If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The Woodburytype - Photographic Processes Series - Chapter 9 of 12

The Woodburytype process, invented by Walter Woodbury in 1864, revolutionized image printing. It combined photography and press to create detailed, believable images. The process involved molding an image into a lead sheet using a gelatin relief hardened by light. The result was a seamless, precise image that looked like a real photograph.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

When the woodburytype process came along it suddenly became possible to produce things that looked like photographs. They had all the believability and the detail and the truthyness, if you will, of a real photograph. But they could be made on a printing press, and made even more easily, in even greater quantity for even less money. This process was invented in 1864 by Walter Woodbury. It is a photomechanical process that combines photography and the press, that produces a continuous tone image. The woodburytype is not made by light, it is not made by chemicals. It is molded, it is made in a mold. The mold is a sheet of lead that has depressions in the lead. Those depressions were made by something that was developed by light. A piece of gelatin, where areas of the gelatin were hardened by light, or left so they would be washed away in hot water. You ended up with this potato chip thick gelatin with relief. Relief meaning you have high and low spots. This would be put against a piece of lead. It would be put into a press with the capability of pressing many, many tons of pressure. It would actually push that relief image into the sheet of lead. When you took it apart the lead sheet now had hills and valleys. Then we take a dollop of warm gelatin with pigment. It is not ink, it is gelatin. You put that on the mold, you slide in a piece of paper, and press. What happens is that the warm gelatin with pigment is pushed into the mold, against the paper, and when you release the two you get a formed image. It’s pressed, so it is actually a cast image. The mold is made with photography but the actual image itself we do not call a photograph. The woodburytype produced a beautiful seamless, poreless, precise image that really looked like a photograph. This was first used in reasonably high end publications. It was used to convey a sense of you are there, which is what photographs have always done. It greatly surpassed any previous printing process to do that.