Research – Book Illustrations

In order to understand what sort of designs are suitable for the type of book I am about to design, I decided to do some research into past and present designs for book covers of the “adventure tale” genre, as I hope that this may give me some idea of what sorts of designs may be good inspiration for the final design.

The following is what I found in my research about the past of illustrations:

(*) Book illustration as we now know it evolved from early European woodblock printing. In the early 15th century, playing cards were created using block printing, which was the first use of prints in a sequenced and logical order. “The first known European block printings with a communications function were devotional prints of saints.”

 Illumination with doodles and drawings, including an open-mouthed human profile, with multiple tongues sticking out. Copulata, “De Anima”, f. 2a. HMD Collection, WZ 230 M772c 1485.

As printing took off and books became common, printers began to use woodcuts to illustrate them. Hence, “centers for woodblock playing-card and religious-print production became centers for illustrated books. Printers of large early books often reused several times, and also had detachable “plugs” of figures, or the attributes of saints, which they could rearrange within a larger image to make several variations. Luxury books were for a few decades often printed with blank spaces for manual illumination in the old way.

New techniques developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries revolutionized book illustrations and put new resources at the disposal of artists and designers. In the early nineteenth century, the photogravure process allowed for photographs to be reproduced in books. In this process, light-sensitive gelatin was used to transfer the image to a metal plate, which would then be etched. Another process, chromolithography, which was developed in France in the mid-nineteenth century, permitted color printing. The process was extremely labor-intensive and expensive though as the artist would have to prepare a separate plate for each color used. In the late twentieth century, the process known as offset lithography made color printing cheaper and less-time consuming for the artist. The process used a chemical process to transfer a photographic negative to a rubber surface before printing.


As many of us may know of the modern use of illustration, most illustration today is done through digital means on computer software, due to the many more design capabilities that software has compared to real life uses. The use of digital media also allows the easy use of digital printing, allowing mass production of any form of illustrative artwork on a larger scale than simply printing images off one by one (woodblock).


(*) –


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s