south German demand. Paper mills were first established in Germany c. 1320 near Cologne and Mainz, and in the Netherlands by the beginning of the 15th century. The use of paper for writing became common throughout Europe by the second half of the 14th century, essentially replacing vellum in the 15th. This new availability of paper was the key to the ‘invention’ of printing in Europe and first appeared in connection with relief printed blocks. Vertical pressure presses (wine presses) existed in the Rhineland and had already been adapted for printing woodcuts c. 1400. The dual cylinder or ‘etching’ press seems to have come into use by 1500. Oil-extended solid inks were also a German invention.
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