The Girl's Own Book

Methods of Illustration

llustrations were an engaging aspect of nearly all books for young readers: cover images, frontispieces, occasional decoration, or integral parts of the story. Authors knew that they kept the reader’s attention, and publishers recognized that they increased sales. Technologies of print developed rapidly over the century that began with the 1780s, and every advance was enthusiastically adopted for juvenile literature, games, and toys.                

Prints can be divided into three basic types, depending on the surface of the image block and how the ink is conveyed to the paper: relief prints, intaglio prints, and planographic prints.

Relief Prints
In relief processes the ink is applied to those parts of the printing block which stick out – imagine a rubber stamp. During the nineteenth century, the most important relief print technologies are woodcut (or woodbloc), wood engraving, and electrotyping. All relief printing blocks were made the same standard height as movable type, and could be printed at the same time, with word and image produced simultaneously. This made them an economical choice for illustrations. 

Woodcut and wood engraving differ in the direction the grain of the wood runs in the block. For woodcuts, the grain runs the length of the block. Although woodcuts (which had been used in Europe since the fifteenth century and in China since at least the second century CE) can be very beautifully made, by the nineteenth century woodcut was losing popularity to wood engraving. Woodcut illustrations in children's books of this period are often simple and of indifferent quality.

Wood engraving
Wood engravings, invented in the late eighteenth century, have the design cut into the end grain of a block of wood. Wood engraving was the most common print technology of the first half of the nineteenth century, and the rapidly produced blocks were employed in illustrated papers and magazines, as well as books. Read more about Useful Gossip.

Wood engravings, printed in black ink, were often painted by hand. Many books were offered at two prices, one for plain books, with a higher price for colored copies. Read more about The Gamut.

Images could also be printed from multiple wood engravings, each printed in a different color ink, with the blocks carefully made to line up with one another. The effect varied depending on the skill of the artists and craftsmen. 

Electrotyping, invented in 1838, used electrochemical methods to create longer-wearing metal duplicates of wood engravings for printing.

Intaglio Prints
In intaglio prints, ink is transferred to the paper from lines that are lower than the plate face. Engraving, with lines of varying widths cut into a copper plate, was the most commonly used intaglio technique for illustration. Intaglio plates must be printed on heavier papers and with a different press than moveable type. In some early chapbooks, text and image were engraved into a single plate and printed together.

More commonly, the text of a book was printed from type and engravings were produced separately, then bound with the other pages. Because these books used two different presses (often in two different shops) and two sets of skilled artisans, and the binding was more complex, books illustrated with engraving were more expensive than those that used a relief method.

Engravings could also be painted by hand after being printed.

Lithography, which was invented in 1796, is an example of planographic printing, where a flat surface — stone or metal — is chemically treated to hold or repel the ink that is transferred in printing. The original image may be drawn freely on the stone, transferred from another print, or even from a photograph, so the results vary greatly in appearance.

Like other black and white prints, lithographs were sometimes colored by hand.

And, like color wood engravings, lithographs could be printed from multiple stones, each carrying a single color. Chromolithography became an essential technology in children's book illustration from the middle of the nineteenth century.

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