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Key Moments in Graphic Design History Timeline: Part 1

15,000 BC to 1900


France, reconstruction of bull rock paintings of Lascaux caves
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

15,000 - 10,000 BC
The first known visual communication, with pictographs and symbols in the Lascaux caves in southern France.

3600 BC
The Blau Monument, the oldest artifact known to combine words and pictures.

105 AD
Chinese government official Ts’ai Lun credited with inventing paper.

1045 AD
Pi Sheng invents movable type, allowing for characters to be individually placed for printing.

Printing arrives in Europe with a paper mill in Fabriano, Italy.

Johann Gensfleisch zum Gutenburg credited with perfecting the system for printing type in books.

Albrecht Pfister the first to add illustrations to a printed book.

Nicolas Jenson, considered one of history’s greatest typeface designers, sets news standard for Roman type.

Claude Garamond opens first type foundry, developing and selling fonts to printers.

First Caslon Old Style font developed, later used for the printing of the Declaration of Independence.

Industrial Revolution begins, setting the stage for advances in graphic design production.

Author Aloys Senefelder develops lithography.

Lord Stanhope invents first printing press made of all cast-iron parts, requiring 1/10 the manual labor and doubling the possible paper size.

First sans-serif font makes a subtle entrance as one line of a book.

Williams Morris, who became a highly influential figure in design history, sets up art-decorating firm.

Development of halftone screen allows for first photo printed with a full range of tones.

Art Nouveau movement begins and changes design, making its way into all types of commercial design and utilizing all types of arts.


Philip B. Meggs, Alston W. Purvis. “Meggs’ History of Graphic Design.” Fourth Edition. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2006.

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