When printing from movable types first came into existence, text and any woodcut illustrations incorporated would be printed in black only. The customer would immediately send the sheets to a rubricator/illuminator so that the red initial letters as well as those multi-color illuminations could be added (by hand) in the gaps left by the printer before the book was bound. In the first video accompanying my post “Incunabula at Cambridge” you can catch a glimpse of a page where the blank space remains just that. After a while printers figured out that they could print a second color and save time and money. This was done in one of two ways. Either two originals were created, one incorporating all the type and such woodcuts as were to be printed in the one color, and a second with all the second-color type and illustration. This was obviously expensive, unless the use of the second color was fairly restricted. The alternative method was for the two colors to be printed from a single original using a frisket to mask off the bits not to be printed in the color being applied. (For frisket, see my post of 4 November.)

This piece from the site Wynken de Worde gives a description of how this two-color letterpress was done, including a fascinating side-light on a correction discovered after the printing of both black and red, and necessitating a third pass through the press.

Here’s a printed piece showing two woodcuts in use, one for red and one for black. Interestingly we can see that the block was cut into two pieces to allow for the insertion of a title between the two parts for a second job. Was the crown at the top there on the blue copy, just trimmed off? It may be a third woodcut. The detail shows a copy printed out of register.