History of the Offset Printing Press

For your modern business, the offset printing press is a go-to tool to create a high volume of copies with the best quality, at a rate that is fast and affordable. But just how long has the offset printing press been in use? When (and how) was it first created?

It’s time to study up on your knowledge of printers! Let’s start with the history of the offset printing press:

What is offset printing?

Offset printing is a printing technique in which ink is transferred from a metal plate to a rubber roller, and, finally, to the printing surface. It’s called “offset” printing because the image is not immediately transferred to the printing surface.

History of the offset printing press


Lithography was first created in the late 18th century as an inexpensive way to reproduce artwork and theatrical texts. Using limestone printing plates, lithography creates an image by taking advantage of the immiscibility of oil and water.

The first rotary printing press

A rotary printing press uses a cylinder to transfer the desired image to the printing surface.

The first patent for the rotary printing press was developed in 1790. The idea was further developed by Richard March Hoe who, in 1843, created rotary drum printing.

The first rotary offset lithographic printing press

In England in 1875, Robert Barclay patented the first rotary offset lithographic printing press. This machine, which printed on tin, combined the technologies of mid-19th-century transfer printing technology and Hoe’s 1843 rotary printing press.

Ira Washington Rubel

In 1901, while working with Barclay’s printing press, Ira Washington Rubel accidentally discovered that a rubber roller, printing on paper, produces a much clearer, sharper image.

Previously, the press had employed a metal cylinder wrapped in cardboard that printed the image directly on metal. [The rubber roller was used only to move the item being printed upon (the paper) through the press.]

Offset printing in the 20th century

Rubel’s discovery transformed the landscape of offset printing.

At that time, lithography was falling out of favor as photography became more and more popular. But, with Rubel’s new method of printing, the offset printing industry would flourish in the following years.

In 1903, the Potter Press Printing Company in New York created a printing press that employed Rubel’s new design.

By 1907, Rubel’s offset printing press was being used across the country in San Francisco.

Today, the offset printing press is still used to print high volumes of any image or text you may need. It remains the best method for printing a lot of copies quickly, efficiently, and, most importantly, with the best quality.

Looking for an offset print press?

At APT, you can find a wide selection of pre-owned offset presses.

Contact us for any questions or quote requests.