History of botanical printing | State Library of New South Wales

Printing of botanical illustrations

The earliest printed botanical works are the herbals of the 15th and 16th centuries. These were illustrated with woodcuts, giving a simple line representation of the plant in question, often without a lot of fine detail.
 > Examine some early woodcut prints from the 15th and 16th centuries

Woodcut printing
By the time the discovery of Australia had captured the European imagination in the mid 18th century, illustration techniques had evolved. Engraving onto metal plates was now the most common method of printing images in scientific and artistic publications. As a consequence, most of the published images of Australian plants were done on engraved plates.
 > Examine images created using metal engraving from the early 19th century

Engraved plates

Colour printing was the next development. Adding colour to botanical images was important, both for identification purposes (in scientific texts) and also to create beautiful artistic works for a wealthy buying public. Natural history was a popular subject amongst the middle and upper classes and they had money to spend on attractive books for their collections.
 > View coloured plates of plants created by hand-colouring and by printing

Coloured plates

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Embothrium speciosissimum
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