are not hand made prints. This printing was designed for the
commercial mass reproduction of graphics, including for the printing
of soup can labels, glossy magazine covers, advertising signs,
calendars and vacation postcards.
Some famous artists make photomechanical reproductions of their
original paintings, prints and photographs. Sometimes these
reproductions are artist signed and limited edition numbered.
These are collectable, they shouldn't be confused with the original
hand made prints.
The following is a look at some of the most common forms of
* * * *
The most common and easily identifiable photomechanical process
is the half-tone process. This is the common process used to
make reprints and counterfeits of original art. The collector
who knows how to identify a half-tone print can identify many
fakes and cheap reprints of expensive handmade prints.
The half-tone printing process is one of the most significant
inventions of modern times and has been applied to relief, intaglio
and lithographic printing. Before the invention of the half-tone
process in the 1870s, it was not possible to mechanically print
photorealistic images in newspapers and magazines. It was only
possible print to newspaper and magazine pictures with handmade
prints, like woodcut and engraving. This could create attractive
images, but without the subtle tones and detail of a photograph.
If you look at the pictures in a 1870s Harper's Weekly or similar
publication, you will see the images look like drawings.
The invention of the halftone printing process, often aptly called
the dot process, replaced lines with dots, allowing for greater
detail. In the process, a photographic image is projected through
a special screen, resembling a screen door, and is projected
onto a photochemically sensitized printing plate. The screen
transforms the image into a series of tiny dots on the printing
plate, which then appear in the resulting print. These tiny
dots allow for a much finer detail than engravings, etchings
and woodcuts. While halftone can't produce the quality and detail
of a real photograph, it can make a realistic representation.
This process is used today to illustrate newspapers, magazines
and books, but also trading cards, advertising signs, postcards,
cereal boxes and more. If you take a strong magnifying glass
or microscope and look closely at a picture in a magazine on
your coffee table you will see that it is made up of tiny dots.
For a black and picture the dots will be black. For a color
picture, the dots will be various colors.
For many halftone prints, the halftone printing was used only
on part of the prints. In a magazine, the picture may have
the halftone dots, while the article text will be solid ink.
On a sport card, the image of the athlete may have halftone dots,
while the border design and text will be solid ink.
above 2 pictures show microscopic views
of black and white and color halftone lithographs.
If you see a Durer woodcut or Picasso linoleum cut that is
a halftone print, you can be confident that the print is a reprint.
* * * *
Photolithography is a general term that refers to photomechanical
lithography with and without the half-tone process.
Photolithography without halftone can reproduce woodcuts,
engravings and other original prints of solid ink. In the 1800s,
photolithography was commonly used often used to reproduce maps.
Photolithography without half-tone can closely resembles certain
types hand made lithography.Under the microscope, the ink will
have the same flat appearance. It cannot reproduce well the subtle
tones and detail of hand made wash lithography and hand made
crayon and chalk lithography.
Photolithography with and without half-tone has been popular
in 20th century commercial printing and is often used together
on the same print. As with all halftone printing, it is made
up of a fine pattern of color dots. For a black and white print
the dots will be one color. For a color print, there will be
dots of different colors. Halftone make quality naked eye reproductions
of hand made wash, crayon and chalk lithographs, but the fine
dot pattern under the magnifying glass will give it away as a
Photoengraving was a vintage commercial printing method.
In the late 1800s to mid 1900s, photoengraving was used to make
the images for magazines, newspapers, advertising posters and
commercial prints. It is rarely used commercially today, having
been replaced by photolithography. Photoengraving can reproduce
both solid lines and solid areas of ink and the subtle tones
of photographs. To reproduce tone, photoengraving uses the halftone
Photoengraving is a relief process. Under a microscope of 50x
or more power, photoengraving has the distinct dark rim or edge
common to all relief prints. Even the halftone dots of a photoengraving
will have the dark rim.
As photoengraving has the rim and can print solid ink when
halftone is not used, it can make deceptive reproductions of
original woodcuts, wood-engravings and linoleum cuts.
microscopic view of photoengraving with the
dark edge and waffle-like pattern
Collotype was a photomechanical process popular in the early
20th centuryIt was versatile and produced high quality images
on many types of paper.Some examples can be difficult to distinguish
from photographs.Many silent era lobby cards and picture postcards
are collotypes. Postcards with "Albertype" printed
on back are collotypes.
The images can be in any color and usually have a matte surface.
Under the microscope, the ink pattern in the image is reticulated,
meaning that it appears like a mosaic with similar size pieces
of irregular shapes.Sometimes it resembles a bunch of noodles.
Some collotypes were varnished, making it difficult to see
the reticulation even under magnification.
microscopic view of a 1920s collotype movie lobby card showing
the distinct reticulated pattern
Photogravure, also known as gravure and rotogravure, is the term
for any photomechanical intaglio print.
As with all intaglios, photogravures will often have a plate
mark. This means it can make a deceptive reproduction a hand
made intaglio print. A plate mark can be missing when it is
cut off, which was often the case for commercial prints.
There are several variations to photogravure.
Line photogravure was used to reproduce line images, including
etchings and engravings.Many earlier photogravures can be differentiated
from the hand made intaglio prints because they reproduced because
the photogravure does not have the difference in depth between
darker and liner lines.However, with advancements in technology,
the photogravure could reproduce these differences.In many cases,
it is important to examine the paper to determine if it is a
photogravure or hand made intaglio from earlier centuries.Line
photogravure was invented in 1827, but was not commonly used
until the 1860s and 70s.
Photogravure can also reproduce tonal images . Phorogravure
reproductions of photographs is known for its excellent image
quality and detail. This 'tonal photogravure' was invented in
the late 1800s and is still used today.The surface is matte and
the image can come in any color.Vintage photogravure's sometimes
have images that are faded and with foxing (browning/redish age
spots. Under the microscope an irregular often speckled ink pattern
exists.A variation of the photogravure called the rotary photogravure
was produced on a cylinder.The ink on the photogravure image
is set up in an even grid with dots of ink surrounded by intersecting
white lines.This is a similar pattern to the halftone.
Photogravure was used commercially in the 1800s to mid 1900s.
It was used to make commercially sold prints, book plates and
pictures for magazines and newspapers. It is rarely used today
Computer printing is used today in both our normal lives and
in the fine arts. While there have been numerous processes
used in the past several decades, this section focuses on the
two most commonly used: electrostatic printing and ink jet printing.
The popular giclee process is a type of ink jet printing.
Electrographic Printing: Laser
Printer, Photocopier and Xerox
Large numbers of reproductions have been made using these
printers, all of which use electrostatic or electrographic printing.Under
the microscope, the resulting prints are easily identified. The
lines are made up of many tiny dust-like grains of pigment that
have been fused to the electostically charge area.However, not
all the grains make it to the intended area, so the print is
identified by the many stragglers outside the lines.It looks
like it needs a dusting.
Microscopic view of a laser computer print,
showing the unique 'dusty' ink pattern
Inkjet including Giclee
Today's inkjet printer can produce attractive color and black
and white reproductions and can be printed on many surfaces.There
are a variety of types, all squirting the ink onto paper surface.
Under the microscope, the image is made up of a fine dot pattern
closely resembling a halftone lithograph.
The giclee, or iris print, is a fancy type of inkjet printing
often used in the fine arts. It can make high quality reproductions
of paintings, photographs and prints on a variety of papers,
from matte to glossy to canvas. As the images are resistant
to fading and deterioration, the process is used to make many
limited edition display photographs. Famous artists who have
made giclees include Richard Avedon, Walter Chin, Stephen Holland
and David Hockney.
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