A Guide to Illustrated Books

Types of Illustrations

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Woodcut
                Woodcut blocks are traditionally prepared on soft wood such as beech, cherry or sycamore, always cut along the grain. A drawing is made onto the smooth block and the wood either side of the lines is carefully removed using a knife and chisels for larger areas. The result is a raised image which can then  be inked over. The paper is laid onto the design and pressure applied, the image is then, naturally, transferred to the paper.
Woodcuts were the earliest form of printed illustrations in Europe, beginning around the end of the 14th century and giving way to new techniques around the 16th century.

Wood-engraving
                               Not to be confused with woodcuts, wood-engraving was usually carried out on a block of hard wood which is cut across the grain. The design is then etched into the wood using a steel rod with a sharp pointed tip ( a burin). This offers a much greater degree of control and accuracy which leads to greater delicacy and also the use of shading. As the lines of the illustration are now below the surface, as opposed to woodcut, the lines appear white when printed. This technique was pioneered in the late 18th century by Thomas Bewick and has been in use ever since.

Intaglio
             This is the term used for the process where the surface to be inked is lower than the areas to remain blank. This was initially done in 1500's on copper plates, later on in the 1800's the process moved to more durable steel plates because of the need for larger print runs. The plate is inked and wiped clean before plate and paper are pressed together, forcing the paper into the grooves to receive the ink.

Engraving
                   The design is cut on a metal plate using a burin. This technique was first used in the 15th century in Germany and Italy though largely for producing original works rather than general illustrations.

Mezzotint
                  This form of the illustrative process involves working with tone rather than defined lines. The plate starts smooth so as to produce and even black print then the surface is pitted  so areas and sections will hold a varying amount of ink thereby producing tonal definition. Although used mainly in England the process was invented in Holland in the 17th century.

Aquatint
                This is a method of etching not in black but in tone. The process was popular for reproducing watercolours and was developed in the mid 18th century. It involves the use of fine particles which react differently to acids and immersion in water, thereby creating different tones.

Lithograph
                    An image is drawn onto a plate, the process works on the principal that grease and water do not mix. Lithographic chalk or ink is used to draw the image which is then protected by a resin type solution. The image can then be inked and pressed. This technique was invented in 1798 Aloys Senefelder.

Chromolithograph
                                  This technique started in the early 1800's before reaching its peak in the 1880's. It requires a separate printing surface for applying each colour. This allowed for great detail and very vivid colours, especially suited to children's books, natural history and also the reproduction of illuminated manuscripts.

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