Printing as a technology was introduced in India by the Portuguese missionaries. The first printing press of India was installed in Goa in 1556. Printing technology was adopted in Bombay in 1670. European missionaries set up printing presses in different areas of India, mostly during the period between the last part of the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth century. Portuguese missionaries in Bengal published several Bangla books in Roman letters from Lisbon. The oldest samples of Bangla printing can be found in some books published in Paris by French missionaries in 1682.

Horizontal Camera

All previous types of Bangla printing were made on copper plates. The first man to design Bangla letter types was sir charles wilkins. His Bangla letter types were first used in the Grammar of the Bengali Language (1778) by nathaniel brassey halhead. Wilkins, a senior merchant in the east india company's service, set up a printing press in Hughli. This was the first press set up by the company. Wilkins refined the letter types and made better quality types subsequently. The first Bengali to learn the craft of making Bangla type was Panchanan Karmakar, an assistant of Wilkins, but the first man in Bengal to improve on the original crude letters of Wilkins and make Bangla lino type in the early 20th century was Surresh Chandra Majumdar. Changes in Bangla letters incorporated in the lino type had an impact on the mono type, the inta type and the typewriter. The size of the Bangla keyboard remained small. In fact, the lino type of Suresh Chandra continues to have its impact even today.

Books were printed in the nineteenth century with chiseled fixed types. Blocks carved on wood or on copper were used for printing pictures. The technique of printing quality pictures was further developed by Upendra Kishore.

The different aspects of printing that he developed included the sixty-degree screen method, diaphragm method, screen adjuster machine, diotype and reprint. In 1885, he set up a block-making workshop named European Company, later renamed U Roy & Sons. He realised that the quality of printing from carved copper and zinc plate was better than that from carved wood. He studied the subject and conducted experiments in his darkroom. Based on observations on the reflection and refraction of light in the darkroom, he invented the formula of making halftone blocks and made designs for making a screen.

A printing press named Bartabaha Jantra (the machine that prints newspaper) was established at Rangpur in 1847-48. An Englishman, Alexander Farbekh, established the first printing press of Dhaka named the Dacca Press, which however, did not have the facilities to print Bangla matter. The press printed an English newspaper, the Dacca News. Babu Brajasundar Mitra, associated with the Brahma Samaj and other social welfare organisations, established the second printing press in Dhaka called the Bangla Press in 1860. The press was initially engaged in Bangla printing only. In 1866, Dhaka had three printing presses. There was also a printing press at Faridpur in which the Amrita Bazar Patrika was printed.

Letter Press

After the partition of Bengal in 1947, East Bengal inherited a very small printing industry. calcutta was the main centre of the industry. New printing presses had to be established at Dhaka to meet local requirements, including the printing of government forms, gazettes, and different types of books and leaflets, and especially, of the huge number of text books for schools and colleges and newspapers. The printing industry therefore, expanded quickly in both public and private sectors, and began to import and install modern machines and tools, incorporating advanced technology. However, the imports of the latest machinery were constrained by shortage of foreign exchange. There was also shortage of skilled manpower to operate the new machines and to produce quality printing. Eden press of Dhaka was the first to install a lino type machine. The Paramount Press and the Baliadi Press operated mono type machines. These two presses carved letters in Mono super casting machines and sold English and Bangla letter types to other presses, which printed books and newspapers in platen or flatbed printing machines. Among the presses that earned a reputation for high quality printing in the 1950s were the Alexander Press, the Star Press, and the Jinat Press.

In the pre-1947 period, the daily Azad printed and published its issues from Calcutta. It continued to be printed in Calcutta for quite some time after 1947. The publication of the paper started at Dhaka only after the machines were brought from Calcutta. Meanwhile, Hamidul Haq Chowdhury had set up the Al-Helal Printing Press at Dhaka and commenced publication of the Pakistan Observer. His manager, Abdul Ghani Hazari, a man who had taught himself printing skills, studied the machines and the printing technology and had become an expert in the area. Poet Sikander Abu Zafar set up a printing press named Samakal Printing, which printed Samakal, the best literary magazine of that time. The magazine was printed in hand composed letter types. Most people involved in printing in the past were highly educated and skilled technicians. Abdul Ghani Hazari and Sikandar Abu Jafar were no exception. The Asiatic Press earned a reputation for printing of complicated matters with phonetic and mathematical symbols.

In the 1950s and 1960s, books and newspapers were printed mainly in letter presses. Printing of pictures required blocks. In most cases, technicians made the line blocks by hand. Half tone blocks required cameras, screens, and skilled technicians. The most renowned among the firms engaged in the job were Linkman, East End Process, and the Standard Book Company. East Pakistan Co-operative Book Society Press and Pioneer Press introduced offset printing in the mid-1960s. At present, the number of medium and small printing presses in Bangladesh is about eight hundred.

In 1967, graphic arts institute, the only educational centre for printing technology in the country, was established in Dhaka under the Technical Education Board. The Institute is now a full printing institute, which is equipped with different types of printing devices like movable type, letter press, gallery type camera and also with modern technological devices like offset lithography, gravure printing, screen printing, modern process camera (horizontal and vertical) with auto plate processor, lithe film, panchromatic film etc. In order to cope with the other printing presses of the country as well as modern printing technology of the world, computer graphic course has been updated with the new curriculum. The updated course focuses on image setter, drum scanner, laser printer, inkjet printer and so on.

The printing industry experienced remarkable growth from the 1980s when computer technology replaced traditional printing methods. Now such methods are disappearing even from rural areas of Bangladesh. A number of software programmes have been developed for Bangla computer compose and printing. The Bangla computer keyboard has a number of types. The credit for programming Bangla letters goes to a number of different persons. In 1984, Saif-Ud-Doha Shahid made the first design of Bangla letters for an Apple Mackintosh computer. In 1986, Mainul developed an improved version, and in 1994, Mostafa Jabbar adopted the Bangla keyboard for use in an Apple Mackintosh computer. The programme was named Bijoy and the fonts set were named Sutanny.

The introduction of digital printing has made the jobs of plate making, processing and offset printing redundant. Printers now receive prints of the text with make up and even, multi-coloured photographs directly from the computer. Computer printing is now an established practice in Bangladesh. It took several hundred years for the transfer of the classical printing technology from Europe to Bengal. But for computer based printing it took only a decade. [Fazle Rabbi]