Mystery print technique
December 28, 2007 7:41 PM   Subscribe

I was recently given a print. It was one of at least a handful identical copies made in 1972 by a student. There's a blowup of a part of it here. Knowing nearly nothing about art, I'm very curious to learn how was this made. The hatching & stippling scream computer to me, but that seems unlikely, given the time. It seems like it was done in CYMK, with a brown key, & the offset of the brown & yellow is a bit off. Can anyone shed some light on the process, start to finish, behind this?
posted by devilsbrigade to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't this plain old halftone, albeit in a range of colors? According to wikipedia, digital color halftoning has been around since the 1970s, so it seems totally plausible to me. I assume there was normal color halftoning before digital came around, since that's how comic books were made. Pop art, which looks a lot like this picture, dates back to the 50s apparently.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2007

This looks like a lithograph to me. The Pop Art Benday dots effect was popularized by Roy Lichtenstein.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:07 PM on December 28, 2007

Response by poster: Would a student have had access to this type of printing in 1972, though? If it was a lithograph, how was the original made?
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:15 PM on December 28, 2007

It could be a lithograph, but I'd lean towards screen printing. The areas of broad color are really flat.

Wikipedia has a decent explanation of each process. Screen printing and Lithography
posted by advicepig at 8:27 PM on December 28, 2007

With the color overlap between layers, and the overall effect I'm going to go with screen print. Screen printing's been around forever, and could easily produce an image like that.
posted by nerdcore at 10:23 PM on December 28, 2007

Silkscreen (screen printing).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:36 PM on December 28, 2007

Yeah, looks like a reasonably nice silkscreen job to me. Wonderful "vintage" (using the word loosely) print to my eye. They (he/she) certainly put some creative effort into achieving the cross-hatch result which was done via hand screen printing.

It's awesome. You should take good care of it and have it framed with acid free baking, mats, and the like for preservation. Have any duplicates you'd want to part with?
posted by wfrgms at 11:05 PM on December 28, 2007

In the days before computers, back in the stone age of the 1960's and 1970's, graphic designers did everything physically. When they wanted to put a texture like that in a picture they were creating (on mylar) they used things for which I don't know the proper name.

It was a kind of plastic which had something printed on it in a special way. You put it on top of something else, and then rubbed it really hard with a special round stylus, and everywhere you rubbed, the texture came off the transfer and moved to the target and stuck.

That's how they did lettering, for instance. They bought transfer sheets with lots and lots of letters (lots of e's and t's, not too many q's and j's) and put them down one-at-a-time. Art supply houses had huge file cabinets full of letter transfers in different fonts and sizes, and you bought the ones you needed for the lettering you were doing.

There were also transfer sheets which had the kind of textures on them that you see on your print. And I have a sneaking suspicion that's how it was put on the master. The reason I think that is because the different sections of dark green aren't aligned. If it was created with any kind of automated printing process, you'd expect the dot patterns for all the sections that are the same color to line up. But if they were laid down with the kind of transfer I'm talking about, then they wouldn't line up unless the artist deliberately made them line up.

(As to how the fills exactly fit in the outlines, the answer to that is easy: the fill was put down first, and the outlines were added to match the fill.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

It appears that the term is "transfer sheet":
Letraset Limited, pioneers in graphic arts products, was formed to exploit the invention of transfer sheet lettering in 1956. The company led this industry from their introduction of dry transfer lettering in 1961, until the rise of the Apple Macintosh and the wide availability of digital fonts brought about its inevitable decline.
I know that they were also used to lay down colored textures, not just letters.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:30 PM on December 28, 2007

I think SCDB is talking about stuff like Letraset.

But I agree with the above. It was probably some damn painstaking silkscreening.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:32 PM on December 28, 2007

Well, dang my need to put in links, heh.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:33 PM on December 28, 2007

My knee-jerk reaction upon seeing this print, especially the way some of the patterns didn't quite fill in the lines/solid colours, was screentones. These tones are transfered the same way that the Letrasets are; you lay a sheet overtop the area you want to create the pattern in, and trace/cut out the desired area using an exacto knife, and transfer the tones onto the paper. Used primarily in comics, afaik...
posted by Phire at 11:51 PM on December 28, 2007

THAT's the stuff I was thinking of! Thank you!
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:12 AM on December 29, 2007

Speaking as someone who has done a lot of lithography and screen printing, it looks like a screen print to me.
posted by bradbane at 8:56 AM on December 29, 2007

Almost certainly a screenprint, from a negative/burn that was made using the screentones (or other method) mentioned above.
posted by fishfucker at 9:38 AM on December 29, 2007

er, and that's probably *negatives* as it looks like that print required at least four passes. they'd either have to do some clever blocking or make four different screens.
posted by fishfucker at 9:40 AM on December 29, 2007

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