Many historians use or wish to use illustrations on their web pages or scholarly work and, for historians, images come in two forms: continuous tone images (photographs) or line drawings (engravings or woodcuts). Photographs normally present few problems. Historians who work on topics before the advent of photography or with sources that could not include photographs for technical reasons are limited to line drawings, most often engravings or some engraving variant. The images in nineteenth-century newspapers or periodicals, such as Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly or Godey’s Lady’s Book respectively, are primarily engravings.

Oftentimes, historians are disappointed in the products of their image experiments. The images are poor from the outset—foxed, watermarked, or faded. The inks have oxidized and produced a rainbow of colors, or the paper has deteriorated. Most often, the image background does not match the parent document’s background. Some of these defects result from poor scans or the vagaries of digital camera images; others result from the fact that the images are just plain old.

Whatever the state of image, this tutorial aims to make matting (changing the background of) line drawings, specifically engravings for the web and print, a relatively straight-forward task. There are several advantages to learning how to deal with engravings. First, historians can illustrate their web pages in a reasonably professional manner. Second, they can create their own art, lending a historical ambiance to their web sites and assuring themselves of compliance with copyright law. And third, historians can prepare images for their print publications without recourse to the publisher, resulting in more royalties—such as they are—for the author.

what you will need

First, you will need either Adobe Elements or Adobe Photoshop for this tutorial. Both these image editors are available at an academic discount. Adobe Elements is particularly good for academic projects because of its attractive price point and the versatility of the program. Elements is capable of some very sophisticated image editing. This tutorial will take up editing an engraving in both programs. Second, you will need the right kind of image. Engravings in the public domain of all kinds can be found on the web. Good sources are: American Memory at the Library of Congress, Making of America at Cornell University, and Making of America at University of Michigan. For last two, finding illustrations is a bit more difficult because the search engine does not specifically index images. Searching a particular subject in periodicals likely to have illustrations produces the best results. Part of Making of America is also available through American Memory.

the goal

The goal for these tutorials is to matte an engraving onto a different background. In other words, we’ll take an engraving and drop out its existing background and place it on a new background, resize the image, and prepare it for the web. For those who wish to follow along and use the image employed in the tutorial, the image, “Home Guard,” can be downloaded from the Library of Congress website. Be aware that the American Memory folks are professionals and know how to make good scans, so we’ll start off on the right foot. This tutorial assumes that you have basic familiarity with a computer and can carry out the basics of finding, opening, and saving a file. The tutorial steps follow the standard convention of choosing a menu and a selection, so “Choose Window > Layers” translates into going to the Window Menu on the menu bar and selecting Layers.