Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Le Blon, Jacob Christoph

  • Rolf G. Kuehni
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_302


Le Blon was born on May 2, 1667 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, a descendant of Huguenots fleeing France in 1576, having settled there. His grandmother was a daughter of the artist and engraver Matthaus Merian the Elder (1593–1650). Showing an early interest in engraving and painting, he had, sometime between 1696 and 1702, an extended stay in Rome where he is reported to have studied art under the painter and engraver Carlo Maratta (1625–1713) [1]. Around 1702 Le Blon moved to Amsterdam, where he worked as a miniature painter and engraver. In 1708/1709 he is known to have made colorant mixing experiments in Amsterdam, and in 1710 he made his first color prints with yellow, red, and blue printing plates. In 1717 he moved to London where he received a royal patent for the three-color printing and a related textile weaving process [2]. In 1722 he published a small book on painting, Coloritto, in French and English [3]. There he stated that “Painting can represent all visible objects with three colors, yellow, red, and blue.” During his stay in England, he produced several dozen images printed from three or four plates (the fourth for black ink) in multiple copies that initially sold well in England and on the continent. In the long run his enterprise did not succeed, however. Le Blon left England in 1735, moving to Paris where he continued producing prints by his method. In 1740 he began work on a collection of anatomical prints for which he had a solid list of subscribers. He died on May 16, 1741 in Paris. A detailed technical description of Le Blon’s method was published in 1756 by Antoine Gautier de Montdorge who supported him during his final years in Paris [4].

J. C. Le Blon, Head of a woman, ca. 1720 (three-color printing process)

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

The idea of three chromatic primaries, yellow, red, and blue, was quite well established in Le Blon’s time among painters, graphically represented by Aguilonius in 1613 [5] and described by R. Boyle in 1664 (p. 220) [6]. What was new in Le Blon’s work is that he applied this concept to color printing of images in an entirely new fashion making greater and much subtler detailing and coloration possible. It required experience in deconstructing an image in terms of color so that printing multiple copies, based on only three or four plates, produced good quality coloration. It required the ability to mentally resolve the image into its presumed primary chromatic components and understanding and predicting the effects of superimposed printing inks in certain areas, for which extensive trial and error work was required. Le Blon manually engraved copperplates, using the mezzotint process, with the relative components of the three primary colors printed successively in registration in the sequence blue, yellow, and red onto the paper substrate. As he gained experience, he at times used a fourth plate printing in black to achieve greater tonality and contrast, thus employing an early version of the CMYK process. Le Blon used the pigments Prussian blue, Stil de grain (yellow lake), a mixture of red lake and carmine for red, and a common printer’s black ink [4]. The pigments were dispersed in copal tree resin dissolved in copal oil to make the inks. The technical problems associated with the process prevented it from becoming a standard method and lithographic printing of color images from up to a dozen wood engravings or stones per image continued until H. E. Ives’ invention of the chromatic halftone printing process ca. 1890.


  1. 1.
    Lilien, O.M.: Jacob Christoph Le Blon, 1667–1741: Inventor of three- and four colour printing. Hiersemann, Stuttgart (1985)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lowengard, S.: Jacob Christoph Le Blon’s system of three-color printing and weaving. In: The Creation of Color in the 18th century Europe. Columbia University Press, New York (2006). http:www.gutenberg-e.org/lowengard/C_Chap14.html. Accessed 11 May 2015
  3. 3.
    Le Blon, J. C.: Coloritto, or the Harmony of Colouring in Painting: Reduced to Mechanical Practice (with parallel French text). London (ca.1725)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gautier de Montdorge, A.: L’art d’imprimer les tableaux. Traité d’apres les écrits, les opérations et les instructions verbales de J.-C. Le Blon. Mercier, Paris (1756)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Aguilonius, F.: Opticorum Libri Sex. Plantin, Antwerp (1613)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Boyle, R. Experiments and Considerations Touching Colours. Herringman, London (1664)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CharlotteUSA