After the invention of the first wallpaper printing machine in the 18th century, the four colour Surface Print machine was invented by the English in 1839. It used wooden rollers as the medium to put pattern onto paper. These machines automated the process of wallpaper printing but making the printing rollers was still a skilled hand craft.
The pattern was designed and transferred to rollers by the method known as ‘putting on’ by a wallpaper draughtsman. The necessary skill to translate a design from paper to roller required many years of training.
Making The Printing Rollers
The work involved outlining every image of each colour, resulting in separate tracings. An individual roller was made for each colour. The detail was then cut out of the wooden roller by the ‘cutter’ leaving the raised pattern for printing.
To create very fine detail, copper and brass pieces were pre-bent and then driven into the wooden core. Specially made felt was used to fill outlines to create broad shapes. With the advent of routers, the background was removed, leaving the pattern on the surface in relief.
One roller could take many months to make using hand held tools, often by women. As wonderful works of art, it is truly amazing to think these rollers were only created as a means to an end, never designed for public appreciation.
Rubber rollers were later used when flexographic printing was introduced but Surface Printing still exists today producing the highest quality wallpapers.