Illustration Processes Overview

Detail Studies


Scientific and medical illustration is often characterized by a twofold need: for accuracy and for clarity in presenting information. It would be more appropriate, however, to say that such illustration is utilized in assisting the reader in "seeing" information within the context of a particular theory or scientific reality. Some images present theory based on careful study. Other images are based on observed, though selective, reality. A third type of image shows the way to conduct an experiment or procedure, or simply the equipment needed. The developments in book illustration techniques shown on this website should be viewed with an eye to economic factors which have always been a major component of book production.

All book illustration processes can be divided into four basic groups: relief printing, chiefly woodcut and wood engraving; intaglio printing, including engraving, etching, and mezzotint; planographic printing, chiefly lithography and chromolithography; and photography. In the 1960s, when the text as well as the illustrations began to be reproduced photographically, offset lithography, a photolithographic printing process, took over commercial book production and held the field until today's digital revolution.

These examples, which enable detailed study of the illustration processes featured in this website, provide a better understanding of the different printing techniques and the utility of these processes in illustrating scientific and medical concepts over the last 700 years.


 Color study:

Andreas Vesalius
De humani corporis fabrica, 1543

 Relief printing study:

Pietro Andrea Mattioli
Commentarii … Pedacii Dioscoridis … de materia medica, 1565

 Intaglio printing study:

Robert Hooke
Micrographia, 1665

 Planographic printing study:

Jean Marc Bourgery
Traité complet de l'anatomie de l'homme, 1831—54

 Photography study:

Lick Observatory
Transparencies of the Moon, ca. 1896

Images of these items illustrate but a few of The New York Public Library's major holdings in science and medicine as well as items from other institutions which were featured in the exhibition Seeing Is Believing, on view from October 23, 1999—February 19, 2000 at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, and related publication.

SEE the Exhibit     |     LEARN About the Exhibit     |     The New York Public Library Homepage

© 2001 The New York Public Library