Color Printing: A Brief History

You know that Gobin's Inc. can help you with all of your printing needs, but do you ever wonder about the history of color printing? Color printing has a surprisingly rich and interesting history that begins in the 18th Century.


Lithography emerged in the late 1700s as the first new printing technology since 15th Century relief printing. Early lithographs only used one or two colors on the entire plate, so these were mainly used for landscapes and topographic illustrations. The color effect was much like a watercolor. Hand coloring was therefore preferred over lithographs until multiple tints were available.


The method of making multiple color prints is called chromolithography. Early chromolithographs were simple prints with flat areas of color that were printed side-by-side.

Chromolithographs were often bright and gaudy. Color and design options were added as overprinting and metallic-colored inks became more mainstream. However, chromolithography was rather expensive through the second half of the 19th Century. Chromolithography was mostly used for large-scale works and things like illuminated books ñ a throwback to the illuminated manuscripts popular in the Middle Ages.

The Printing Press

Wider use of the steam-driven printing press and a wider availability of paper stock eventually helped bring down the costs associated with chromolithography. By the late 1880s, chromolithography was prominently featured in magazines and advertising, even as photographic processes were in development and would eventually replace lithography.

Today, color printing is as easy as a touch of a button. Next time you print in color, remember color printing history: an evolution of the technologies that led to modern color printing capabilities. And, for all your contemporary color printing needs, contact us here at Gobin's!