Before printing was widely adopted in the 19th century, the Quran was transmitted in manuscripts made by calligraphers and copyists. The earliest manuscripts were written in Ḥijāzī-type script. The Hijazi style manuscripts nevertheless confirm that transmission of the Quran in writing began at an early stage. Probably in the ninth century, scripts began to feature thicker strokes, which are traditionally known as Kufic scripts. Toward the end of the ninth century, new scripts began to appear in copies of the Quran and replace earlier scripts. The reason for discontinuation in the use of the earlier style was that it took too long to produce and the demand for copies was increasing. Copyists would therefore chose simpler writing styles. Beginning in the 11th century, the styles of writing employed were primarily the naskh, muhaqqaq, rayḥānī and, on rarer occasions, the thuluth script. Naskh was in very widespread use. In North Africa and Spain, the Maghribī style was popular. More distinct is the Bihari script which was used solely in the north of India. Nastaʻlīq style was also rarely used in Persian world.
In the beginning, the Quran did not have vocalization markings. The system of vocalization, as we know it today, seems to have been introduced towards the end of the ninth century. Since it would have been too costly for most Muslims to purchase a manuscript, copies of the Quran were held in mosques in order to make them accessible to people. These copies frequently took the form of a series of 30 parts or juzʼ. In terms of productivity, the Ottoman copyists provide the best example. This was in response to widespread demand, unpopularity of printing methods and for aesthetic reasons.
Folio from the "Blue" Qur'an. Brooklyn Museum.
kufic script, Eighth or ninth century.
maghribi script, 13th-14th centuries.
muhaqaq script, 14th-15th centuries
shikasta nastaliq script, 18th-19th centuries
kufic script, with border decorations
Wood-block printing of extracts from the Quran is on record as early as the 10th century.
Arabic movable type printing was ordered by Pope Julius II (r. 1503−1512) for distribution among Middle Eastern Christians. The first complete Quran printed with movable type was produced in Venice in 1537/1538 for the Ottoman market by Paganino Paganini and Alessandro Paganini. Two more editions include those published by the pastor Abraham Hinckelmann in Hamburg in 1694 and by Italian priest Ludovico Maracci in Padua in 1698. The latter edition included an accurate Latin translation.
Printed copies of the Quran during this period met with strong opposition from Muslim legal scholars: printing anything in Arabic was prohibited in the Ottoman empire between 1483 and 1726—initially, even on penalty of death. The Ottoman ban on printing in Arabic script was lifted in 1726 for non-religious texts only upon the request of Ibrahim Muteferrika, who printed his first book in 1729. Very few books, and no religious texts, were printed in the Ottoman Empire for another century.
In 1786, Catherine the Great of Russia, sponsored a printing press for "Tatar and Turkish orthography" in Saint Petersburg, with one Mullah Osman Ismail responsible for producing the Arabic types. A Quran was printed with this press in 1787, reprinted in 1790 and 1793 in Saint Petersburg, and in 1803 in Kazan. The first edition printed in Iran appeared in Tehran (1828) and the first Ottoman edition was finally printed in 1877, during the First Constitutional Era.
Gustav Flügel published an edition of the Quran in 1834 in Leipzig, which remained authoritative for close to a century, until Cairo's Al-Azhar University published an edition of the Quran in 1924. This edition was the result of a long preparation as it standardized Quranic orthography and remains the basis of later editions.