From Sketch to Print: Methods and TechnologiesScroll to see
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During the 19th century, printers constantly experimented with methods of reproducing illustrations, but three techniques were predominant: steel engraving, wood engraving, and lithography.
Steel engraving involves cutting a design into metal plate. The incised areas hold the ink which is transferred onto paper when it is run through a printing press. To print the illustration, sheets of paper would be pressed into the plate, soaking up the ink in the incised areas. Engraved steel plates were popular printing mediums in the 1830s and 1840s; many Charles Dickens novels were illustrated using this technique.
Later in the Victorian period, wood engraving became the preferred medium for graphic reproductions. To make a wood engraving, a craftsman would copy the original drawing onto the face of the end grain of a block of boxwood. An engraver would cut into the block with a v-shaped tool, excising the areas that would not be printed. Ink would be applied to the block, settling on the raised areas. This process, like steel engraving, allows for highly-detailed images with delicate lines, but wood engravings did not wear down as quickly as did steel. Wood engravings could be printed on conventional presses alongside moveable type, another advantage which advanced their popularity. Illustrations could also be photographically reproduced directly onto the wood and then cut into the block. This process was most common in the 1880s and 1890s.
In the first half of the 19th century, color images were usually printed in black and white and then colored by hand. Chromolithography began to be employed to print color images in the 1850s. An image would be drawn with a grease pencil or greasy ink onto a flat, porous surface such a stone or a metal plate. The image would be affixed to the plate with an acid bath. The plate would be coated with an ink mixture which adhered only to the greasy portion of the surface, sitting atop the flat surface of the printing plate. Typically, individual colors in the illustration would need their own plates. Wood engravings could also be used for color printing by cutting separate wood blocks for each individual color of ink. Each block would then be printed one after the other to create a single image.