First, what are the key technologies required in the construction of the Gutenberg printing press? According to Wikipedia, the key technology necessary is the screw press

Given the answer to the above, are there technical reasons why the Gutenberg press could not have been invented much before the time it actually was?

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    Vote to Close as a hypothetical an entirely opinion based. I see no possibility of a definitive and evidence based answer ever possibily existing. Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 16:44
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    @PieterGeerkens Even if I agree mostly to the first sentence, the second leaves a possibility: discard the premise, and explain why, en detail & with references. A frame-challenge would be the only way I see to get this validly answered. Or would you rule that out as well? Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 18:46
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    I changed the question from a focus on the time factor to one about required technologies, and have voted to reopen the question in its current form.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 11:05
  • What research have you done? just a quick glace at his wiki seems to answer your question?
    – John
    Commented Jul 12, 2021 at 1:15

1 Answer 1


Actually the printing press itself - which I think works similarly to to an ancient olive press or wine press - might not have been the key invention that made the printing press practical.

I once read somewhere that Gutenberg & co. made a number of innovations.

People used solid engraved blocks to print for centuries - for example printing paper money in China - before Gutenberg used blocks with many assembled tiny separate letter blocks to spell words, moveable type. Using moveable type to write a printing block instead of slowly engraving a solid block was a great time and money saver.

And other people supposedly had used moveable type to print before, but supposedly Gutenberg invented better moveable type, perhpas using a superior alloy, which made it easier to cast multiple copies of a letter and/or did not wear out as fast, thus saving time and money.

And there is the substance printed on. The earliest paper like writing substances in Europe were expensive papyrus imported from Egypt which was very fragile, and much superior but even more expensive parchement. Paper making, invented in China, eventually was introduced in Europe and spread. Paper is much better for printing on.

And it is possible that Gutenberg also produced a new type of paper that would be better to print on that the other types of paper available at the time.

I have often written things with a pen and found that some words got smeared by carelessly touching the paper while the ink was still wet. And that was using advanced 20th and 21st century pen inks. I suspect that medieval pen inks would have smeared much more and might have been bad for printing presses. And I think that the article which I read said that Gutenberg & co. developed a new type of ink that worked much better on a printing press.

So you should do research to find out whether that article was correct, and find out what other things beside the printing press needed to be invented to making printing practical.

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    This about the only way to answer this Q: with a serious frame-challenge. Alas, this lacks srcs ('I once read'?). Thing here is: most details needed to be 'just named' look like almost 2000 years late to the game (screw, press, substrate, metal/wood, ink etc). So: Why was Jo-G among the first to mass print cheaply in hi volume? Uovo di Colombo And it's not (only) because we like to see a SidMeierCivilization-like dependency-tree branching out… Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 18:40
  • @LаngLаngС - Agree about the sources. But from what research I did on this, early modern Europe was where you had a convergence of all the physical techniques, a simple alphabetic writing system, high and increasing literacy (and thus demand for written works), an emerging market economy, and suitable paper. I'd say all those were required to make such an invention reasonably viable, so this isn't really even a "frame challenge". Its just the answer.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 2:15
  • @T.E.D. Interesting! The Q is "how much earlier would…" need… You say "exactly at this junction, we see…": isn't that another FC? // What's exactly wrong to print on vellum? With printing farsi, with printing qippu, ………… Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 2:28
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    @LаngLаngС - Looking it up, the same thing that makes vellum great for long-lasting manuscripts apparently makes it very tricky to print on. Its also much more expensive, since it requires killing animals. There's darn good reasons we use paper instead today. The main problems the near east had were much weaker consumer market economy, lower literacy, and lower population in general than early-modern Europe. As for your Quippu printing idea ... that might be a smashing concept for someone's PhD thesis!
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 2:42
  • @LangLangC: Re. Fasi, printing in Arabic letters has some additional technical difficulties, as the Arabic script is cursive and there are more letter forms. But an important factor re. priniting (or lack of printing) in countries that used arabic letters seems to have been cultural conservatism: encyclopedie-humanisme.com/?Arabic-printing#printing_the_qur_n, printinghistory.org/challenges-of-early-arabic-printing
    – Jan
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 14:48

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