Printing Methods

A number of different poster printing methods were available by the Second World War, outlined here (it would take someone more expert than me, check out Paul Rennie for more information on printing):

Based upon the principles of lithography, a separate stone or plate was made for each colour. The final colour image resulted from the build-up of successive, individual colour printings. It was associated with the production of posters from the 1850s to the 1930s.

One-off designs generally produced within competitions by, for instance, employees or children.

Intaglio Printing
Generic term for printing processes where an image is etched or engraved into the surface of a plate. The plate is then covered with ink, wiped clean, leaving ink only in the incised lines, with the impression then made direction onto paper. Photogravure is one of the key processes produced by this means.

Printing method based on the principle that oil and water do not mix. Using a greasy medium, an image is drawn on a flat surface of fine-grained porous limestone or zinc plate. The stone or plate is then dampened and inked. The water repels ink from most the surface so that the ink adheres only to the drawn lines. Dampened paper is applied to the stone or plate and rubbed with a special press to make the final print. This was a development that enabled the cheap and cost-effective mass printing of colour image and is the most common method for posters.

A popular commercial method of printing where the image to be printed is transferred (offset) first from the cylindrical metal plate on to a rubber-coloured cylinder and then from this cylinder on to the paper surface. Capable of printing on a variety of paper surfaces, on both sides of the paper, in four colours (can be simultaneous), in a variety of sizes. Small machines are available as in-house printing presses to commercial organisations to a maximum size of A3 (297 x 420mm).

Detailed intaglio prints made by a commercial photographic process. Varying depths of recessed dots are engraved into a copper-plated steel cylinder, filled with ink, surplus ink removed from the surface, and then transferred directly to the printed surface. A high-quality process particularly used for the production of long-run magazines and packaging.

A process whereby a photograph is taken of an original painting. Essentially the same process as lithography, or offset-lithography.

Also known as serigraphy, a method favoured by fine art printmakers, . Developed into the modern printing technique of screen printing in which a printed image is made by passing ink through a screen attached to a stencil onto paper. ‘A print-making technique based on stencilling. Ink or paint is brushed through a fine screen made of silk, and masks are used to produce the design. These can be made of paper, or from varnish applied to the silk itself.

Read an article on new communications technologies and the impact this has had upon the message.

Information taken from: ‘Chromolithography’, in Livingston, A., and Livingston, I., The Thames and Hudson Encyclopaedia of Graphic Design and Designers, 1992, p.44 ,and Lucie-Smith, E. Dictionary of Art Terms, 1984, p.49, Gleeson, J., Miller’s Collecting Prints & Posters, 1997, p.154; Lucie-Smith, E., op.cit., 1984, p.104; and ‘Intaglio’, in Livingston, A., and Livingston, I., op.cit., 1992, p.104, Gleeson, J., op.cit., 1997, p.92 and p.154; Lucie-Smith, E., op.cit., 1984, p.112; and ‘Lithography’, in Livingston, A., and Livingston, I., op.cit., 1992, p.123, ‘Offset litho/offset photolithography’, in Livingston, A., and Livingston, I., op.cit., 1992, p.147, Gleeson, J., op.cit., 1997, p.154; The Curtis Collection, ‘Photogravure printing process’,, accessed June 10 2002; and ‘Photogravure’, in Livingston, A., and Livingston, I., op.cit., 1992, p.154, Center for Applied Microtechnology, ‘Photolithography’,, accessed June 10 2002; and Sportsartetc, ‘Sports Art, Etc. FAQ’,, accessed June 10 2002, Gleeson, J., op.cit., 1997, p.154; Lucie-Smith, E., op.cit., 1984, p.170; and ‘Screen printing’, in Livingston, A., and Livingston, I., op.cit., 1992, p.178.

By Second World War Posters

Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.

5 replies on “Printing Methods”

Perhaps you should add an introductory paragraph on how these processes relate to the WWII posters. It’s not immediately clear. (sorry to start off with a criticism). I’m looking forward to seeing this blog grow. As a graphic designer and a WWII history buff, I am extremely interested in your subject!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.