Identification Tutorial

Approaching an Object

If unfamiliar with a wide variety of print processes there are a few questions to consider that will help limit the number of possible options, and thus significantly speed identification.

Is the print continuous tone?

Under magnification is a screen or dot pattern visible? Only photographic prints, dye sublimation prints, and woodburytypes are truly continuous tone.

Silver Gelatin Print
10x Magnification

Letterpress Halftone Print
10x Magnification

Is the period of production obvious from the image? For example, does the print look 19th century?

Utilize the Common Use date ranges at the top of each identification page to help narrow the number of possible processes.

Albumen Print 1860-1895

Is the print color or monochromatic and if color is this natural or applied?

Natural Color Photomechanical
Letterpress Halftone and Offset Lithography are the processes most commonly used for reproductions in natural color. These processes are the standard for photo reproductions in books and magazines.

Offset Lithograph Postcard

Letterpress Halftone Postcard

Natural Color Photographic
Chromogenic prints (C-prints) are the most common natural color photographs. These prints can be found in nearly every household and collection in the modernized world. Other processes include Silver Dye Bleach, Dye Imbibition, Instant Photographic, and Carbon/Carbro.

Chromogenic Print

Applied Color
Before the mainstream commercial success of color photography many print and photographic processes were colored by hand. Color applied by hand is usually obvious as such, although the results produced by a skilled colorist can be quite realistic. One must be able to identify hand coloring as such so that no processes are prematurely omitted during identification.

Hand Colored Platinum Print

Hand Colored Steel Engraving

Hand Colored Albumen CDV

Hand Colored Silver Gelatin Print

Hand Colored Silver Gelatin Postcard

Applied Color (Printed)
Applied color may also be produced photomechanically using multiple printing plates with hand drawn masks. With this system a new printing plate is used for every additional color.

Chromolithograph Postcard

Offset Lithograph Postcard