Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document (usually individual letters or punctuation).
The world’s first known movable type system for printing was created in China around 1040 A.D. by Bi Sheng (990–1051) during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127); When this technology spread to Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1234, they made the metal movable-type system for printing. This led to the printing of the Jikji in 1377, the oldest extant movable metal print book. The diffusion of both movable-type systems was, however, limited: They were expensive, and required an enormous amount of labour involved in manipulating the thousands of ceramic tablets, or in the case of Korea, metal tablets required for scripts based on the Chinese writing system, which have thousands of characters.
Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented an improved movable type mechanical printing system in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. The more limited number of characters needed for European languages was an important factor. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony—the same components still used today.
For alphabetic scripts, movable-type page setting was quicker and more durable than woodblock printing. The metal type pieces were more durable and the lettering was more uniform, leading to typography and fonts. The printing press was especially efficient for limited alphabets. 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 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.