Innovations of Graphic design in China

    Printmaking and papermaking innovations that influenced the development of graphic design

China innovated the key features of graphic design, printmaking and papermaking. Both of these inventions were essential to the development of graphic design. Without them the development of the written word would not of developed from writing on stone and other materials, which don’t have the same qualities as paper, and the development of print and moveable type meant that the mass production of written communication such as books and propaganda could happen creating vital elements in the history of graphic design.

In AD 105 the invention of paper was cited and reported to the Chinese emperor by an official of the imperial court, Ts’ai Lun. However recent archeology discovers show the invention of paper in China to be around 200 years earlier during the reign of Emperor Wu. Whether Ts’ai Lun invented paper is for debate but how developed it as a material revolutionized China. The main development was using a smooth material in the mold covering this meant the mold could immediately quickening production. Other developments included adding yellow dye that acted as an insect repellant and using starch as a sizing material creating a stronger material overall.

Printing in China was developed long before it was developed in Europe some of the earliest examples of woodblock printing text, images and pattern originated in China early 220 A.D. These surviving woodblock printed fragments are of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Hans Dynasty and in the mid seventh century the earliest example of woodblock printing on paper was also discovered in China.

China was ahead of Europe in developing printing and colour printing by hundreds of years. They also developed the first moveable type. Bi Sheng developed moveable type in China in 1040 using porcelain. He used clay type but this broke easily, but Wang Zhen later carved a more durable type out of wood in 1298. He developed a complicated system using revolving tables and number association with written Chinese characters making the process of typesetting and printing more efficient. Woodblock printing remained the main method in use in China for a long time due to the hundreds of Chinese characters. Copper moveable type was developed in China in the twelfth century and was used on a large-scale to produce printed money in the Northern song dynasty.

In 868 the Diamond sutra was the first completed printed book and printing on paper had taken off. A skilled printer could print up to 2,000 double-page sheets per day and by the tenth century 400,000 copies of some sutras and pictures were printed. In the British library amongst the Dunhuang manuscripts the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra and it is the earliest version of a dated printed book. By the beginning of the eleventh century moveable type was being used to produce longer scrolls and books making books widely available in the Song Dynasty.

The earliest dated printed book

Printing spread of China and Japan countries that used Chinese logograms and developed for other scripts into Vietnam and Turpan. But it didn’t reach the Islamic world.

Moveable type eventually made it from China to Europe and in 1450 Johannes Gutenberg developed the Gutenberg press and introduced what was seen as the first system of moveable type in Europe. He was the first to create type pieces from alloy lead and steal the same materials that are still used today. Aldus Manutius developed his book structure and this became the foundation for western publications. This era of graphic design is known as Humanist or old style.

Gutenberg bible

These innovations relate directly to what I study as a Graphic design student from editorial and typography work to large-scale imagery and photography. If this wasn’t developed communication on a large-scale would not be possible and it all developed out of China and has created the modern design industry.

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7 thoughts on “Innovations of Graphic design in China

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  5. Great work. It is always interesting for one graphic designer to read something about the asian traditions at typography and papermaking especially when you talk for China which is a country with great history.

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