5.1.5: 1910 - heden - Illustrations and decoration

During the twentieth century, the discoveries of the nineteenth century, particularly those in reproduction technology, were elaborated and perfected. The principles were more or less fixed. Halftone was to be the main illustrative technique until it was replaced by the screen negative in offset printing, a technique embraced in the sixties by the entire printing industry. The breakthrough of offset printing more or less spelt the end of letterpress printing, certainly where the production of books, magazines and newspapers was concerned. Illustrations no longer posed any technical problems. Almost all illustrations in the twentieth century were made photomechanically. Heliogravure, a laborious (and therefore expensive) technique, had already disappeared in 1910, photolithography was incorporated in offset printing and the famous institution of Van Leer in Amsterdam, the last Dutch collotype printers, had to close its doors in 1968. Techniques such as etching, engraving, lithography and wood engraving were only used for the so-called 'bibliophile' publications.

Around 1950, the new technique of silkscreen printing arrived, although it was hardly used for books printed in large numbers. The ease with which reproductions could now be made meant that the publication of new genres became affordable. Comic books, photo books and art catalogues were printed in full colour for very reasonable prices. The nature of the illustrated book also changed: novels were no longer illustrated (frontispieces disappeared in the twentieth century) whilst non-fiction was hardly ever brought out without numerous colour illustrations. The 'artistic' illustrators were more or less limited to working for children's books.

In the course of the twentieth century, the popular periodical, which had always been illustrated, became more and more colourful. Panorama appeared in 1913 as the first Dutch magazine using the new technique of rotogravure or copper intaglio printing which was a further development of heliogravure whereby reproductions of the highest quality could be made. In addition to the popular periodical, this technique was mostly used for art and photo books.

Around the year 2000, most magazines for the general public were printed using four-colour offset printing. Glossy paper enhanced the effect of colour reproductions used to advertise goods. Foil print made the covers of paperbacks even more attractive to the eager public. Colour illustrations in newspapers are nothing out of the ordinary. For large groups of people, the culture of books has gradually become one of images.

author: J. de Zoete

Illustrations and decoration