Some historians consider the printing press the most important invention of the first millennium. Still, the march of technology has since made the innovative device obsolete. Spreading the written word is easier and cheaper than ever before. And it is for this natural and understandable reason we have grown distant from the remarkable labor and beauty involved in printing by hand.
Luckily, there is both a significant market and audience for books made the old fashioned way. With the proliferation of fine press publishers and some book-minded universities, the practice of loving, inefficient printing has seen a renaissance. And with the help of the internet, it’s possible for anyone to witness these centuries-old techniques in action. We’ve included some of the best videos about hand-printing around, showcasing the care and
deliberation put into the creation of each volume.
1. The Gutenberg Press
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The Crandall Historical Printing Museum in Provo, Utah is host to “the most complete and functioning Gutenberg Press in the world.” And here, we can see the machine in action. You might notice that even though it made printing immeasurably easier, operating one of these was still no walk in the park.
2. Making Washi Paper
Before Gutenberg was born, halfway around the world the Japanese were perfecting the manufacture of washi paper. Washi makes for a beautiful, elegant medium beloved by modern day bookbinders with a long tradition extending to legendary artists like Rembrandt. This superb video shows how a small town near Kyoto preserves the traditional methods of making washi. (Note how the season is winter, a time when clear, sanitary water is abundant for use in the delicate process.)
3. Overview of Pre-Industrial Book-Making
This is the most comprehensive video on the list, depicting the process from blank page to bound book. It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by the skill and expertise applied in every step from cutting the pages, to sewing, to adding finishing touches on the leather binding.
4. Restoring an Old Book
It’s not only the printing that takes work. Restoring a book is an intense and artful process, too. This video takes an 18th century tome that’s seen better days (it appears to have been ravaged by bookworms) and brings it back to life.
5. Carving a Woodcut
In the above video, the art of woodcut illustration takes center stage. Like any step in the making of a book, it’s a brilliant technique that requires years of experience and trial to get right. And how beautiful it is to see it done by an expert.
6. Modern Fine Press Books
We’re not the type to conceal our love for books by Nawakum Press—and especially not when we get to see the sheer artistry and work they put into every one of their volumes. Here, Nawakum shows us the meticulous task of carving the illustration blocks, as well as obscure processes we laymen would have never imagined, like melting and casting the metal type.
7. Marbling Paper
This video depicts the process of marbling and has no narration (though it does feature a compelling accordion track), but that doesn’t matter. Let the beauty of the technique speak for itself.