History of Colour Printing

Course Organiser: Dr Elizabeth Savage
10-14 July
Course Tutors: Elizabeth Savage, Karen Limper-Herz, Roger Gaskell, Ad Stijnman, Michael Twyman, Richard Lawrence, Martin Andrews

The history of printing is not in black and white. Colour played an essential role in print culture even before Gutenberg printed his Bible, but it has long hidden in plain sight because colour printing is rarely recorded. This interdisciplinary, introductory course provides an overview of colour printing techniques in the West from manual techniques c.1400 through the development of chromolithography in the mid-1800s. Discussions will be based on the close analysis of many kinds of content, including text, images, music, diagrams, maps, scientific tools and mathematical figures. By discussing colour-specific issues in the design, production and use of printed material across diverse kinds of content, participants will learn how to identify the most common techniques for printing colour in the hand-press period.

Course Outline


1 Introduction: Materials, Techniques and Terms
2 The Fifteenth Century: 'Pre-Incunabla' and Incunabula


3 Historical Printing Workshop I (St Bride's)
4 Historical Printing Workshop II (St Bride's)
5 Object Session: Blocks and Plates, 1450-1800


6 The Sixteenth Century: Northern Europe
7 The Sixteenth Century: Italy
8 Object Session: Art, Diagrams, Illustrations, Music and Text, 1450-1600


9 The Seventeenth Century: A la poupée and Le Blon
10 The Eighteenth Century: Illustrations and Beyond
11 Object Session: Art, Diagrams, Illustrations, Music and Text, 1600-1800


12 The Early Nineteenth Century: Baxter and Mass Production
13 The Late Nineteenth Century: Chromolithography

Outcomes for Students

  • To identify the most common techniques for printing in colour in the West, c.1450- 1850, across text and image.
  • To gain an understanding of the historical development of those printing techniques and their interdisciplinary implications, for instance in the history of the book, of art, of music, and of science and medicine.
  • Based on the practical session, to gain a basic understanding of historical workshop processes for colour printing. 

Recommended Introductory Reading

Burch, R. M. Colour Printing and Colour Printers. New York: Baker and Taylor, 1910.
Gascoigne, Bamber. Milestones in Colour Printing, 1450-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Gnann, Achim, and Klaus Albrecht Schröder. In Farbe!: Clair-obscur-Holzschnitte Der Renaissance: Meisterwerke Aus Der Sammlung Georg Baselitz Und Der Albertina in Wien. Vienna: Albertina, 2013. // Gnann, Achim, David Ekserdjian, and Michael Foster. Chiaroscuro: Renaissance Woodcuts from the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2014.
Grasselli, Margaret Morgan. Colorful Impressions: The Printmaking Revolution in Eighteenth-century France. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2003.
Griffiths, Antony. Prints and Printmaking: An Introduction to the History and Techniques. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Mitzman, Max E. George Baxter and the Baxter Prints. Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1978.
Phillips, Michael. William Blake: Apprentice & Master. Oxford: Ashmolean, 2014. Chapters XV: Colour Printing before Blake and XVI: The Large Colour Prints of 1795.Primeau, Thomas. ‘Coloring Within the Lines: The Use of Stencil in Early Woodcuts’. Art in Print 3/3 (October 2013), http://artinprint.org/article/coloring-within-the-lines-the-use-of-stencil-in-early-woodcuts/.
Stijnman, Ad. Engraving and Etching, 1400-2000: A History of the Development of Manual Intaglio Printmaking Processes. London: Archetype Publications, 2012. Chapter 4: Printing the Matrix: Colour Printing Procedures.
Stijnman, Ad, and Elizabeth Savage. Printing Colour 1400-1700: History, Techniques, Functions and Receptions. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Twyman, Michael. A History of Chromolithography: Printed Colour for All. London: British Library, 2013.

Dr Elizabeth Savage is Lecturer and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Book History and Communications at the Institute of English Studies. Her research explores how earliest printing techniques in the West shaped communication, both in text and image. In 2016, she was awarded the Wolfgang Ratjen Prize for distinguished research in the field of graphic art, and Printing Colour 1400-1700: Histories, Techniques, Functions and Receptions, which she edited with Ad Stijnman, was recognised at the IFPDA Book Awards. She was previously Munby Fellow in Bibliography, Cambridge University, and she has curated exhibitions at the British Museum and Cambridge University Library.