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We take color printing for granted in the 21st century, but we stand on the shoulders of giants, owing a debt of gratitude to artists and printers of the nineteenth century who brought exciting innovations to processes relatively unchanged since the Renaissance.

They Led the Way

Hand-colored copperplate engraving. Expensive and time consuming, copper plate engraving produced black outline illustrations which were then filled in with color by hand. This method was well suited for natural history and botanical illustrations, like this example: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, remarkably continuously published since 1787.

Woodcutting. The very earliest printing process was achieved by cutting away unwanted parts of a piece of wood. Ink was rolled onto the woodcut and the design transferred to the paper. The earliest color example is The 1457 Mainz Psalter.

Lithography. Invented in Germany in 1798, lithography involved applying oily inks to limestone, and was the first innovation in printing since the fifteenth century. By the 1880s, chromolithography was widely used in magazines and advertising, but would soon be replaced by photographic processes in the 20th century. A good example is Victoria Regia; Or, The Great Water Lily of America by John Fisk Allen, 1854.

Nature printing. This process involved embedding a specimen (a leaf or butterfly, for example) into a lead plate and applying color. Only a few books were actually printed; the most successful being As Nature Shows Them: Moths and Butterflies of the United States,, by Sherman F. Denton, 1900.

To learn more about the history of color printing, visit Color Printing in the Nineteenth Century.

We’ve Come a Long Way Since Then

Thankfully, you won’t need to get out your carving knife and slice away at a chunk of wood to get stunning color printing results for your 21st century office. Just contact the color printing experts at WBS Technologies today!

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