Postcard printed á la poupée. From MetroPostcard

Postcard printed á la poupée. From MetropoPostcard

Á la poupée (with the doll) was a method of intaglio printing in which different colors of ink would be applied to one printing surface, using a wad of fabric, called a poupée. Registering different colors in intaglio printing was notoriously difficult as the paper had to be dampened before each impression, and would tend to shrink unevenly when it dried. Printing all the colors simultaneously obviously got past the registration problem but did mean that simple blocks of color had to be used. This example is actually quite elaborate.

Conceptually intaglio printing is the opposite of letterpress where the ink is on the raised image. With intaglio a copperplate is engraved so that the non-printing areas are left untouched. Ink is put into the grooves, and the whole plate is wiped off so that no ink remains on the non-printing, raised surface. With á la poupée care had to be taken in this doctoring phase so as not to smudge the colors by dragging traces of them across the non-printing surface being cleaned.

Gravure printing, and roto-gravure are intaglio processes. The ink is deposited in a series of engraved “dots” on the plates which have been created mechanically by photoengraving. Gravure has rarely been used for book work: it is ideally suited to high-quality color reproductions in long runs. A typical application would be for printing food can labels. A single gravure cylinder might cost $5,000. The song “Easter Parade” makes reference to “the rotogravures” — magazine supplements of the time were sometimes printed that way.

The MetropoPostcard Guide to Printing is a mine of information about printing methods used for the reproduction of artwork.