Leather printing techniques had been in use for a long time. Leather bindings were decorated with illustrations and captions by pressing incised metal plates directly on the leather.

Textile printing, which originated in the Far East, was also well known to European printers.

With the advent and wide use of paper in Europe, printers reverted to xylography, or woodblock printing, the technique of relief engraving on wood or metal that was used to decorate cloth. Printing on paper – whether in black or in colour – was easier and cleaner than printing on cloth.

In the 14th century, Germany and Flanders specialized in the production of woodblocks for religious images and playing cards, such as tarot. Circa 1460 it was common to compose small woodcut books (collections of images and short texts). Over time these small books would gradually get longer. The oldest known woodcut book dates from 1450-1451, which is exactly when Gutenberg was working on his Bible. Because they were cheaper and written in the vernacular, woodcut books were more accessible to the common people.

In the 15th century, xylography was used mainly to decorate printed books, in the same way as miniatures had been used earlier to decorate manuscripts.



Sacro Busto : Sphaere mundi. Venise : Erhard Ratdolt 1481

Sacro Buso, Sphaere mundi, Venice, Erhard Ratdolt, 1481

Ars moriendi, Augsbourg, vers 1470

Ars moriendi, Augsburg, c.1470

Sing-Li (Initiation aux mutations), livre xylographique, Chine, 1415 (?)

Sing-Li (Initiation aux mutations), xylographic book, China, 1415 (?)