Graphic Design History: The printing press in Medieval Europe


Wood block printing technology transformed graphic design in Europe beginning in the 1400’s. This allowed for written materials to be available to more then just the rich elite. Traditional scribing methods which took considerable artistry and time commitment now gave way to woodblock printing. This enabled faster and easier to produce printed materials. This is what defines early graphic design in Europe. One well known example: the Gutenberg bible. Johannes Gutenberg is largely credited with the creation of movable type.

During this time graphic design was flourishing in Italy, though Germany remained the heart of the early printing industry for a good while. During this era, graphic design shows an aesthetic that included the liberal use of decorative flourish designs, and because this was an early transition from Calligraphy and traditional scribing methods, the aesthetic of typography of the time had a calligraphy feel. This technological shift also coincided with political and religious shifts and graphic design today as it was back then is a reflection of the social, political and technological climate of the times.

Example of 1500’s woodblock print.

15th Century German woodcut print

Flourish from

Final project for Illustration class: Children’s book cover

Created with Photoshop. I was marked down by the Instructor for not having a more finished end product and also a lack of adequate shading used on the characters. I admit that I do not find my final project to be 100% complete, as it is still a little bit rough around the edges. I learned a great deal from this illustration class, the most important being the illustrator process. Of 12 thumbnail sketches I developed 3 of my best. Of those 3 I chose this one for the final project, thought I made adjustments. I did not create a grey scale version before colorizing because of lack of time but I think this is one of the most important steps for good shading and contrast.


Color Accuracy

Maintaining color integrity from monitor to printed product is essential. As a photographer in the navy I had to make sure that the computer screens were correctly calibrated to the printed product. This was done periodically to maintain color integrity. Monitors have their own color calibration but this does not always completely solve the color accuracy problem. There were many stressful moments when the photo batches from the thermal printers were sent back by the supervisor due to incorrect hues. A simple calibration would had solved this.

This is where calibration devices come in handy. These are multipurpose auxiliaries that will calibrate the monitor color while taking into account the surrounding light sources. These devices come with their own software to make calibrating the monitor to the printed product more succinct.

Some calibration devices are the X-Rite, ColorVision and Datacolor Spyder.



Color Contrast

Color Contrast

Controlling contrast is a good method for establishing Hierarchy and dominance in a layout. When looking at the color spectrum on a black background, the eyes are drawn first to the colors with the highest luminosity, yellow and cyan. You might notice the dark blue later because it contrasts less with the black background.

If you then compare the same color spectrum surrounded by white, the lighter colors such as cyan and yellow do not stand out as much because they contrast less from the white background.

By understanding contrast, you can have a greater control over the impact that the layout elements such as color, font and imagery, have on your design.

You can use this tool to check the contrast of your chosen foreground and background colors. It will tell you if your chosen colors pass or fail.