There are many ways of duplicating an image.

I'm thinking of graphics-containing newspapers and magazines circa 1950s and 1960s.

When an artist produces an original ink-and-paint drawing/photograph/collage for, say, Superman or Tintin, which particular reproductive methods were actually commercially used to mass-produce such images?

In particular, how were multicoloured images handled?

  • Photolithography probably.
    – joojaa
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 12:29
  • Are you thinking about way to transfer picture to plates using traditional methods? Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 12:44

2 Answers 2


A color separation is produced by taking a photograph of the original art using a specific-color filter on the lens and black and white transparency film in the camera. Further, for printing purposes, a halftone-screen mask was placed over the art so that the film camera captured dots instead of continuous tone.

The color filters are Red, Green, and Blue and negatives of these shots represent Cyan Magenta and Yellow.

There were 4 plates (for a short time there were 3 colors CMY, but a 4th was added).

A full plate's worth of imagery and type was on a large transparency placed in contact with the (photosensitive) plate surface and then placed in front of a high-intensity arc light.

The transparency itself was "pasted up" by hand from photographically produced type and random images (sometimes called randoms).

The plate then has the appropriate ink applied.

Even in the digital age, circa 1989, I used a black and white video camera with a manual rotating color wheel attached to an Amiga computer to digitize color images for animation.

If I remember correctly, you can manually convert and RGB digital image to CMY by converting the RGB values to a percentage and then subtracting that from 100%.


enter image description here

Negative Stripping:

enter image description here

  • Specifically, the red filter was a Wratten 29, green was a Wratten 58, and the blue was a Wratten 57B. Wratten was the name of the original English company that made the filters in glass and then with gelatine. Later, the Wratten company was purchased by the Eastman Kodak Co., which became Kodak, corp. The film used was an orthochromatic (blue sensitive) lithographic (high contrast) film.
    – Stan
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 20:15
  • Yeah, they are tuned colors for the process. More information on the camera itself can be found by looking for information on "Process Camera." The film was high(er) contrast than what would be used for "art photography" since the printing process is all designed to break down continuous tones to discrete small solid fields of color.
    – Yorik
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 20:25
  • Color Separation was used to print direct inks. When you filtered an already coloured image was Color Selection.
    – Rafael
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 22:35
  • Is your "full plate's worth of imagery" the primary image or secondary images? And what do you mean "pasted up"? And why would you want to add random images? Thanks but I'm quite confused.
    – spraff
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 16:43
  • "Paste Up" is a term of art. Usually it was done on boards or paper. It is, essentially the process we follow with Indesign or DTP software, only with physical objects. When I made catalogs, I would do the layout without imagery (either digitally or actual hard-copy) and work with a Color Separator (person) to do the color photography. We would submit the photos to the printer as 4 separate black and white negatives. These were called "Random Separations." The printer's pre-press staff would then attach these to the layout as appropriate.
    – Yorik
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 16:55

We had 2 methods. Actually we still have the two.

Color selection and color separation.

Yorik is describing the color selection, where your original was already in color.

Color separation was actually diferent black and white images. I will post later some images.

Sometimes was only used the same image and the negative was painted on itself, to lower the costs of producing aditional negatives.

(I will post later some images)

  • I appreciate that there may be other uses for the term in your experience, but "color separation" means "the division of a colored original into cyan, magenta, yellow, and black so that plates may be made for print reproduction. Separation may be achieved by electronic scanning or by photographic techniques using filters to isolate each color." This is what I described. I am interested, however, in you elaborating on "color selection."
    – Yorik
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 14:42
  • I think @Rafael is referring to what we used to call "mechanicals" (short for "mechanical separation" I suspect). You start with a single piece of art with color callouts on overlays or in blue pencil. Add an overlay, often of Rubylith (clear plastic with a red material attached), cut away all the red material but the part over the color you want to separate. Remove the overlay, add another for the next color and so on until all the colors have "masks" cut out. Photograph the masks on litho film; the red overlay goes clear and that's where the ink for that color ultimately prints. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 15:30
  • I see. This is how I would do e.g. 2+ color illustrations: a base drawing in ink and then overlays inked for the each additional color with registration. Similar to wood block, or e.g. Comic Book tints.
    – Yorik
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 17:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.