Printing Drawings and Photographic Images

Figure 1.--This work was entitled "A Flourishing Exchequer". I am not sure where the children are from, perhaps southern Italy. It was published in 1899 by Hamilton, Adams & Co, London. The engraver was E. Yon and the arryist was Tony Faivre. The compression of engraved images for the internet corrupts the elegant egraving pattern, but even so the difference with the halftone process of dots conveying tonal differences can be observed here.

Some basic understanding of the history of photography, printing, and publishing is helpful to date early images and to understand the impact on fashion through the developing mass media of the 19th century. The development of mass media in the 19th century and improving methods of reproducing drawings and photographs has had a major impact on fashion. The fashions adopted by royal families and other notables had a limited impact before the 19th century. Only a limited number of people could actually see the royals and other trend setters and of course few could afford expensive clothes. Once mass circulation magazines and newspapers appeared in the mid-19th century a vehicle developed for diseminating fashion information. This happened just as the industrial revolution was creating wealth on a scale never expeienced in human history giving a growing number of people the finacial ability to dress well. Reproducing drawings was difficult and costly until the 19th century. Great progress was made in the 19th century in printing drawings allowing much more lavish illistration of newspapers and magazines. This was of course a boon to the fashion industry where such illustrations were critical. Improving lithographic methods enabled the reproduction of detailed drawings. The developing process of photolithography using halftones finally by the turn of the century provided a method of reproducing photographs.By the end of the century the lithographic process had been essentially perfected and even photograhs could be published, althouh the cost of printing photographs was quite high until the turn of the 20th century.

Mass Media


Lithography is a process of printing or artistic reproduction which depends for its action on the mutual repulsion of grease and water. The word was created from the Greek words "lithos" meaning stone and "graphein" to write.


The original process of lithography was discovered by the Bavarian dramatist Aloys Senefelder (1771-1834) in 1798. He found that if a drawing were made on a flat piece of limestone with a greasy crayon, the lines of grease would attract and hold an oily or greasy ink when the stone was wet, whereas other portions of the stone would take no ink. A piece of suitable paper rolled into contact with the stone by means of a hand roller therefore received an impression from the original lines and reproduced the drawing. Senefelder's discovery was at once taken up by artists and printers and is the basis for all types of modern lithography.

Metal Plates

The first important modification of the basic lithographic process resulted from the unwieldiness of a stone plate as a printing medium. About 1820 lithographers discovered that thin plates of zinc could also be used for printing of this kind and later aluminum and copper plates were also used. The employment of metal plates, which could be bent to fit the cylinder of a rotary press, made possible the later development of highspeed lithographic printing. Today lithographic printing, relief (or letterpress) printing. and intaglio (or gravure) printing are the chief processes used commercially for the reproduction of type and pictures.

Mid-19th century publishing

A typical well-produced book in the mid-19th century would have a number of lithographic prints. Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1848), for example, contained 40 full-page plates, including the engraved title page, and 150 woodcuts by the author. The copy shown is the first issue of the first edition, contained the suppressed woodcut of the "Marquis of Steyne.

In modern artistic lithography, the draftsman seldom draws directly on the stone or metal plate which he uses for printing. Instead he makes his drawing on a sheet of paper sized with chalk, and transfer' the drawing to the plate by pressing it into close contact with the surface of the plate. The drawing is done with lithographic crayon, a specially prepared crayon made of wax, oil, lampblack, and soap. After the image has been transferred, the surface of the plate is thoroughly cleaned and the surface marks of the crayon are wiped away. This process leaves the plate with an apparently unmarked surface, but the grease contained in the pores of the plate is sufficient to attract and bold


Wood engravings of drawings were used in most mass circulation publications as late as the 1870s and 1880s. Artists drawings were not directly reproduced. A drawing has to be engraved on a wood block. The resulting blocks would be incorporated with the metal type to be inked and pressed against paper to make multiple copies of newspapers, magazines and books. The actual drawings of the artist were never seen, only the engraved version. This artists had to adjust their techniques to the engraving process. It also meant two craftsmen were involved, bith the original artists and then the engraver. Some naive or prinmitive artists were also engravers, but few important artists persued engraving. Many 19th century engravings are works of art n themselves. The public, however, desired to see the originals--especally if the engraving was a noatable work of art. High quality engravings, such as bank notes and stamps, that would be reproduced in vast numbers would be done on metal plates.

Variety of methods

Deciphering the various methods of illustration and reproduction used in the late Victorian period is an extremely difficult task. A relatively unarcane guide can be found in Charles T. Jacobi's Some Notes on Books and Printing (1902)--a book chock-full of details regarding publishing, authorship, and printing. (There are other editions, under variant titles--all useful.)

Photo Lithography (Half-tone Process)

Photolithography was developed in the late 1850s (at least in America). The printing process in question is called half tone (or process engraving) printing that all owed for the mass production. It was developed about 1850 in Europe but was dependent upon improvements in paper manufacturing before it could be used in mass circulation newspapers and magazines Half tones consist of dots with tonal gradations allowing the reproduction of photographs in publications. Many American periodicals before the turn of the century increasingly contain photographs and photos as parts of advertisements. This is primarily because the cost of the process at first could only be justified for adervertising. Photographs began appearing in Victorian magazines and newspapers circa 1895 thanks to the half-tone process. The process was invented in the 1880s, but did not become economically until the late 1890s. The extensive use of photographs in newspapers and magazines is thus essentially a 20th century phenomenon. The use of photographs in books had not begun even in the 1890s. The first London edition of Frances Power Cobbe's Autobiography (1894) has a pasted-in photograph of her; the first American edition (published a few days earlier for copyright purposes) has an engraving from the same photograph. The process of reproducing photographs was being rapidly introduced. The posthumous edition (1904) has a published reproduction of the photograph, printed on slick paper rather than pasted in. The cost of the process rapidly fell after the turn of the century. The publication of actual photographs proved enormously popular and by the turn of the century begin to supplant illustrations in both newspapers and magazines. Not only was this a great boon to the publishing business, but it also revolutionized the fledgling post card industry.

Art Reproduction

Photo lithography was not only used for reproducing photographs. It also could be used to reproduce drawings and illustrations. Thus artists for the first time could present their drawings directly to the public. Their style no longer had to be tailored to the requirements of engraving. Thus after tge turn of the 20th century, line drawings which reproduced best with engravings give way to much more subtle drawings with shading gradations. Artists were over joyed that they were no longer restricted by the limitations of engraving their work. Stylistic variations of all sorts appeared in illustrations as the 1890s progressed and as the process of photo lithography was perfected. Images of major artlists were reproduced as they were drawn. Not only was art affected but there ramofications in other areas as well, including book illustrations and tyhe worls of commercial art. The advertising indistry flourished in the new decade.

Color Lithography

Color printing was quite complicated and very expensive before the development of color-separated photo reproduction methods. Color images were printed by applying the color through the same lithographic method discussed above. A large stone was used by a printer for color reproduction. Each color was drawn in by the artist with a grease pencil. The stone was next covered with water and then with an oil-based ink. The grease pencil repelled the water and thus created a receptive surface for the appropriately colored ink. After a page was printed with one color, the stone had to be wiped clean, ground down to smooth it, and prepared for the next color. Of course getting the different colors to fall into the right place on the page was a huge problem. To get anything like a full color image, multiple colors had to be used. Thus might require anywhere from 10-20 colors. The labor involved made the whole process enormously expoensive as as well as technically very difficult. As a result, books with color plates before the 1880s are very uncommon.


Ellen Mazur Thomson, The Origins ofGraphic Design in America, 1870-1920 (Yale University Press, 1997).

Christopher Wagner

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Created: July 14, 1998
Last updated: December 3, 2002