Commercial Engravings

THE character of the engravings to be used in any form of direct advertising is determined by their suitability for the special purpose in mind, and their selection is in turn a determining factor in the kind of paper to be chosen. Certain kinds of engravings are suitable only for use on particular kinds of paper, and it is usually bad practice to undertake the use of an engraving on a paper stock to which it is not adapted.

The fine-screen halftone engraving is especially designed for use on very smooth paper surfaces, and the highly finished enamel or coated sheets are best for use with this type of engraving. On the other hand, if a line engraving or “zinc,” as it is popularly called, is employed, it is better to use one of the handsome antique finish papers that are now so popular with the revival of public interest in good typography and artistic results. The rougher the surface of the paper, the bolder the lines in the line engraving should be, as much more pressure is used on the press than in printing halftones on enamel, so as to produce a uniform impression on the rougher surface of the sheet. Very delicate line engravings may not stand up through a long run under these conditions, and for this reason line etchings on copper are often used on very rough stock. All competent designers are familiar with these problems, and will make a drawing suitable for the work in hand.

At the outset it may be said that, while the practice of printing direct from the engraving is quite general, especially in short runs and where a particularly high character of work is desired, in general commercial practice printing is from electrotypes made from the original plates. An original plate sometimes involves considerable expense, especially if an artist of reputation has been employed to make the drawing. The engraver, too, must be paid for the manufacture of the plate. If the plate be worn or damaged in the run, the work must stop until a new one can be made, and there is a serious sacrifice of time and money. If, however, electrotypes have been made from the engraving and are used for the actual printing, the original remains in perfect condition, and at comparatively small expense as many duplicates as may be required, either for subsequent runs or to shorten presswork by printing several at a time, can always be procured.

This latter consideration is one of much practical importance, because presswork is one of the prime factors of cost in printing. To reduce the number of press impressions required for a given job is to cut down materially the final bill. For this reason most direct advertising that runs into any quantity is printed more than one at a time, and small pieces may be printed on large presses, two, four, eight, sixteen, twenty-four or more at each impression. The only limits are those of mere practicability and the size of the press available. This saving can be accomplished only by making a sufficient number of duplicate electros of the engraving or of the entire form. If time is an important element in any job it is some-times wise to keep an extra electro in reserve, so that in case of accidental damage to one of the plates it may be immediately substituted.

There are only three forms of engravings in general use, and the earliest of these—the woodcut—is of rather limited application so far as the average advertiser is concerned. When pictures began to be used in printing, the woodcut was substantially, if not actually, the only known form of engraving. Illustration by lithography was not invented until the very end of the Eighteenth Century. In the earlier days the wood engraver was altogether an artist, and was a creator in the fullest sense. He had no aid from the camera or present-day chemical and mechanical devices. Yet very artistic effects were secured by the artist-craftsmen of those times, and for centuries the woodcut was the only form of engraving used in books. Until the invention of photo-engraving processes it held a practically undisputed sway.

In recent years there has been a very pronounced revival of interest in more artistic and individual work in the graphic arts. Finer typography, the use of more artistic and less conventionalized papers and engravings, and a general appreciation of the fine work of the past have combined to give the woodcut a fresh vogue. During the years when printing was becoming standardized and when the halftone and the enameled sheet were the dominant features of commercial work, one seldom saw a wood engraving except perhaps in a mail-order catalogue. The art of Timothy Cole was kept alive by such staid publications as The Century Magazine, but the interest of the advertiser in wood engraving was purely academic. He never thought of it as something he could himself use. Now it is hardly possible to pick up an issue of one of the best periodicals without encountering in the advertisements one or more woodcuts, or at least reproductions of pen drawings in woodcut effect.

The origin of wood engraving is traced to the Chinese, who, as early as the Tenth Century, A. D., began to carve characters in wood and to use these blocks for securing printed impressions. As an art it is free from the limitations imposed by chemical or mechanical processes, and any sort of subject may be pictured or any kind of copy employed. The great masters of the art can work from originals and produce portraits, landscapes, interiors, or any other subject. But this creative work naturally comes far outside the sphere of ordinary commercial practice.

It may be said that the woodcut has two distinct fields. It may be employed where special distinction of result is desired and the expense is secondary in importance; or it may be used in simpler form for those classes of work that are produced at high speed and and in quantity, as, for example, a mail-order catalogue for the consuming public. Its unlimited possibilities of detail make it desirable for such subjects as machinery, tools and jewelry. The depth of the cutting and the sharpness of the shoulders render the woodcut supreme for the making of electros to be used in printing on yielding surfaces where high relief of the printing face is essential.

Sharpness and clearness are distinguishing characteristics of the woodcut, but there is considerable danger of making the result too stiff and formal. Even in the finest halftone some detail is lost through the intervention of the screen, but the woodcut reproduces with no loss whatever. This is of great importance in illustrating many subjects, particularly machines. Even the most skilfully retouched photograph of a machine, when reduced to a halftone, will show detail less clearly than a good woodcut, which is so cut by the engraver as to bring out the very points desired.

The first step in the making of a woodcut is to transfer the subject to the block of wood. This was formerly done entirely by sketching, but now the photographic process is extensively used. It saves a good deal of time and insures accuracy of proportion. The chief. objections to the general use of the woodcut are readily enumerated. In the first place, the number of competent wood engravers is very limited, and ordinarily the making of a woodcut, especially a fine one, is more costly than the manufacture of other forms of engraving. Once the engraving is made, it is very difficult to make any material change in it; and to duplicate it in other sizes without making the work entirely over is ordinarily impracticable. These considerations are sufficient to constitute a very definite limitation of the use of woodcuts in general advertising work.

In actual practice the original wood block is seldom used on the press. It would be ruined in a short time. For this reason substantially all woodcut printing is done from electrotypes made in the usual way. Lead moulds or stereotypes cannot be made from woodcuts without serious risk of damaging the original.

The cost of woodcuts cannot be standardized. The expense of cutting two plates of the same size may vary extremely, according to the amount of detail involved. Advertisers contemplating their use should submit the most complete copy obtainable and give the engraver all possible assistance, because it is obvious that the more original work the engraver is called upon to do, the higher his bill will be. In asking a quotation full copy must be submitted as well as the exact size of the engraving and full information as to the service for which it is to be used.

Line etchings, or “zincs,” and halftones for printing in one or more colors are the two forms of engraving with which the direct mail advertiser will be mainly concerned, and they will probably be the only forms that the majority of advertisers will ever have occasion to use. These are so fundamental in modern advertising illustration that each will be discussed in detail. At this time all we shall attempt to do is to point out the main distinctions between them, their special characteristics, and their adaptability to the needs of the advertiser.

Both are photo-mechanical processes, dating, in their crude beginnings, to the discovery, by Fox Talbot, in the year 1852, that a solution of albumen or gelatin in which chromate or bichromate salts have been dissolved will, after drying and exposure to light, become insoluble in water. If a dry film of chromated gelatin be exposed to the light under a photographic negative, those parts of the film which have been subjected to the light through the clear, or partly clear, parts of the negative become insoluble in proportion to the amount of light that has reached them and remain when the soluble parts are washed away.

The process of making photo-engravings is quite similar to the making of ordinary photographs, with the chemical etching process added. In practice, a certain amount of hand work (etching, tooling, etc.) may be applied in finishing to improve the character of the plate. The first step is to make a negative which corresponds to that produced by the photographer, from whatever subject it is desired to reproduce. A print is made from this negative on sensitized metal instead of on photographic paper. Those parts of the metal which are not covered by the print and which are not in-tended to print are then etched away with acid, and we have, in effect, a relief photograph on metal from the original copy.

The line etching is the simplest and least costly method of producing engravings, and the fact that it is usually made on zinc has led to the common practice of referring to this whole class of etchings simply as “zincs.” The engraving is made directly from a drawing, which is usually in black and white. As the drawing is chiefly made in lines, the name “line etching” has been applied to the resultant engraving, but dots or masses of color may be used by the artist at his discretion. The chief distinction between the line etching and the halftone is that in the line etching there is an abrupt transition from the solid color to no color at all, while in the halftone, as its name suggests, every intermediate gradation of color can be reproduced from continuous tone copy.

The only shading that can be had in the line etching (unless the Ben Day process is used) is such as is put in by the artist through the use of isolated lines or dots, and this shading is suggestive rather than real. In making the halftone, the continuous color is broken in making the negative through a screen varying in fineness from 6o to 400 lines to the inch. By this means every tone and color gradation in the original copy can be approximately reproduced. The zinc is, therefore, ordinarily used for decoration and lettering and for engravings to print on rough-surfaced papers, and the halftone for reproducing photographs in their natural effect.

Different forms of originals or “copy” must be used in the two processes. For line etchings the copy will be a drawing in black and white or in a color that will photograph, such as red and yellow. It may be a pen, pencil or charcoal sketch, typewritten or printed copy, a signature, music, or anything of a similar nature. The best copy of all, however, is clean black and white. Shading can be accomplished only by the artist, as pointed out above. It is not possible to make line engravings from photographs, wash drawings, photogravures, or any other copy in which the color is continuous in tone.

The halftone, on the other hand, cannot (except by staging) reproduce an absolutely solid color. Ordinarily it can only approximate the solids, but it can reproduce every shade between black and white. Photographs, retouched or unretouched, and wash drawings are the commonest forms of halftone copy; but paintings in oil or water color, and pen, pencil, charcoal or crayon drawings can be used. However, unless paintings or colored drawings have been made with a view to halftone reproduction, it may be difficult to get satisfactory one-color halftone plates from them. In general, any object or copy that will photograph satisfactorily will yield a good halftone.

While the line etching or zinc knows no limitation with regard to paper, the halftone, by its nature, calls for a smooth surface, and the finer the engraving the greater the necessity for a very smooth paper. Every one has observed the difference in quality between the newspaper halftone and that in a fine catalogue. The screen of the newspaper picture is so coarse that it is apparent to the naked eye. This is made necessary because of the relatively low quality of the paper used in the newspapers. If 150- or 200-line halftones were used in a newspaper they would speedily fill with the inexpensive ink, and would in a short time print only as black smudges. But in the slow, careful work on the smooth enameled paper of which a fine catalogue may be made, the better ink is distributed with extreme care and the impression so made as to reveal all detail in the picture sharply. The consequence is that results quite comparable to the original photograph are obtained by all good printers.

The halftone may be used with approximately good results on any smooth paper surface, but there is always a sacrifice of quality and effect as the paper trends away from the brilliant, polished surface of a fine enamel. Acceptable results are secured on the super-calendered book papers, as we see every day in our prominent periodicals. On such a surface as cover paper or rough antique book paper the halftone can be used with confidence only by hot stamping a panel and thus creating a smooth surface for the plate.

The line drawing is far the most useful plate for these types of papers, and must be set down as, on the whole, the advertiser’s chief vehicle of pictorial reproduction.

The whole tenor of authoritative comment appearing in the better publications of the printing craft bears out this view. We quote from a statement by Mr. Frank Weitenkampf, appearing in The American Printer:

“Wood engraving held its own for centuries as a process for illustration. Naturally. It was a relief process, as is typography. That meant the possibility of printing pictures and text in one operation. That, again, meant economy. With this practical consideration went the natural concomitant, a certain natural effect of harmony in the illustrated type page. And in a fairly early stage of the game, books were produced which remain models and an inspiration to-day. There’s again the proof that Emerson was right when he asserted that every increase in true fitness is an increase in beauty. With Bewick, wood engraving turned more definitely from line to tone. The advent of the camera developed the process to its ne plus ultra of delicate tones. After this photography threw the wood block aside in favor of the halftone, which, from halting beginnings, got to the fineness of 400 lines to the inch. Practical considerations again brought in coated paper (plus odor) and the irritating book insert. Is that the end? Inventions are coming rapidly. Rotogravure, offset printing—what next? Halftone is surely not the last word. For documentary purposes it is of incalculable value, and in that line alone the field is large enough. To it belongs that field of illustration which is not decoration, which deals in facts pictorially represented—say a picture of a locomotive in a book on railroads, or a reproduction of a painting by Delacroix in a history of art. So why be too much upset by the fact that as a means of decorating finely printed books the efficacy of the halftone is being brought into question?

“Flow much practical considerations and the principles of business economy have to do with undoubted changes now taking place I must leave to those who are well qualified by experience and knowledge to answer. From such I have heard about the rising cost of paper, about difficulties in sharp printing on rapid presses, and what not, all of which I shall take care not to discuss. The outstanding point is that line drawing is coming back, in illustration, in advertising art (on the whole our most significant form of illustration, perhaps), in architectural rendering. The return of the line has come with return to sound principles of book making.”