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Movable type (US English; moveable type in British English) is the system and technology of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document (usually individual alphanumeric characters or punctuation marks) usually on the medium of paper.

The world's first movable type printing technology for printing paper books was made of porcelain materials and was invented around AD 1040 in China during the Northern Song Dynasty by the inventor Bi Sheng (990–1051).[1] The oldest extant book printed with movable metal type, Jikji, was printed in Korea in 1377 during the Goryeo dynasty.

The diffusion of both movable-type systems was, to some degree, limited to primarily East Asia. The development of the printing press in Europe may have been influenced by various sporadic reports of movable type technology brought back to Europe by returning business people and missionaries to China.[2][3][4] Some of these medieval European accounts are still preserved in the library archives of the Vatican and Oxford University among many others.[5]

Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the metal movable-type printing press in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. The small number of alphabetic characters needed for European languages was an important factor.[6] Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony—and these materials remained standard for 550 years.[7]

For alphabetic scripts, movable-type page setting was quicker than woodblock printing. The metal type pieces were more durable and the lettering was more uniform, leading to typography and fonts. The high quality and relatively low price of the Gutenberg Bible (1455) established the superiority of movable type in Europe and the use of printing presses spread rapidly. The printing press may be regarded as one of the key factors fostering the Renaissance[8] and due to its effectiveness, its use spread around the globe.

The 19th-century invention of hot metal typesetting and its successors caused movable type to decline in the 20th century.

Modern, factory-produced movable type was available in the late 19th century. It was held in the printing shop in a job case, a drawer about 2 inches high, a yard wide, and about two feet deep, with many small compartments for the various letters and ligatures. The most popular and accepted of the job case designs in America was the California Job Case, which took its name from the Pacific coast location of the foundries that made the case popular.[48]