Manchester 1824 The University of Manchester - The John Rylands University Library
First Impressions

Text and images

Woodcuts were used to illustrate the earliest printed books. They were usually quite small and the images were often generic. Because they were so expensive to produce printers of all periods reused such woodcuts in multiple publications until the blocks became too worn or damaged, and they frequently shared or loaned their blocks. For example, two hundred woodcuts were used in a 1476 edition of Aesop's Fables and these appear again in an edition by a different printer in 1480. There are also examples where the same image has been used to represent different subjects.

In early illustrated books the illustrations and the text were printed in separate operations, possibly because the type and the wood blocks were of different heights, but later examples were printed in one impression.

Copper engravings were first used for illustrations in 1476. Early experiments in using this technique were not particularly successful because the two different methods of printing not only required two operations; they required different types of equipment. As a result problems occurred in registration (lining up the two elements). The solution was to print the images on separate sheets of paper and bind them into the book, or to print the images on thin paper, cut them out and paste them in place.