The printed image

The appearance of the printing press did not have an immediate effect on how books were decorated. The engraved images in incunabula were inspired by manuscripts. In particular, early printed books' initials and borders were exact copies of those found in manuscripts.

Slowly, hand-drawn illuminations and illustrations were abandoned or relegated to expensive or prestigious editions, and images engraved in wood or metal took their place.

Hand-drawn illuminations and illustrations were abandoned in favour of woodblock prints or copperplate engravings.

Two engraving techniques were used; the first, taille d'épargne (literally "sparing cut"), had been in use since the Middle Ages. It consisted of carving an image into a block of wood, "sparing" only the surfaces that would be printed. The image thus appeared in relief on the surface of the block. The use of woodcuts dominated Renaissance book production, because it could be used in connection with moveable type: the wood blocks could be placed directly into the forms and printed along with the text.

The second technique, copperplate engraving was a very different process. It was perfected in the early 1450s, almost concurrently with the printing press. Using an engraving tool, the lines of a drawing would be engraved onto a sheet of copper. Images produced using this method were more delicate, nuanced and detailed than their woodblock counterparts. However, it required a special press and the inking process took a great deal longer. For these reasons, engravings were not very present in printed books before the 1560s and 1570s.

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