METROPOSTCARD.COM GUIDE TO PRINTING TECHNIQUES 5
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Postcard Novelties


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METALLIC TECHNIQUES


It is not at all uncommon to find postcards with a metallic sheen for they have been manufactured this way since their inception. Metallic paints were not generally used in the fine arts where the appearance of metal was created through illusion rather than substance. There was however a long tradition of applying gold leaf to a painted surface to symbolically glorify specific subjects depicted. There was a resurgence in the use of gold leaf at the end of the 19th century when many artists grew more interested in the painting surface than what paint could represent. This trend carried over into the graphic arts where gilding by hand had been no stranger, and it was now often used in advertising to glorify material goods rather than saints. Postcards used metallic effects as a design element that sometimes was well integrated into a composition and often not, but always as a marketing ploy. Precious metals were not used in these processes, so the prestige that imitations added was all in the consumers mind. These novelties were however more expensive to produce, which gave them some status. Printers found a number of different techniques to render these effects, each with their own characteristics.

Metallic Spot Printing
A printed metallic finish cannot be created by any combination of colored inks, only by mixtures of powdered metal and varnish. Aluminum and copper are common ingredients in these mixtures as is bronze to render gold. While the characteristics of all ink will vary depending on the type of pigment added to it, those containing powdered metal tend to be extremely stiff and difficult to work with. Normally printing would be the most feasible method of applying a metallic sheen to an image but the difficulty in working with this material led to its minimal use and alternative methods were sought out. Eventually fillers and other components were added to this type of ink making it more pliable and easy to work with on a press, but while this was an improvement it was not a perfect solution. Metallic colors do not print well on rough paper often requiring an under layer of another printing ink to be put down first. While many printers used metallic inks as an additional spot color on postcards, they remain so limited in overall numbers that they can be considered a novelty. Very often this effect was also used to denote premium cards printed in more limited additions. Even when gold was just added to a border, these cards fetched higher prices.

Postcard

Metallic Spot Color: Gold line work has been added to the monochrome postcard above to simulate shimmering highlights. Unfortunately in this case the two mediums act so differently that their attributes do not combine either as an illusion nor as a good stylistic design. So much silver has been printed over the color lithograph below that it becomes an integral part of the composition. While the design overpowers any sense of realism that seems to be the point. The intricate silver details are too delicate to have been painted on by hand, indicating that they were printed.

Postcard


Postcard

Metallic Spot Color: Not only have the borders on this postcard been covered with a silvery ink but a thin layer has been printed across the sky giving it a strange iridescence. While the blue under printing of the sky barely bleeds through this near opaque silver, the black wires retain strong definition because they were printed over the metallic ink from the key plate.



Postcard

Metallic Tint: On the postcard above a silvery ink has been first laid down as a solid tint, which was then over printed with red and a black halftones. Metallic ink was always printed first when used as a tint because of its opaqueness. Red, yellow, blue and black have been lithographed over a solid field of silver on the older card below from the 1890’s. The specks of silver that shine through the overprinting make the color inks look as if they are also metallic. Despite the shine, both of these cards look duller than if printed on white paper.

Postcard

Bronzing
The bronzing method patented by Reichner Brothers was used to create the Copper Window effect on postcards without the use of metallic inks. After the image was printed onto a card with regular ink, an adhesive pattern in varnish would be printed over it, and then dusted while wet with a very fine metallic powder. A variety of different powders could be used and sometimes this process was repeated to create multiple metallic effects on a single card. It was meant to convey the illusion of illuminated or glistening light. Wherever bronzing is employed it is as a novelty, for the effect of illumination is more as an idea than anything that might be perceived of as realistic.

The term bronzing was also used more generically to refer to any application of metallic powder to a card placed in wet ink or varnish. This was sometimes used to highlight lettering or to create pure decoration. This method should not be confused with images that had metallic inks printed over them or metal foil adhered to them. The act of printing imparts sharply defined edges while those from bronzing tend to be rounder and softer. If there was too much oil leftover in the powder from the manufacturing process, it had a tendency to flake off the cardís paper surface. Many health hazards were associated with bronzing, and the dust was explosive, so most printers eventually abandoned this time consuming method in favor metallic inks when they were made easier to work with.

Postcard

Bronzing: Bronzing was most often used to color in window to give the illusion that light were shining through. On this card it has been placed over the black key plate but the uneven coating has rendered it translucent in some places and opaque in others as seen in the detail below. Normally colors were laid down one at a time but the two different types of metal powders used here were applied at the same time. Simultaneous hand application is obvious because in certain places the two powders have inadvertently mixed. Registration problems were also common with this effect, making it easy to distinguish bronzing from gilding by hand.

Postcard Detail


Postcard

Bronzing: The bronzing technique was commonly used to add messages to stock and generic cards. Lettering could be added by first printing varnish on a card or by writing with a glue pencil to create a receptive surface for the metallic dusting. When writing was added in this manner the heavy application of glue often forms a low relief that distinguishes it from the flat surface of printed metallic inks. Raised letters however can be found in traditional gild work.


Metallic Dusting
Another method utilizing metallic powder on postcards was dusting. It was similar to bronzing in that an adhesive was first placed on the card and then a fine metal dust would be laid over it. Unlike bronzing this technique did not highlight specific areas, but was most often used to evenly coat the entire surface of the card to achieve atmospheric effects, even if more stylish than real. This metallic coating was not put down in a solid continuous layer for the image beneath it needed to show through. Varnish was used rather than glue so that when dry it would not obscure the picture. The method of application is unclear but it might have been placed down in a similar manner as which rosin dust is applied to an intaglio plate for aquatint. In this case the card or sheet of cards, freshly wet with varnish, would be suspended within a box from which bellows would stir up a cloud of metallic powder lying below. As the dust rises up around the cards it will evenly mix with the air within the closed space of the box, so when it gently falls an even coating will result. While it seems improbable that this method was used in commercial work, these dusted cards are rare.

Postcard

Dusting: The surface of this German made color lithograph is covered with a consistent layer of metallic dust. It is so fine that it only appears as faint flecks even under very high magnification. The results however are readily visible to the naked eye; the dusting has effectively rendered the appearance of a foggy or misty atmosphere. Like most materials attached to postcards, the bond is weak and the dust will come off on your fingertips if the card is handled.


Foil Stamping
Gold leaf had been applied to printed materials for centuries by the simple act of burnishing thin leaves of dust onto a paper surface (gilding). While this method sufficed for the production of rare books it was too slow and cumbersome for commercial printing. A new method was developed where a thin sheet of metallic foil that was cut to shape would be placed over the paper then pressed together between two metal plates. The heated plate behind the paper would cause the foil to adhere to it. Different types of foil could be applied either alone or together, over a particular section of the image or the entire card. Afterwards the foil stamped card was printed upon.

Postcard

Foil Stamping: The shimmering colors on this card give the impression that different metallic foils were adhered to this card when only a single blue foil was used. When any ink is printed over nonabsorbent surface such as metal, it tends to curdle and pool. This quality is made even more evident when translucent inks are used as in this case. Thicker areas of ink read as bright colors while thiner areas allow the metallic shine to come through creating the overall illusion that all is metallic foil.


Postcard

Foil Stamping: At least three different metallic foils were adhered to this postcard before it was overprinted in ink from a black line block. In the detail below the distinct tell tale crackling of the foil’s surface as it bonds to paper under pressure is observable.

Postcard Detail

Tinseling (glitter)
In ever increasing attempts to sell more postcards, methods of adding eye catching metallic fragments (glitter) or mica to them were introduced. In this process tinsel is dusted over glue or varnish printed onto a cards surface after the ink has dried. Flakes of silver were traditionally used, but it soon grew too expensive and cheaper substitutes were found in a variety of colors and textures. Unlike the fine powders used in bronzing that lay flat or nearly so on the card’s surface, this method produced highly raised and rough sparkling lines. Publishers would sometimes add tinseling to stocks of slow selling or monochrome cards in the hope of increasing sales. Kits with glue pens were eventually marketed to the public that allowed tinsel to be added to postcards at home. The Post Office Department considered these cards hazardous to their workforce and by 1907 there were requirements in place that they be mailed in an envelope. It reached the point where twenty-thousand tinseled cards a day were sent to the Dead Letter Office for want of a cover. Tinseling is still widely used on folded greeting cards. These same principals are used in flock printing where fibers of wool or felt are dusted over the glue.

Postcard

Tinseling: Tinseling was usually applied in lines that followed contours within a composition. It was rarely meant to correspond to any natural lighting effects but was used for pure decoration. Since subtlety would defeat its purpose it was often applied in a very heavy handed way. The postcard above is rare for it carries actual silver tinsel that lies flat on its surface. The far more common type of card bellow has glitter applied, which creates a raised surface. Despite its shine, glitter is not as reflective as silver and can go unnoticed at first glance.

Postcard


APPLICATION TECHNIQUES


Flocking
A nearly identical technique to tinseling was developed for the use of small fiber particles. These fibers could be of varying color, length, and material depending on the effect desired. They would be dusted onto a card’s surface after it had been printed with a final layer of glue or varnish. After the particles adhered to the wet surface the remainder could brushed off. Flocking was not used on many postcards because of cost, fragility, and limited visual appeal.

Postcard

Flock Printing: This postcard manages to achieve the same look of a painting on velvet. It was first printed with phosphorescent colors, and once dry it received a final printing of varnish. Before the varnish dried it was dusted with black flocking. If ink were printed on top of the felt there would be ink residue on the fibers, which is not the case here.


Beading
An unusual application to postcards consisted of a thick sticky varnish that was saturated with tiny glass beads and sometimes infused with glitter. The individual beads are too small for the naked eye to perceive but they still create a bubbly iridescent effect. This type of coating is just one of many different surfaces that were applied to novelty postcards. While some of these mixtures were painted onto cards by hand, others were first printed with a varnish to ensure consistent placement.

Postcard

Beading: The glass beads placed on this chromolithograph range from clear to dark deep hues. Their extremely small size can be somewhat assessed when compared to the flecks of glitter next to them in the detail below.

Postcard Detail

Spotting
Adding color to postcards through hand painting was an old tradition that came out of coloring prints. While spotting is a dorm of hand coloring, it was not used in a traditional manner. Here opaque white paint is added to a cards surface in small globules that leave a raised surface behind. This paint is not meant to blend into the composition but become a distinct element within it. Paint was often applied this way to create decorative patterns, though it was applied in a more realistic manner to view-cards to simulate snow. Though suitable for novelties, most commercial printers would not consider using this technique because it was a time consuming process. This technique appears most often on holiday cards.

Hand Colored Real Photo Card

Spotting: Above is a real photo postcard that has received some subtle hand coloring. In Small white beads have been carefully painted in on the hat’s ribbons to bring focus to the portrait. These white dots also brings attention to an otherwise quiet card, possibly making it unique enough to attract a customer.

Postcard

Spotting: This hand colored collotype of a winter scene has been further enhanced by adding white spotting to simulate snowfall. Falling snow was something very difficult to capture through printing, but these opaque dots easily make their presence felt without seeming too unreal. At first glance these dots almost appear to be printed, but the detail below reveals just how much they sit apart from the printed surface. While spatter could be easily applied with speed, there was limited control with this type of application. Results could not just be varied, some could be bad enough to create waste.

Postcard Detail

Chine Collé (Chine Appliqué)
The earliest intaglio prints were made in an age when hand made paper was a scarce commodity. No printer used more than what was necessary, and so making borderless prints that ended at the edge of a plate seemed a natural way to proceed. If larger sheets of paper were to be used, then the size of the press bed would also need to be larger than what was required to hold the printing plate. Printers also preferred using thin paper because its pliability allowed it to be pushed into the fine incised lines of a plate with ease, thus guaranteeing the fidelity of details. By the 19th century print collectors had become more interested in the material aspects of art and its presentation. Ever widening borders began to appear, but this proved unsafe for prints on flimsy paper that were susceptible to tearing. Some printers began using heavier paper, but this could adversely effect the printing quality if not handled properly. A way around this dilemma was found by using two different sheets of paper to produce one print. This process begins with a thin sheet of India paper that holds a dried coating of water soluble paste on its back. It is cut to the exact size of the printing plate and is placed over the inked plate carefully aligned to its edges. Before it is printed a much thicker and larger sheet of moistened paper is laid over it. When pressure is applied during printing, the thick wet paper moistens the dry paste on the back of the thin paper underneath, and a bond formed between the two unites them into one single sheet. In this way a fine etching could be mounted onto heavier postcard stock.

After better medium weight papers were made available, the utility of using a light and heavy paper disappeared. After the First World War the technique was continued more for the purpose of novelty than for practical reasons. This effect could be enhanced when both papers were of different colors. The most common application was to print on colored paper, which acted like a traditional tinting plate, used in lithography since the 1820’s. While this method eliminated the need for a second plate to print a tone, the cost of additional paper and the time consuming task of registration would have not made this a cheaper alternative.

Postcard

Chine Collé: Here a gravure plate inked in blue ink was printed on a thin sheet, which is bonded to a heavier stiffer paper. Light grey or tan India paper were the most popular colors chosen for use with chine collé, the same colors traditionally used as tinted backgrounds in lithography.


Cut paper could also be used with this method to create decorative collage elements within an image, but difficulties in registration made this an unappealing practice. The sandwiching of paper through a press became known as chine collé in France where the India paper that was most often used was called China paper. This delicate process was not compatible with mechanized presses but higher end postcards carrying etchings were already being printed by hand in small numbers. The extra materials and labor used with chine collé just about doubled the cost of printing. If the cost to make these cards were higher than normal, a limited number of customers were usually willing to pay more for them.

Tip-Ins
In the early years of postcard production it was not always easy to find a picture postcard to purchase, so creative individuals often took it upon themselves to paste pictures onto blank government postals. This was especially true of women who had a long history of pasting pictures into friendship albums. These cards were not produced to create art but to impart a personal touch. The desire to create something special is why handmade cards continued to be made even when printed postcards became widely available.

Paste-on cards could often look like homemade cards, though they were commercially manufactured. They appeared in the 1890’s when the supply of postcards was not yet reliable and the customers for them uncertain. These types of cards were basically printed in letterpress, incorporating a color design or words or both by means of a small photograph or other graphic work printed in a different medium pasted onto it by hand (tipped in). Sometimes only a blind decorative embossing was created around a blank space, creating totally generic stock to hold the material that would be pasted in. These cards could be printed in small numbers on a jobbing platen or even a hand press lessening investment risk.

Postcard

Tip-Ins: The blind embossing on the postcard above from 1896 is much heaver than what would typically be used with a printed image. The uneven edges around the lithographic portrait indicate that it was not die cut but cut out by hand and then tipped in. The decorative work on postcard below from 1912 was printed in line block, but the picture is a real photograph that has been pasted onto it.

Postcard Detail



THREE DIMENSIONAL CARDS


It can be argued that creating the illusion of three dimensions from a two dimensional surface has been the pursuit of artists for centuries. This quest however took a new turn after the invention of photography for while the realistic nature of a photograph provides many of the same visual clues need to read space into it that artists sought to create, these same properties open it up to enhancing illusion. All 3D techniques used on postcards would have one thing in common, they are based on the manipulation of two almost identical images that require such precision that nothing less than photography can capture. None of these methods actually created a 3D image because we already see in three dimensions. The idea is only to create a novel way to perceive a two dimensional surface. Whether the eye receives reflected light off of objects at varying distances or a flat plane it is all the same; it is the mind that interprets this stimulus as space. Of course there are important nuances affecting spatial interpretation created between monocular and binocular vision, but these are just different ways in which space can be read, there are other clues we interpret. Without the minds ability to extrapolate on data received, all postcards would be nothing more than ink on paper.

Stereoscopy
Stereoscopy, invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838 was the first popular technique placed into use that created three-dimensional illusions. They usually took the form of two photographs taken from slightly different viewpoints mounted side by side on a stiff sheet of 3 by 7 inch cardboard. When the two-dimensional cards are viewed at the proper distance, each eye will perceive only one of these images at a time and interpret this difference as three dimensions. Special devices to hold the stereo-views at the proper distance from the face were often used but were not a necessity. Millions of stereo-views were produced but imitations were also printed onto postcards in their early years. They were sometimes packaged in small boxes that doubled as viewers. Even with these devices the smaller postcard format made the 3D effect more difficult to perceive and so they were produced in relatively small numbers. As collecting habits changed the popularity of stereo-views waned and so did their conversion to the postcard format. Only one company was still producing stereo-views in the 1920’s, and by that time they had already disappeared off of postcards.

Postcard

Stereo postcard: Stereoscopy usually took the form of two photographs taken from slightly different viewpoints mounted side by side on a stiff sheet of cardboard. Very early postcards like the collotype above were also printed as stereo-views but in far smaller numbers. They, unlike typical photographic stereo-views could be printed in color.


Anaglyph
Anaglyphs, patented by Ducos du Hauron in 1891 are two-dimensional images that create the illusion of three dimensions. As in stereoscopy they are produced with two photographs taken of the same scene at slightly different angles, but here one is taken through a red filter and the other through a blue, green, or cyan filter. One image is then printed over the other each in the same solid color as the filter it was shot through. The final image appears to be seriously off register until viewed through a special pair of glasses that creates a 3D effect. Each lens of the glasses is a different color filter that corresponds to the printed ink. The red filter makes the red ink of the image appear white and the blue ink as black while the blue filter in the other lens has a complementary affect on the blue ink. The brain interprets the differing color contrast seen by each eye as space. While its use on postcards has been minimal, this process has since been integrated into other mediums such as movies and comic books but its popularity has been sporadic.

Postcard

Anaglyph: This anaglyph was printed as a lithographic postcard with red and light blue halftones. While it is postcard size it still has a blank back suggesting that it may have been sold as a novelty item rather than to mail.


Parallax Stereogram
Another form of 3D imagery is the Parallax Stereogram invented in 1903 that required no external device to be viewed but it was the most complex to manufacture. It is based on optical principals discovered by Frederic Ives in 1896 when a two dimensional photograph was made to look as if it were three dimensional by altering its surface. An image is pieced together using very thin alternating cut strips from two photographs each taken of the same subject at slightly differing angles. A thin lenticulating sheet made with opaque bars of the same frequency as the divided strips of the collaged photograph were then placed over the image. As the left and right eye perceive this picture at different angles, the raised opaque bar situated between each alternating strip hides one complete photo from each eye causing the mind to interpret the differences seen as three-dimensional space. The problem with this method was that space could only be effectively read when the image was viewed at a specific angle.

Postcard

Parallax Stereogram: This postcard from 1906 does not create a 3D image but uses the parallax stereogram technique to present two completely different scenes on the same picture plane. Viewed from head on the picture is a ghostly jumble of both photos, but when viewed from the left the raised opaque lenticules hide the strips that make up the photo of the street while only revealing the strips of the other photo to form a coherent image of a facade. When viewed from the right the lenticules hide and reveal the opposite pair of images.


Gabriel M. Lippmann overcame the obstacle of the single viewing angle required to make Parallax Stereograms work by developing the fly’s-eye lens, a sheet of small round globules through which the photograph would be taken and then viewed. Frederick Ives’ son Hubert refined this idea in the 1920’s by replacing the fly’s-eye with a linear array. Photographs were first shot through a parallax barrier but later directly onto a lenticulating sheet of plastic with a photo sensitized back. When the image is viewed through another thin layer of lenticulating plastic, each linear lenticule acts as an individual lens and reflects light back to the eye at the same angle as the image was exposed. As the light fractures at various angles it appears differently to each eye creating the illusion of seeing the objects in the image from a different perspective.

This principal was applied to early movie production and by 1964 it was developed further by Cowles Communications and Eastman Chemical Products in Tennessee. Visual Panographics in New York were the first to manufacture these 3D images for use as magazine illustrations, baseball cards, and postcards under the name Xograph. Many other companies followed them into production but rather than becoming the wave of the future, Xographs proved only to be a fad and by the early 1980’s the public had tired of them and the process largely disappeared from commercial use. Today as the plastic coating on the oldest cards ages, many have begun to seriously curl. Though Xographs remain an acquired taste they were the only type of 3D cards to be printed in large numbers, and a few better quality cards continue to be produced.

Postcard

Xograph: This continental sized Xograph postcard dating from 1974 is very typical of the technique. In the detail below we can see how the plastic lenticules act as a lens isolating each bit of color information.

Postcard Detail





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