Printing methods used on illustrated advertising covers
By: Michael Heller

Oct 1 , 2002

Mike Heller lead our October 8th seminar on printing methods used to create illustrated
advertising covers and enclosures. He noted that during the 19th century there were basically
three methods used:

a) The best known is recess printing (colloquially referred to as engraving) used for
most classic stamps. It is recognized by the raised ink likes on the printed surfaces that can be
detected by oblique lighting or running one’s finger over the printing. Some recess printing
versions are done by photogravure, which is an etching version of recess printing.

b) The second type is relief printing usually referred to as typography. Here the
printing surface is raised (as on typewriter keys) and the background cut away. It was this
method using ‘sticks of type’ that was used for most of our books and newspapers until
fairly recent times. It was the earliest, and only, form prior to Gutenberg of typographic
printing having been used in 8th century Korea and China. Apparently Dr. Alexander
Anderson (1775-1870) first practiced it in America and his students established schools of
xylographic printing (wood engraving), as it was called, in New York, Philadelphia and

When the soft side-grain or plank side was used the wood had a tendency to
crumble, thus end-grain wood engraving became preferred. A key feature of typography is
‘ink squash’ caused by the pressure of the type upon the ink applied to it so that a bit of the
ink is forced to the edge creating a small built-up ridge along the border that can be seen
under medium magnification.

c) The third process is lithography based on the concept that oil and water do not
mix. Invented by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) circa 1800, it involves drawing in reverse
with a greasy crayon on grained stone (black and tint work by which pictures with the
gradations of pencil or chalk can be made) or in ‘ink’ on a polished stone
(chromo-lithography) for which up to 20 or 30 stones may be required.

In matter of fact it is a form of relief printing as the stone is treated by acid leaving the grease protected areas a
trifle above the others. For stamp production, the original design is ‘transferred’ using paper
transfers to a printing stone. Offset lithography occurs when the greasy ink from the
dampened plate transfers onto a rubber blanket and then to the printed-upon paper. Cameos,
popular in the 1850s are usually a form of xylography in which the background is colored and
the positive image is white. Embossing is often used to heighten the cameo effect.

NOTE: Links to illustrated covers are shown near the bottom of this page.