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Illustrations for the Printing Business

( Originally Published 1883 )

Illustrations.—There are now a number of methods of making book illustrations. These may be named—about in the order of their cost—as follows:

1. Photo-engraving.
2. Wood-cutting.
3. Photo-lithographic and Heliotype.
4. Lithographic.
5. Copper Plate.
6. Steel Plate.

Each of these methods has its own special advantages, and to describe them in full would require a large volume. We can only touch here upon the several peculiarities of the different operations.

Photo-engraving.—Illustrations made by this method can, like wood-cuts, be printed at the same time as the text of a book, a material advantage. The design, usually made much larger than the prepared plate, is photographed to the proper size upon a plate of type metal. The plate is now immersed in a bath of acid which eats away all the white of the design, the lines of the drawing being protected from the action of the acid by a preparation of var nish, and the design is thus left in relief. The plate is now mounted upon a block so as to be " type high," and it can be inserted in the page and printed with the type. For simple black-and-white drawings, diagrams, mechanical work, such as buildings, machinery, etc., this process is excellent, while the cost is materially less than that of a wood-cut. The objections to it for book illustrations are that it fails to produce either the strength or delicacy of the wood-cut, while it cannot utilize an ordinary photograph until it has been redrawn in plain black-and-white.

Wood-cuts.—Formerly it used to be the custom for the artist to make his design with pencil or brush directly upon the block to be engraved. Now, however, much greater freedom to the artist is possible, for he can make his drawing as large as he may please, and it is then photographed upon the block to the proper size. This freedom, however, of course necessitates a much more comprehensive treatment on the part of the engraver, and its introduction has brought about a higher grade of wood-engraving than was possible under the old mechanical methods. In wood-cutting, as in photo-engraving, every thing that is to appear white in the design is cut away, while the black and gray lines are left in relief. It is not easy to make a comparison in regard to the relative expense of the two methods, because this greatly depends upon the character of the design from which an illustration is to be made. With the photo-plate it is of little consequence how great the detail of the drawing may be so long as this appears in plain black and white lines. In the wood-cut, however, the expense is entirely dependent upon this matter of detail, an intricate design of three inches square costing perhaps more than another of three times the size but of more open character.

Photo-lithographic and Heliotype processes both produce somewhat the effect of a photograph, and for a certain class of illustration their use may be advantageous. The objection to them, however, is that they must be printed separately and not with the text of the book, and the expense of producing them is thus considerable, while the cost of binding is increased by the necessity of pasting in separate sheets of illustrations. The use of these methods can only, as a rule, be recommended for books of limited editions.

Lithograph.—In lithography the illustration is engraved and printed upon stone. For the finer description of medical plates, and for colored designs of fruits, flowers, and foliage, this method is most effective. The printing is, however, very slow and expensive work, as the sheet has to pass through the press separately for each color.

Copper and Steel Plate.—Books illustrated by means of etchings on copper present, if the work be artistically done, the most thoroughly satisfactory method of producing the tone and feeling of the artist's design. In etching the copper plate is covered with a coating of thick, prepared varnish or wax. The surface being now smoked, the artist draws his design upon the blackened surface, after which the lines are cut through the varnish with a sharp-pointed instrument. The plate is then covered with acid, which eats away the copper where the lines are drawn through the wax, leaving the rest of the plate intact. Aside from the drawing, much here depends, in the result, upon the good judgment of the artist in the length of time he permits the acid to act; if the action is too long the plate maybe entirely ruined.

The cost of making the Steel Plate is much greater than that of the etching, the design in this case being cut upon the steel with great labor and care with a tool called the graver. This is the most expensive method of making a book illustration, and is now rarely used except for portraits.

Both the etching and steel-engraving require much time to print, and are thus expensive for ordinary book-illustrating purposes. Moreover the same objection exists as to their use as with the photo-lithographic engraving—the printing having to be done by a separate process, and not with the text of the book.


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