20 December 2010 § Leave a comment

With the emergence of lithography and photography in the early nineteenth century, experiments to combine both techniques began in the second half of the century.
A photograph could be made of any ordinary drawing or document and light-sensitive gelatine could be exposed to light trough the negative. The gelatine would harden according the negative and could then be inked and transferred to stone. It was also used with exposed albumine directly on the stone, afterward the stone was inked and only the hardened parts absorbed the ink. Both methods made it very easy to make reproductions of existing prints, drawings and manuscripts and it’s nearly impossible to separate a lithographically from a drawing on transfer paper.
At first only pure black and white where possible, but in the 1880’s it became possible to achieve tonal effects trough cracks in the gelatine. With these so called ink-photo’s, instead of printing it directly from the gelatine as a collotype, it was transferred to stone, losing some of the colloptype quality but with the advantage of the speed and low costs of lithography.


KRÜGER, O. Die lithographischen verfahren und der offset-druck. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1926. pp. 22-77.

WALLIS, A brief history of photographic reproduction processes (up to 1939). Photography’s coming of age. Collotype. Photo-lithography. Lithoprinter 5 (1962): 653-654, 733-737; 6 (1963): 67-70, 105-108.

LINDEN, F. van der. Grafische technieken. De Bilt: Cantecleer, 1970. pp. 197-201.

TWYMAN, M. Breaking the mould: the first hundred years of lithography. London: British Library, 2001.

GASCOIGNE, B. How to identify prints. A complete guide tot manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet. High Holborn: Thames & Hudson, 2004. 41.



14 December 2010 § Leave a comment

Dutch: Woodburytypie

The term Woodburytype comes from the English pioneering photographer W.B. Woodbury (1834-1885). From an early age Walter Bentley was fascinated by the principles of photography. His first camera was home-made, constructed out “of stout millboard, bound together at the joints with strong black tape.”

Woodburytype refers to both the print made in this manner as well as the photomechanical process. It was developed around 1860. It was especially popular between 1875 and 1900. It only lasted a couple of decades since cheaper and easier techniques came into being quickly. The process required much expensive equipment and Woodbury was trying to develop a simpler version called stannotype when he died from an overdose of laudanum in 1885.

Old Furniture, 1877-78 by John Thomson (11 x 9cm)

The process involved exposing a gelatin film that had been fixed on a glassplate. Between the lightsource and the gelatin, a photographic negative was placed. The more transparent the negative, the harder the gelatin would become. After, the gelatin that hadn’t hardened would be washed off. The relief that was left would be pressed into a sheet of soft lead. In turn, coloured gelatin was poured over the metalrelief. A sheet of paper was then pressed against it. The excess gelatin would drip away on the side while the remaining gelatin attached itself onto the paper. The thickness of this layer corresponded to the depth of the relief. This meant that you ended up with differences in the intensity of the colour.

In appearance they are very like carbon prints, having the same high tonal qualities, due to their photo-relief manufacture, and the same disadvantage of having to be pasted in. Woodburytypes had more prominent image relief than carbon prints and were  usually small, never larger than 11 by 14 inches. Most of them were produced as book illustrations. They have a tendency for large cracks to appear in the shadow areas.

As far as the colouring matter goes, commercial operators used various pigments to produce a range of colours, mainly dark blues and dark browns, but occasionally terra cotta. It was most popular in the 1870s. It is fairly simple to distinguish a Woodburytype from a pasted-in photograph, for the latter is more likely to be found in a book published before 1868. The surface is never absolutely smooth, you can sometimes see the variation in thickness. Furthermore, Woodburytypes never faded round the edges as most photographs of this period did. On the print it may say Woodbury or photoglyptie and it has a high gloss surface. You can also look for a grain pattern since they do not have a grain pattern like all other mechanical prints. There might also be ridges where very light areas and shadow come together and there might be loss of surface gloss in extreme hightlights.

No Dutch firm used the Woodburytype technique. Probably because the investment costs were too high. But it has been used in Dutch books. They were, e.g., made by Goupil or Lemercier in Paris. A well-known work containing Woodburytypes is Onze Hedendaagsche Schilders (The Hague, 1881).

Primary Sources:

Wood, Henry Trueman Wright. Modern Methods of Illustrating Books. London: Elliot Stock, 1886.

Secondary Sources:

Berret, Oliver. A History of the Woodburytype. Nevada City: Carl Mautz, 2007.

Gascoigne, B. How to identify prints: a complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Linden, Fons van der. De Grafische Technieken. De Bilt: Cantecleer, 1979.

Reilly, James M. Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints. Rochester: Eastman Kodak Co., 1986.

Stijnman, Ad et al. De Techniek van de Nederlandse Boekillustratie in de 19e Eeuw. Amstelveen: Koninklijk Verbond van Grafische Ondernemingen, 1995.

Wachlin, Steven. Woodbury & Page. Leiden: KITLV Press, 1994.

Wakeman, Geoffrey. Victorian Book Illustration. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973.

Zoete, Johan de. Zomaar een Plaatje? Arnhem: Coördinatiecommissie Grafische Musea, 1991.


20 October 2010 § Leave a comment


Dutch: Autotypie (or  rastercliché)

French: Cliché de similigravure

German: Rasterätzung

Firstly, what are halftones? They are the different greytones you can find in, e.g., a photograph. With a linecliché one was only able to create lines and areas of one colour. The halftone solved the problems printers had had thus far with the creation of grey tones. It made it possible to produce continues tone images. It is a type of cliché where you use a screen.

This technique is quite difficult to put into words since it is a rather complex one. The upside is that it’s easy to recognize. But let us look at the process first. So, say you have a black and white photo you want to reproduce. This photo is full of greytones. Using a screen in your camera you convert the picture to an image made up of dots. The bigger the dots, the blacker the image. The smaller the dots, the grayer the image. If you want to create an illustration with colour, you have to make a cliché for each separate colour.

This technique was made possible because of the invention of photography. One basically uses the photographic layer to form the basis for an etching. Instead of manually modeling, you’re lighting and developing. Only after the invention of halftone engraving, they were able to print halftones. The inventor, George Meisenbach, would dissect the halftones by use of a fine network of lines (grid or screen) of dots of varying sizes. They could now reproduce photographs without first having to convert them to drawings. A huge advantage was that it enabled them to print text and images in one single run of the press. Up till now, this could only be done with xylography and woodcuts.

Merton College, Oxford (1910)

The photo is attached to the camera. In the camera a screen was placed. The white areas would reflect the most light and the lightbeams would cross and you’d end up with very small gridpoints. The darker areas will reflect less light and leave bigger gridpoints. The results is a transparent negative, made up of dots. The rest of the process is a very complex and technical story. You have to transfer the image to a zincplate which is covered in a lightsensitive blue layer of wax. The negative and the plate are placed next to each other and by pointing a lightsource on them, the areas the light reaches will harden and become acidresistent. The etching part also happens in a machine.

You can recognize a print of a halftone engraving by the varying sizes of the dots. It basically goes like this, dark areas: wide, close together dots; lighter areas: small dots with more space in between them. But every dot will be as black as the next one! Which means it’s basically a kind of optical illusion.

Example halftone principle

As mentioned before, it was invented in 1881 by George Meisenbach in Munich. Or at least he was the first to use it commercially. He patented it in 1882. His first halftones started appearing in English books during the 1880s. He was smart enough to not go into much detail in his patent application and so he had a couple of years of being the only one using the technique.

When looking at halftone engravings from the early period, it is important to remember that it was quite difficult to end up with the right sized dots to recreate a greytone that was close to the original. Especially in the early period of its use, there were many prints made with this technique that were of poor quality. In the very first years of its invention, the Dutch printers didn’t even try to make these difficult prints. The first halftone engravings you find in Dutch books and magazines were mostly made by the German firms Meisenbach Riffarth or Angerer and Goschl.

Gascoigne, B. How to identify prints: a complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Klein, H. Handboek druktechnieken. Bentveld-Aerdenhout: Landshoff, 1977.

Linden, Fons van der. De Grafische Technieken. De Bilt: Cantecleer, 1979.

Stijnman, A. et al, eds. De techniek van de Nederlandse boekillustratie in de negentiende eeuw. Amstelveen: Koninklijk verbond van grafische ondernemingen, 1995.

Wakeman, G. Victorian book illustration: the technical revolution. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973.


12 October 2010 § Leave a comment


Collotype by Josef Albert, 1868


Collotype (Dutch: collotypie or lichtdruk, French: Phototypie, German: Lichtdruck) is a printing-technique of which the underlying principle was discovered by the Frenchman Louis Alphonse Poitevin (1819-1882) in 1854. He patented his technique, under the name ‘photo-lithography’, in August 1855. The name collotype derives from the Greek kólla, meaning glue. « Read the rest of this entry »

Cyanotype (blueprint)

3 October 2010 § 1 Comment

Dutch: Cyanotypie, Blauwdruk
German: Cyanotypie, Blaudruck, Eisenblaudruck

Illustration from Atkins' Photographs of British Algae as published online at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery:

Cyanotype is a photographic process discovered by Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) in 1842, the first that’s not based on silver but on Prussian Blue, that contains several salts of iron that are light sensitive. The actual process needed only two ingredients: potassium ferricyanide and ammonium ferric citrate, that were both cheap but not so easily available

Most, if not all, of the images Herschel himself made with this process are actually photograms, that weren’t created by using a negative from a camera, but using so called ‘diaphanes’ (Ware) such as engraved and woodcut prints.

The first and most famous application of this technique for an illustrative purpose, was made by Anna Atkins in 1843, a botanist and possibly the first woman photographer. Her photograms were made by exposing seaweed directly to the sunlight using Herschel’s cyanotype process. The photographs were privately published in several installments between 1843 and 1853 as Photographs of British Algae, containing over 200 hundred hand-printed photographs of seaweeds and also some occasional cyanotype texts.

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