Chromatic Wood Type Goes Colorimetric at RIT
Rob Roy Kelly wrote that Wm. H. Page’s Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, Etc., 1874 “has been rightfully acclaimed as containing the most superb wood type specimens ever printed.”1 This tome of 100 plates featured Page’s fantastic character designs, intricate borders and tint blocks, precisely printed in up to 7 colors each—sometimes with metallic inks, and always with interesting overprinted hues. About a dozen copies exist in libraries nationwide, and it is this rarity that encouraged curators at RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection to have RIT’s copy digitally photographed.
Taking into account the age of the specimen and its unique pigment makeup, (no standard Pantone colors here!), the Cary enlisted a group of RIT photographic science students from Professor Nitin Sampat’s “Color Management for Photographers” class to make the digital reproductions. They photographed the book with a typical copy stand and SLR camera, but enhanced the process by using colorimetry to map a color profile for each individual page. Students carefully took hundreds of color sample readings using a spectrophotometer, which measures the reflectance of those distinctive colors for which the Page Chromatic Specimen is known. These color values were managed by ColorPony, Professor Sampat’s software that acts as an interpreter between the colorimetric data and the raster image processor of the digital printer, to ensure accurate color prints.
This meticulous work was carried out over the course of the 2013 winter and spring academic quarters. The students gained experience in making art reproductions and working with special collections. The Cary now has a suite of color-correct preservation prints and digital files for this landmark type specimen, making an RIT Page Chromatic facsimile publication a possibility. Art meets science through an educational experience to preserve printing history—concepts the esteemed Professor Kelly would have surely approved.
- 1 Rob Roy Kelly, American Wood Type: 1828-1900; Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977, 73.