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A collotype is a photo-mechanically produced image that preceded the off-set lithography process for high volume image reproductions in the late 19th century. Using a gelatin coated glass plate, developers would expose the plate and a negative to light, hardening the exposed gelatin. Unexposed areas would be washed away, leaving the gelatin in relief on the plate.

The plate would be inked to adhere to the raised gelatin, and then run through a printing press. Though initially used purely for commercial purposes, fine artists exploited the process as well. In the United States, Alfred Stieglitz used the process to reproduce his photographs and publish catalogs of his work. The process was used extensively to print postcards, which gained immense popularity in the United States at the turn of the century.

Though not currently used for industrial purposes due to the considerable expertise required for the process, and the far simpler and inexpensive offset lithography method, collotype studios exist today. Artists still value the process for its 150-year tradition and the rich tonal gradations and fine detail that can be achieved with this method of reproduction.

Quick Facts

  • The Benrido Atelier in Kyoto, Japan, established in 1905, offers artists the ability to reproduce their images on a wide variety of materials form cotton to silk and rice paper. The studio offers a yearly competition in modern collotype production, as well as the opportunity for artists to learn this traditional method
  • The collotype method was the truest reproduction method for photographs, and after the process was perfected in 1868 by Joseph Albert, allowed them to be printed in books
  • Edweard Muybridge's famous photographs of animals in motion, were first printed in collotype in a book named Animal Locomotion in 1887. The book was a groundbreaking study in the movement of animals that had never been truly understood before

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