Illustration Processes to 1900 (July 2013)

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Illustration Processes to 1900 (I-20), Rare Book School, taught by Terry Belanger, 22-27 July 2013

first thing to ask: date? is it printed on both sides? is the caption letterpress or freeform?

sock impression: on damp paper; kiss impression: on dry paper

letter press -- ~200 sq in of printing space, about 200lb of pressure, so ~1lb per sq in (not much at all)

grass: jobs done in the spaces between other jobs; hence (perhaps?) Whitman's Leaves of Grass?


can't tell if a relief print is printed from wood or from metal (eletrotype)

if sheet is printed on both sides, 90% certain it's relief

don't get large areas of dead black in intaglio the way you do with relief

Hand press period


fast to print (about 100x faster to print than intaglio)

don't wear out

ink is such in, so you can stack sheets while wet

done on plank side of wood

occasionally find pen corrections, since labor was cheap and materials were expensive (reverse of today)


Wood engravings

done on endgrain, which is much harder; you an use a burin

advantage over intaglio: can be printed with the text

Civil War Artist by Taylor Morrison, good description of process of making a wood engraving

bolted together smaller pieces of boxwood to make large enough image

Bewick manner -- popularized wood engraving

  • vignette: no edges -- not rectangle or oval
  • Bewick known for his vignetes; see pg 13 in workbook for a passage from Jane Eyre that mentions Bewick
  • many imitators
  • large Bewick block collection at the Newberry
  • Bewick manner uses white lines when you can, since it's easier

Facsimile -- copy what an artist gives you

Interpretive -- interpret what an artist gives you

White-line -- using a general white line on black background; easier to cut


stereotype begins around 1810; eletrotypes in 1840s

copper-faced woodblock made from original wood engraving; can't tell the different between a printing done from copper face or from original woodblock

plaster in wood engraving means it was used to make a stereotype

sandwich of copper and typemetal: electrotype

flong: paper mache pressing for making stereotypes;

Wax engraving

engrave on wax, in order to make a relief block

often used for making maps, since letterpress type could be pressed directly into the wax (on curves, at an angle, etc)

Photographically assisted processes


photograph against a light-sensitized wood surface, cut a wood engraving from the photograph; wood engravings with high photographic quality may have been done by this process

Process relief line engraving

take a photographic negative of a line block, put it on a zinc plate that is painted with a light-sensitive emulsion, shine a light onto it; gelative in emulsion hardens where light hits it, the rest washes away, leaving a relief surface

Process false halftones

also artist's false halftones; looks like halftone but is actually process line block created from a chalky image that already has dotted crayon-y effect; dots won't be regular but printing will be relief

Process relief halftones

same as process relief line engraving, buta screen is between the negative and the light-sensitized plate, so that tonal gradations in the photograph show (on the principle that water/emulsion hardens at different rates around the screen lines

to get a good quality image in halftone, need a very fine screen and very smooth paper; many magazine have high clay content for this reason

can identify it as a relief process by the ink squash

benefit of photographic process: can enlarge or shrink image

first halftone photographs in 1880s

many relief blocks were touched up with a burin before printing; see Drawing for Process Reproduction

relief processes of different types can co-exist on same late 19c magazine page because each page was made as a stereotype/electrotype after setting


C20 developments


drawing white lines on a scraped white board, to create an image to be photographed and made as a process line block

can look like very detailed wood engravings

preparation process for photography -- not a printing process


if there are flowing lines, it's intaglio

offsetting tells you two plates were in the same place at the same time long enough to offset, but doesn't necessarily indicate from the same shop

pentimento: an alteration that's been rubbed out (

difference between litho and intaglio: you can find hairs where ink is wicked in intaglio under high magnification

Hand-press period

Copper engravings

can only do about ~100 impressions, not enough for a book run; by 19C, could get ~1500 copies from copper by beating it first to make it stronger

under pressure of rolling press, lines of copperplate squash together

  • refurbishers could touch them up; were paid by the hour (unusual for book trade, because it was such skilled labor)

at about 1000 impressions, it's cheaper to duplicate the plate

Pallaioulo -- Battle of the Nudes (

game of collecting Italian Renaissance prints was over by the end of the 18c -- very rare

copper was very expensive in handpress period

chalcography -- John Evelyn term for copperplate engraving

Chalgographic Museum


pure etching virtually unknown in handpress period

speed: map engraver in Ordinate Survey Office expected to do 2x2 inches a day engraved; with etchings, a simple 7x10" plate could be done in ~1hour

engraving gives you a better line; etching, the acid eats out a globe under the surface, which causes it to cave in and deteriorate faster

easier to start with an etched line, then go over lines so the etching doesn't show; this was very common in all periods (almost all engravings have some etching on them)

Ivins claims engravings (the term) should be used for sculptural framing prints; etchings is for prints in books or generally smaller, more ephemeral

Etchings on an ungrounded plate

stopping out: covering etched areas with a waxy substance to re-etch other parts; gives portions a painted feel and different line thicknesses

drypoint -- can only get 10-20 images before the burr breaks off; is only a framing print

Line engravings

line engravings are opposed to mezzotints, stipple engravings and aquatints, which are all tonal engravings

steel-faced copper plates show up in 1870s, can get many more impressions

copperplate engraving after 1880 was for able to be done for a mass market (because of steel face), but it was too late -- photographic methods were becoming available


can only get ~200 from a plate; not used in books but as framing prints, because rubbing destroys them easily

Prince Rupert is fabled to have invented it (in John Evelyn's Sculptura, or the History of Chalcography), though Siegen did

first known is a large plate of an executioner; it made its way to England as the "Little executioner" (smaller image just of executioner's head), which is in Evelyn's book -- famous image

Stipple engravings

done through a ground; never done directly to the plate

shows up at the end of 18c, disappears with litho

can be hard to distinguish from chal manner litho


white islands surrounded by black sea indicates aquatint

painting the ground onto the plate; can do multiple bites with the acid to get a "terraced" visual effect (patches of uniform darkness, patches of uniform medium gray, etc.; see pg 21)

no color aquatints; only hand-colored

aquatint often used to give differentiation in print destined for hand-colored tone; can use only a few colors to get many colors because of aquatint shading effects

William Daniell, Voyage around Great Britain -- thought to be one of the most beautiful color plate books in aquatint;

  • Tate has the copperplates and did a restrike


Steel engravings

magazines needed many plates to reproduce; would # different copies at the bottom

doctor blade, could force ink into small, very thin lines

can produce lines so thin they aren't visible to the naked eye

takes 10x longer, but you get 100x as many copies (up to 100k)

ruling machine; could make many even lines quickly, of different thicknesses; enabled heavy use of line shading in steel engravings

steel engraving with no plate mark in a book means that a big plate was laid out in a sheet, then printed before the letterpress; so the sheet went through a press 4x (2x on each side)

by 1840s, steel is everywhere

Mezzotints on steel

19c mezzotints virtually unknown (largely an 18c process) except by John Sartain & family; used etching on the print and the plate was probably rocked mechanically in steel

Photographically assisted

Line photogravures

Aquatint photogravures

copperplate, so maybe 500 impressions

often with photofinishing, manipulating it to produce black

process that you cannot see, the aquatint is so fine

upmarket, not screened

Gravure printing

intaglio process

square cells all the same size but of different depth

lends itself to long runs

being used on a high-spreed press; using a doctor blade to ink



lithography described by its founder as a chemical process, because the nonprinting surface is in fact lightly etched with chemicals

the bigger the stone, the more likely it will break -- its thickness needs to increase accordingly

no platemark in litho

would take an artist about a day to do a large portrait

not a text transfer process in 19c; transfer litho not used for type, since it didn't fare well

cooler feel to litho; under glass, looks like baked carbon

litho vs. engraving: engraving, under glass, you can tell which lines cross which; in litho, all lines are on the same plane

can get about 1000 copies

for the first time, artists could easily train themselves in the process

litho begins appearing in books in the 1820-30s

can engrave the stone to produce white non-printing patches

mother stone (the storage stone) can have many different litho plates on it; transfer to the daughter stone, where plates are copied repeatedly like a sheet of stamps

litho can be autographic

Pen-and-ink style

Chalk-manner lithographs

500 or so copies; looks like black dots on a white sea


patented process, will be identified on the print

tint stone, sometimes with etching to produce white patches

use two pins in stone for register -- can see pinholes on the edges of the print

Transfer lithographs

Zinc lithography

Photographically assisted


if a print looks like it should be halftone but it isn't screened, it is either collotype or photogravure

collotype: light areas look like deformed triangles, dark like worms (see Gascoigne 40)

usefule for a lighter image

difficult to get very clean edges


Color (passim)

Hand-press period

woodcut initials: factotum (with letterpress letter inside); arabesque, crible (with dots), floriated (vegetation), grotesque (humans/animals), historiated (tell a story)

dabs -- metal casts in relief, made from a woodblock; heavily used in renaissance for initials and decorative flourishes, so presence of a nearly "identical" woodcut doesn't mean the book emerged from the same press; can be identified often by nail holes in the corner, where the metal was nailed to a piece of wood

Colored woodcuts -- color applied after printing by hand

Color woodcuts -- printed color

key block: black block, used to create color blocks

Edmund Evans -- key name in Victorian color printing (; also Benjamin Fawcett

Baby's Bouquet:

Chiaroscuro woodcuts

A la poupee coloring

painting directly onto the plate

Hand-colored aquatints

watercolors over aquatint; can get much subtlety because of aquatint proces

Color mezzotints

really no color mezzotints in 19c, although a few attempts in late 18c


Hand-colored lithogaphs

Tinted lithographs

tine stone with a register stone

Baxter prints

patented process;

lay tints in relief, print steel engraving over that, then print color in relief on top -- so intaglio process with relief color

largely framing prints; begin showing up in 1830s and are gone by 1860s, replaced by chromolithography advances


Chromo- vs color lithographs

Art of Chromolithography, by Audsley; showed progressive build-up of 22 color plates to create a single image

register is usually very good, compared to relief blocks

Nelson prints

lithography with relief color; have a characteristic blue color

1850-60s; disappear afterward

the lithography can be lightly stippled -- distressing is a sign of metal or stone, not wood


wood engravings building up color through successive blocks; key block (black) is last


creating relief blocks for color with type metal; usually a process line block

Photographically assisted

Process line engraving with tint blocks

3 & 4 color halftones


two tone process printing, to get subtle shades

Mechanical tints

benday dots; sheets of regular dots, can be used to make relief blocks that are tonal because of overlaying dots (automates cutting process)

looks like a halftone screen, but no variation in dots

Color collotypes


"permanent photographs," or Woodberry types; wouldn't fade like normal photographs; are always mounted on the page and have edges trimmed

Nature prints

pressing leaves or lace into metal, printing from it

fashionable in 184-50s

associated with Braley firm

Stencil prints: pochoir

hand-coloring process using stencils; practiced mostly in France

Silkscreen: serigraphs

not a book process in the 19c

uses water-based ink; heavy coverage