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20th Cent Printing

This is a follow up to Victorian Printing in Part 1.

1900s: From the early 1890s and through the 1900s improved printing technology and a falling price in paper allowed an increase in the circulation of newspapers with a demand for artist drawn illustrations. Many new weekly and monthly magazines would use some colour printing within their pages. All this is complementary to what is generally regarded as ‘a Golden Age of Illustration’.

1910s: By the end of the Great War chromolithography had virtually been superseded. By 1900 there were3 main forms of printing well developed, all of which had their origins in Victorian times. Photogravure was to be used mainly in magazine work and packaging, photolithography was to develop as an all purpose process and collotype was the first successful photographic printing method (although it was to be replaced later by fine-screen lithography).

1920s: Silk screen printing had been in use in Britain and America just before the Great War. The process involves stencilling of the non-printable area of the image onto silk (or organdie) material through which ink is then forced. Following the war it was developed for a wide range of commercial printing.

This was a fast changing decade with an increasing demand for illustrations generally and in advertising particularly allowing newcomers to showcase their talent.

1930s: The Great Depression of this decade saw advertisers cut their budgets and illustrators feel the pinch along with the rest of the population. Photography was also beginning to make inroads in magazines warning signs for the future! 

1940s: On both sides of the Atlantic many illustrators turned their talent to support the war effort. In Britain, restrictions in paper and even ink were reflected in the quality of publications. However, greetings cards were regarded as exceptions being seen as morale boosters.

A post war America in boom saw illustrators in great demand.

1950s: In advertising one began to see commercial art really being squeezed out by photography and by the 60s had all but been replaced by photo adverts as the main media. In America long standing magazines started to disappear and those remaining switched from illustrators to photography for stories. Photolithography, which allowed full colour photographs to be reproduced easily, was developed in the 1950s.

1960s: Henry Ford said of his early cars that you could have any colour provided it was black. Holiday snaps were mainly in black and white, TV was in black and white, and on the silver screen films and newsreels certainly in Britain were still being produced mainly in black and white. Although colour printing in periodicals was being increasingly used (it had, after all, been used for a good few decades by now) it tended to be restricted to a minority of full page adverts.

1970s: During the 1960s and 70s artists continued to find employment in artwork for covers to paperback books and some magazines continued to support their talent. But their main base of art for magazines either through stories or adverts was no more and illustrators now diversified into niche areas, their audiences would be measurably less.

1980s: Manual compositing was replaced by computerisation in the larger publishing concerns. This decade saw a new generation of illustrators who had not found a niche market would produce a range of anti-establishment rebel art.

1990s: Desk top computers with increasingly sophisticated and powerful software would change publishing completely. I am, frankly, unsure of the impact of computer generated images (CGI) specifically on the world of ephemera.

Reprints would now be collected in their own right and the newer phenomenon of trading cards sets gave complete runs of adverts, all giving greater accessibility to a wider audience. These would be joined by new work from new artists, some traditional in style, some innovative but all searching for a niche in the market place. That market place might be in the locale of the scene on a postcard or a wider market reached through the medium of the Internet.

So, commercial art has never gone away and the commercial artist, both old and new continue to thrive in the 21st Century.

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