Collotype Printing

Interesting vintage process which links photography to printing presses. Thought others might enjoy the link.

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The Cotswold Collotype Company , up in the Chiltern Hills here in the UK were I believe the last doing collotype commercially. The Curwen Press did use them as sub-contractors at least once in the 1950s. Sadly
the Order Clerk that handled the job at C.P., Mr David Gosden has now passed away, so I cannot date the close down of CCC. Mid 60s? maybe someone else knows for sure. . The Curwen Chilford Studios did some experimental lithograhic work in the 1980s and 90s which is of somewhat related interest.

I went on a visit to Cotswold Collotype around about 1965-66 when it was owned by the Brooke Bond Tea Company and they were producing some wonderfull repro work in up to 10 colours. They had also converted a litho press to print collotype repro sepia postcards. I believe some of their old equipment went to Bristol uninversity or it may have West of England (UWE), maybe someone out there knows?

Benrido looks amazing. Has been on my radar for years, I plan to visit them in the next two years- hope they’re still open and producing when I do.

uni west of england some years ago experimented with and occasionally offer this collotype process, even as short courses. I was also aware there was 1 guy in Germany and 1 in France still doing this kind of work….but check………..Simon someone?

Deleted Apologies.

Black Box Collotype, is still in business in the Chicago area.

The book “Studio Collotype” by Kent Kirby is a good explanation of the process, with historical photos.
Gerald Lange has used the process, by Vandercook, and written about it: very difficult as the plate is an emulsion of gelatin on glass and humidity control is absolutely necessary.

Hello all.

There are a number of books from around the late 19th to early 20th century that were quite good, for any one seriously attempting the process. Having gone through the mill, I’m not too respectful of recent entries I’m afraid.

Black Box Collotype was done with it when we started but through phone conversion were quite helpful, mainly through a “really” response when we proposed a direction! Okay cross that one out.

I have done the process with partner Jeffrey Atherton and while we did try a Vandercook initially, we had to give that up and switch to an Albion iron hand press. Only press direction that will work is from a non-directional press.

Yes, yes, very, very difficult, and expensive, collotype will teach the would be practitioner what printing is all about!


No doubt, a platen hand press would work well for modern art collotype. But go back to commercial collotype in Europe, and the production presses used were single-revolution flatbed cylinders similar to those used in letterpress or direct lithography, but with a more elaborate inking system.
A major advance in the process was transferring the gelatin emulsion onto a zinc plate, allowing rotary printing. Mass production of photographic postcards, even process color work followed.

Hi parallel_imp

Been some time, huh? Had a stroke about two years ago, put me back aways. But bit by bit.

Yes, special flatbed cylinder collotype presses were developed [I think Black Box had some but sold them to a University in Arizona] and mass production of postcards in the early part of the century was quite common. I have a lot of these cards and they are quite incredible. Nothing quite like collotype.

Unless an photoengraver is “grandfathered,” zinc is no longer allowed by law. When I first started out I used zinc plates but when the engraver who was one floor beneath me moved, they were no longer allowed to process zinc. A shame, as it was a metal far better than magnesium and much cheaper than copper.

Eventually, about 25+ years ago, found my way over to metal-backed photopolymer plates. Amazingly, I started making money at this!

All best


Hi Gerald, glad you’ve kept out of the Hell Box.
I think the zinc plates involved in collotype were not photoengraved; they were just thin flexible carriers for a planographic emulsion, just as in the transition from stone lithography. Zinc litho plates were used for decades but aluminum became the standard.
I’ve got a process color collotype poster somewhere, a lobby card for a Hollywood B movie mystery.

Having a quick scout of the www the other day…there does seem to be three workshops in Europe where the process is”available” eg as and also known as heliotype,plus a collotype association known as Lichtdruck……various links follow if you search this , eg in Leipzig and their museum……my understanding was that collotype was printed from a glass base(perhaps to expose?) on a direct litho press or the semi Automatic litho presses.Just wondering Gerald, if you feel a polymer intaglio print(aka solar plate making yuk!) offers some similar qualities as collotype?Nice to see you posting.

>The Counterfeiters<, based on actual events, gives a very good insight into forgery including the *Collotype* process and several close up shots of the Printing Machinery involved, with (by default) particular insight into the accuracy and detail of the reproduction of Bank Notes???

A bit off-topic, since it relates to photoengraving, but I believe photoengraving of zinc has not been outlawed (I guess anything can happen in California, however) but rather the law deals with the specifics of waste-water effluent created in the process. If a photoengraver put in the proper water treatment equipment he/she would still be allowed to process the zinc plates. It just became not economically feasible to process the zinc due to the water treatment costs.

This may, as indicated, vary from state to state, but the federal guidelines for effluent require processing of waste-water to meet the federal standard. Individual states can enact more stringent requirements.

John Henry
Photoengraver in a previous life

Hey Jonathan, I’m not Gerald- but as someone who, like yourself, is very familiar with “photopolymer” version of “Photogravure”, or “Photopolymer intaglio”, I would say it’s a very different feel/look from Collotype.

Collotype is like… Lithography+. The gelatin has reticulations and folds and is a bizarrely different surface from a litho plate, so holds and directs ink in a different way than litho- but it is a planographic surface. There isn’t really a sub-level, and the ink of course is not applied in “intaglio”- obvious, I know, but it gives a different quality to the finish of the printed surface.

Intaglio prints are always going to have a richer surface when they involve an aquatint like field of texture- especially in the blacks, where the light is almost absorbed a bit more by the shadows created in this velvety, textured surface.

Collotype is a bit flatter, though very tonal, and so I think the finished prints are a bit of a different thing.

Cheers Haven………..must try to get hold of a collotype and see the difference more clearly………………as photopolymer intaglio is such a fine layer in the plate, maybe printing via a litho press direct and offset rather than intaglio with blankets press might might worth an experiment…………..maybe


Hi, I can’t image polymer intaglio would share anywhere near similar qualities as collotype, but also have not seen solar plate making that was all that controllable because of, well, the movement of the sun.


Hey Gerald-

KM plates and Solar plates can both be exposed with a point-light style light source and a stochastic aquatint screen, and done to a degree that I dare-say equivocates traditional photogravure’s tonal range (very long scale- I myself have been able to obtain 11-12 steps on a stouffer scale). It’s a super image-making method, but the results are indeed different from Collotype.

I’ve always been curious if there were a way to hybridize what collotype does with a photopolymer…. To coat metal plates with a polymer and expose much the way a collotype is and treat the printing the same way. The chemical makeup of the polymer material would have to be just so, I imagine….

Haven your last post at 00.08 sounds rather interesting…..might be worth contacting say MacDermid or similar to see if they might be interested……….meanwhile Gerald , at work I will continue to use my exposure unit for photopolymer intaglio, a rather nice one made by Natgraph in UK.Cost about £3000………..a lot more reliable than the sun…….

Haven Press and Jonathan

Don’t know about the what ifs here.

Collotype, at least, as we did it here, was done on ground surface glass, not metal. And we used Knox Gelatin (!) with the addition of nasty photo reactive chemicals, not photopolyner. One problem and a major one, when comparing the processes is that collotype, unlike letterpress and most other printing processes, reacts wildly to atmospheric pressure. Extremely so. It was called the fisherman’s printing process :—) for good reason (you’d be better off fishing than trying to print).

I kind of doubt it can be effectively compared to other techniques.


Further note: We tried industrial gelatin but it did not work as well as Knox’s brand. Go figure.


I had the fantastic chance to visit Benrido in Kyoto this year. They are still running and very active, supported by the Japanese government. They were running out of large format Fuji negative film and had started working with Inkjet digital negatives to expose their glass collotype plates. They were also about to test a non-toxic alternative to dichromate.
Personally, I was only impressed by the look of a collotype, under 50x magnification, when you are able to actually see its characteristic worm-like reticulation. Under the naked eye, a print looks like lithography. In fact, an offset litho print using a 10-micron FM screening, rivals that of a collotype. The collotype presses at Benrido are very much like the lithographic presses used by IDEM atelier in Paris.
There were techniques to make collotype plates for offset printing used during the 1960s, but I still have to find out if there is a way to do it using my resources.
I am experimenting with old Japanese flatbed offset proof presses to make limited prints of my photos. I began making aluminium plates with a Computer-to-plate imagesetter and FM screening. Now, I am making analog offset aluminium plates using a double exposure and a photogravure aquatint screen (very much like photopolymer plate making) and the results are similar to that of the collotype. The advantage of an offset proof press is the ability to register every layer of ink in a more accurate and efficient way than with an Intaglio press. Even a 4-deckled sheet of paper can be registered on this offset press.

Never done it or even seen it being done, but I vaguely remember that the advantage was that you could make a continuous-tone print instead of needing halftone dots to produce gradations of color. It’s been almost 50 years - am I wrong on this? I have a reproduction of an ancient full-color poster that has zero tone dots on it and was supposedly produced by the collotype process.


Lichtdruck ! engl. Translation Collotype allows a continuous Tone and Gradation without visible dots. With Fm Screen you can fake (emulate) it, but never match, as no other Technology allows for such a thin Film of Ink to be layed down to produce a Tone. Lichtdruck (Collotype ) was a emulsified Gelatin, light sensitive, exposed with a negative and hardened, printed on Litho presses like Voisinet or Johanisberger. Roller setting and Ink tension was Tantamount, the room had to maintain strict moisture and Tempt control, dustfree. The glass plates would brake immediately if there was a speck of grit on the Press Bed. So than they figured out how to laminate the gelatine to grained zinkplates, Lichtdruck took off. I used to print with Lichtdruck AG in Vienna, their Manager Herr Habarta, a Figure larger than Life, hard to forget. They had full order Books, working 3 shifts than Corporate Shenanigans closed them down one sad Monday morning, a Print of mine still halfway done in the Presses. Sad.

Lichtdruck In Leipzig is now a struggling Museum, once a thriving Company famous for Painting Reproductions with up to 72 passes thru the Presses, they could give a flying what happens next as they are on a state sponsored Dime.
Benrido is absolute fantastic in muted tonal Print, 4 color work is problematic.

You should also check out Fanny Boucher in Meudon, France:


This is heliogravure. Different animal than collotype but another almost lost but wonderful printmaking technique.