John Pascoe Fawkner printed Melbourne's first newspaper, the Melbourne Advertiser, in May 1838 using a wooden hand printing press and types imported from Tasmania. Other printers soon followed, and in 1840 the first book, George Arden's Latest information with regard to Australia Felix, was produced by the firm George Arden & Thomas Strode. By 1845 there were four newspaper printing offices and two job printers in Melbourne. The number of printing offices increased rapidly after 1850, rising to 145 by 1894. Lithography, introduced in 1843 by Henry Lingham, provided illustrations for Melbourne's first periodical, the Port Phillip Magazine. The first illustration produced by engraving, carried in this journal in April 1843, was undertaken by Thomas Ham, who later built up a large business in lithography as well as engraving.
Until 1852 both composing and printing had been done by hand, but the Argus introduced a steam driven cylinder press in January 1853 to cope with the demand for its newspaper. This innovation was soon emulated by other proprietors. Stereotyping was also introduced to allow additional presses to print from the one setting of type. Oil and gas engines superseded steam later in the century, to be replaced in turn by electric motors from the 1890s. Electric motors allowed even small job printers, who had previously relied on hand power, to use power presses.
The Government Printing Office, established in January 1851 and operating under the leadership of government printer John Ferres from November 1851, developed into one of the leading printeries in Australia, renowned for the quality and range of its printing. It was mechanised in 1858 with the importation of a steam engine to drive power presses. The Geological Survey of Victoria introduced lithographic colour printing for geological maps in 1859 and in the following year imported a steam lithographic press to speed up the process, but it was not until 1868 that steam lithographic presses were taken up by the trade.
A method of photolithography invented by John Osborne of the Lands Department in August 1859 revolutionised government map printing and was soon introduced throughout the Australian colonies. The technique was applied to the production of other printed products and was also taken up by private enterprise. Printing ink was first manufactured in Melbourne by Frederick Thomas Wimble in 1867. Until the 1890s, typesetting was done by hand by compositors handling individual letters. In December 1894 machines that set type, called linotypes, were introduced into the firm of A.H. Massina & Co. In 1895 they were installed at the Herald newspaper and in 1896 at the other Melbourne newspapers. As a result, dozens of compositors were thrown out of work.
Wood engraving was first undertaken in Melbourne by Samuel Calvert in 1852 and rapidly became the principal means of illustration for books, illustrated newspapers and periodicals. By the late 1880s half-tone and line blocks, made by using photography to produce a metal printing block, rapidly replaced wood engraving. Process blocks could be readily printed on poor-quality paper, allowing illustrations to be used in daily newspapers, but they, in turn, were superseded by the extensive use of offset lithography from the 1960s. John Patterson, a process engraver, experimented with three-colour process plates in Melbourne in 1896 and was successful in producing them the following year. The three-colour process revolutionised the colour printing of illustrations and led to the demise of stone-based lithography for this purpose.
Flexible metal plates for lithography, used on the newly developed rotary offset presses, led to considerable diversification of lithographic printing, which became a significant competitor to letterpress printing. Their application to tinplate printing was first introduced by Jabez Gadsen & Co. in 1896. With the further development of phototypesetting, offset printing superseded letterpress printing completely in the 1960s.
Printing firms were concentrated in the city but gradually spread to the suburbs with the development of suburban newspapers. The big printing firms remained in the city until the 1960s, but moved out to larger suburban factories in the suburbs to accommodate their large high-speed roller presses.