A Brief History of the Printed Book


History of Book Printing

What we call a book today is very different from what our ancestors would have called a book.  The history of the printed book starts with tablets, scrolls and sheets of papyrus.  After these, we had elaborate, hand-bound and expensive books known as codices. These eventually gave way to press-printed books which lead to the mass printed books you find in bookshops all over the world.

Clay Tablets

The history of books starts with clay tablets.  These were first used in Mesopotamia in the 3rd Millennium BC.  Characters were made in moist clay via a triangular tool called a calamus. Chile, Philippines and Germany were some of the countries that used clay tablets up until the 19th Century.

Papyrus Books

Papyrus books were in the form of a scroll of several sheets pasted together which were in the region of 10 meters long or more.  The text was on one side, divided into columns and ran horizontally when the scroll was rolled out.  The title of the book on a label attached to the cylinder containing the book. The book of the Dead from the early 2nd millennium was created as a papyrus book.

Pre Columbian Codices

In Mesoamerica, codices were created. The information in these books was recorded on strips of paper, animal hides or agave fibres. They were then folded and protected by wooden covers. Many of the codices were thought to contain religious calendars, knowledge about the gods, astrological information genealogies of the rulers, cartographic information and tribute collection. Most of these codices were protected and stored in temples but many were unfortunately destroyed by the Spanish explorers.


Romans used wax-coated wooden tablets upon which they could write and erase by using a pointed stylus with a spherical end. Usually, these tablets were used for everyday purposes and for teaching writing to children.

Production of parchment began around the 3rd century BC. Parchment was made using the skins of animals. It proved to be easier to conserve over time as it was more solid.

Book production in Rome

Production of books developed in Rome around the 1st century BC with Latin literature. It was thought that the number of potential readers in Imperial Rome was roughly around 100,000. The book business extended itself through the Roman Empire thanks to the extension of the Empire.


Cai Lun in AD 105 created a sheet of paper using mulberry and other bast fibres along with fishnets, old rags, and hemp waste.  Paper used as a writing medium only became widespread by the 3rd century.

The codex replaced the scroll sometime between the 2nd and 4th centuries. Books were now a collection of sheets attached at the back instead of a continuous roll. It was now possible to access any point within the text accurately and quickly with thanks to a table of contents and indices. It was also easy to rest on a table which allows the reader to take notes while they are reading. With the codex came improved form with the separation of words, capital letters and punctuation. 1500 years after its appearance and it is still the standard form of books today.

Moveable Type Printing Press

Production of the book came into the industrial age in 1440 with the invention of the movable type printing press by Johan Fust, Peter Schoffer and Johannes Gutenberg. Books were no longer a single object reproduced or written by request but were now a publication enterprise.  The cost of producing books was lowered significantly, this, in turn, increased the distribution of books.

Book Printing in Europe

Printing presses were set up in rapid succession throughout Central and Western Europe. Barely 30 years after the publication of the 42-line Bible, the Netherlands featured printing shops in 21 cities and towns. Germany and Italy each had shops in about 40 towns at that time. by 1500, 8 million books had been produced by 1000 printing presses throughout Western Europe.  Fast forward 50 years and the city of Geneva had over 300 printing presses and booksellers alone.  By the sixteenth-century, book printing was in the order of between 150 and 200 million copies.

Book Printing in the Rest of the world

The establishment of trade links through the West and east sea routes greatly facilitated the global spread of Gutenberg-style printing. In the Americas, the first extra-European print shop was founded in Mexico City in 1544. Soon after this, a ship carrying a printing press left Portugal setting sail to Abyssinia with the purpose of helping missionary work in Abyssinia. Circumstances prevented this printing press from leaving India, and consequently, printing was initiated in the country.

North America saw the adoption of the Gutenberg printing press by Elias Boudinot a Cherokee Indian who published the tribe’s first newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, from 1828.

In the 19th century, the arrival of the Gutenberg-style press to the shores of Tahiti, Hawaii and other Pacific islands, marked the end of a global diffusion process which had begun almost 400 years earlier. At the same time, the Gutenberg printing press was already in the process of being displaced by industrial machines like the steam-powered press and the rotary press.

The introduction of steam printing presses, followed by new steam paper mills, constituted the two most major innovations. Together, they caused the price of book production to fall and the rate of book production to increase considerably.

Then we had typewriters and eventually computer-based word processors and printers which let people print and produce their own documents at home.  Among a series of developments that occurred in the 1990s, the spread of digital multimedia, which encodes texts, images, animations, and sounds in a unique and simple form was notable for the book publishing industry.



How to Format a Book for Printing


Formatting the internal pages of your book for printing

The idea of formatting your book for print is to make it look professional and make the content of the book easy to read.  You do not want to over complicate the formatting and make the content too distracting.


Do you know what format you want your book? If not, you will need to do some research at the library or your own bookshelf. Take measurements of the sizes you feel your book would look best at and take pictures and make notes of the inside pages. If you have a look in the preliminary pages of the books you like, you may be able to find out the font and the layout the designers have used.

Size of the Book

The size of the book you decide to go with is very important. You will want it to fit in with other books in your genre on bookshelves but also stand out a little. Remember the bigger the book the more expensive the printing will be.

Basic book sizes for printing;

Fiction: 4.25″ x 6.87″, 5″ x 8″, 5.25″ x 8″, 5.5″ x 8.5″, 6″ x 9″

Novella: 5″ x 8″

Children’s: 7.5″ x 7.5″, 7″ x 10″, 10″ x 8″

Textbooks: 6″ x 9″, 7″ x 10″, 8.5″ x 11″

Non-fiction: 5.5″ x 8.5″, 6″ x 9″, 7″ x 10″

Memoir: 5.25″ x 8″, 5.5″ x 8.5″

Photography: Whatever you see fit!


The margins are how far away the text is from the edge of the paper. On average the margins for a book are between 13 to 18mm depending on the type of book. You want to make sure you have a nice space around the content but not too much so you have large blank areas. The gutter of the book normally has slightly extra margins, about 5 to 8mm.


This can be down to personal preference but you do want to have a serif font around 11pt. Take a look at some of the books you like and look in the prelims to see if they have any details on the fonts and spacing the designers have used.

Common fonts for book printing;





Minion Pro



Every book should have set styles for the title page, chapter headings, main content, page number etc. You don’t want to decide to change the font and then have to go back over 350 pages changing the fonts individually.

You will want to have set styles for the following;








When your book is laid out and finished and you decide to change the font for the text or page numbers, you will only have to change the set style and it will change all the text under that particular style.

Preliminary pages

You will want to have at least a title page, copyright page, table of contents and a preface. If you are using Microsoft Word you will be able to make an automatic table of contents that you can update automatically.

Chapter Pages

You can be a bit creative with your chapter pages depending on the genre of your book. Experiment a little and see what looks good. But remember not to overdo it and make sure it is in line with the genre of your book. Also, remember chapter pages should always be on the right-hand page of your book.

Page numbering

Many designers use roman numerals for the preliminary pages or will leave them blank. Your book should always start on page one on the right-hand side page and will leave all blank pages throughout the book with no page numbers on.

Do you have a book printing project coming up? Why not head over to our instant price calculator to find out how much printing your book could cost?

Know the difference in book printers

When it comes to book printing a lot of people get confused or just don’t know the difference in printing types. Below we have created a slide telling you all about the book printing options available. Hopefully, it helps you choose the right book printer.

The Three Q’s

There are many things you need to know and consider when choosing your book printers, but there are three main elements that you should always take into account. They are the three Q’s:

Quantity- How many books you will be wanting to print

Quality- The type of quality you want in your book

Quickness- How quick you need the books

Remembering these three elements when looking and comparing book printers will make the process and decision making a lot easier.

Book Printers

When looking at book printers you will find that there are three different types to choose from; Print-On-Demand, Short-Run and Offset Litho. Each one has different aspects which suit certain book printing needs (we cover these in the slide below).

The Slide

In this slide we cover:

– What you need to consider when choosing a printer

– The three types of book printers and what they are

– The pros and cons of each book printing option

– What printer best suits certain book printing needs

If you have any questions or would like us to print your books get in touch.

Know someone that needs a hand picking the right book printer? Share this tip with them.





Are Print Books better than E-Books?

E-book resting against a stack of print books.

E-books were a serious competitor for print books back in the 00s. They were going to be the thing that killed traditional books and take the world by storm. And they did. In December 2009 E-books out sold print books on Amazon and in 2014 reached their peak. But since then, well…

E-book sales have fallen considerably whereas, print book sales are continuously rising. Figures released in early 2018 revealed that book sales have almost doubled in a decade and the book printing industry is excelling against other print industries, which is good news for us.

But why is this? We take a look at possible reasons as to why people are choosing physical books over E-Books and whether these could be the reasons as to why print book sales are soaring.

What makes Print Books better than E-books?

They feel a lot nicer. There is so much more to a book than just the content. There’s the paper type, is it rough or smooth? There’s the lamination, glossy or matt? Then there’s the thickness and weight. All of these aspects make a book, and without them, you’re left with just content. I guess you could call that an E-book? With only being presented with the content you miss the real feel of what a book should be.

They’re easily shared. Whether its food, experiences or books it’s always nice to share them with people, but when it comes to E-books it can be a little difficult. As long as you can get your head around how you can share E-Books then we’re sure it’s fine and pretty easy. Surely, nothing is easier than physically handing over the item, you want to share?

You can scribble and mark all over them. To us, there is nothing more irritating than not being able to write and draw in a book. We know that this might stress some people out but what’s a book if you can annotate in the margins, fold over the corners and highlight sentences?


Better for your health. Studies have shown that books are actually really good for you. They can increase your lifespan, reduce illness, improve your memory, reduce stress and they may even help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, print books are a lot better for people who read before going to bed. E-books tend to have a bright, well-lit screen which can have a negative effect on your sleep.

Keep going there’s more…

Brings back memories. Have you ever been searching for something and then happen to come across a book that you forgot about? That old ‘Of Mice and Men’ book that you had to study hours on end for your literature class. The book with the sun cream stains from your holiday in France 5 years ago. Or the barely glued together book that your Grandmother gave you when you were a child. Books will always bring back memories for people.


Easier to find your place. There is nothing is worse than that dreaded gutted feeling you get when you lose your place in a book, especially in an E-book. Trying to refind your place in an E-book is nigh on impossible, and the endless button clicking that comes with it, blimey. However, with a book, you can quickly flip through the pages and find your place in a matter of minutes.

Judge how far you’ve got left. With an E-book, although it does show a percentage of what you have read and what you have left of the book, it’s nothing compared to physically feeling and seeing how many pages you have left of your book. And the satisfaction you get when you finish reading a big chunky book just feels great.

You’re supporting bookshops. For most book lovers, book shops will most definitely be one of their most favourite places to be. The knowledge, the smell, and not to mention the hoards of books that are available. Without the books and the people buying them, places like this wouldn’t exist.

Books help make a bookshelf. Taking a look at someone’s bookshelf and delving into their book collections is a great way to get an insight into what someone’s personality is going to be like. Also, let’s be honest E-books don’t make as attractive bookshelves as physical books do.


Are Print Books better than E-Books?

Don’t get us wrong there are probably many benefits in having an E-book. But with books, there are no batteries to run out and our brains can hold information a lot better from them. To us, print books are always going to outweigh E-Books, no matter what, they’re just too good.

Do you guys agree? Let us know.