Gandhi edited Indian Opinion, Young India, Navajivan and Harijan. He printed and published them in his own press. He knew he would not be able to express his views freely, if his journals were printed in a press by others. When he took charge of the weekly Indian Opinion, it was a losing concern. He wanted to shift the printing-press from the city to the out-of-the-way Phoenix Settlement. His friends thought it would prove a failure. Gandhi got his printing machinery, equipment and furniture neatly fitted in a shed. An old oil-engine was used to run the press. He had his office in a separate room. No paid servant or peon was employed there. Indian Opinion was dispatched on Saturday. By Friday noon the articles were composed. The inmates of the settlement, old and young, assisted in composing, printing, cutting and folding the sheets, pasting addresses and making bundles. They had to reach to the railway station in time. They usually worked upto midnight. When the pressure of the work was heavy, Gandhi with others kept awake the whole of the Friday night. Kasturba and other women sometimes helped them.
On the very first night, when Indian Opinion was being printed in the Phoenix Settlement, the oil-engine failed. With the help of a hand-driven wheel, Gandhi and all able-bodied inmates ran the machine and issued the paper in due time. This arrangement helped Gandhi to learn the details of press work. He wrote articles, set types, lent a hand in printing and saw the proofs. Many youngsters became apprentice workers. The publication and printing of one issue of Indian Opinion was once entirely done by the young boys. Indian Opinion was in the beginning printed in four languages-English, Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil. For want of editors and composers it was later printed in English and Gujarati only. When Gandhi came to India and visited Adyar, Annie Besant noticed how with an expert's trained, eye he observed the printing process there.
Apart from printing the weeklies, many books in English, Hindi and other languages were printed in Phoenix Press and Navjivan Press. Gandhi never deposited any security money with the Government. Profits from his own writing were mainly spent on khadi work. He made a trust deed of the Navajivan Press worth one lakh of rupees.
Bad printing he counted as an act of himsa (violence). He insisted on clear types, durable paper and neat simple jackets. He knew costly books in attractive jackets were out of the reach of general readers of a poor country like India. During his lifetime, the Navajivan Press printed many books at a low price. His autobiography in Gujarati was priced 12 annas. There was also a cheap edition of this book printed in Devanagari.
Gandhi stressed the need and advantage of using one script throughout India as that would save much time and labour of the readers and the pressmen. He preferred Devanagari because almost all the Indian languages were derived from Sanskrit. In the Gujarati version of the Indian Opinion is found a full page description of the Tulsi Ramayana in Hindi script. Gandhi himself chose the types for Harijan.
He was not for copyright and writings in the journals edited by him were common property. Only when there arose a chance of his writings being twisted, he agreed to exercise copyright rules.
He thought that children's books should be printed in bold types on good paper and each item should be illustrated with a sketch. He preferred thin booklets. They do not tire out the children and are easy to handle. Once an ashramite in charge of national education brought out a primer. It had pictures on every page and was printed on coloured art paper. With pride he asked: 'Bapuji, have seen the primer? The whole conception is mine." Gandhi said: "Yes. It is beautiful, but for whom have you printed it? How many readers can afford to buy a five-anna-worth book? You are in charge of the education of the children of the starving millions of India. If other books sell at one anna, yours should be priced two pice." Gandhi once took charge of a weekly priced at two annas and brought it out for one anna per copy.
In printing, saving money was not the last word with Gandhi. Once the Navajivan Press decided to publish a Gujarati translation of Gokhale's writings and speeches. The translation was done by an educationist. When the book was printed, Gandhi was requested to write the foreword. He found the translation poor and stiff and asked it to be destroyed. When he was told that seven hundred rupees had been spent on it, he said: "Do you think it desirable to place this rubbish before the public after spending more on binding and cover? I do not want to ruin people's taste by distributing bad literature." The whole lot was burnt and was not allowed to be sold even as waste paper...
Gandhi always defended liberty of the press. He stopped printing his journals when any Government order restricted him from publishing his views freely on vital matters. For his love of freedom of the pen, his press was attached, his files were destroyed. He and his co-workers were jailed. He was never discouraged and remarked: "Let us break the idol of machinery and leaden type. The pen is our foundry and the hands of the copyists our printing machine. Let everyone become his walking paper and carry the news from mouth to mouth. This no Government can suppress."