Inventor of Three Color Printing

Jacob Christoph Le Blon was born in Germany in May 1667 in Frankfort-on-the-Main. His name was written variously by himself and others as James, J., Jacob, Jakob, Jacobus, Jacques, Johan, Christopher, Christofle, Christofel, Christophorus, and Le Blon or Le Blond.

As a young man he studied art and travelled to Zurich, Rome, and Amsterdam where he worked as a portrait and miniature painter. He invented the three color printing process, using the colors red, blue and yellow to produce mezzotints.

Mezzotint – method of copper or steel engraving in tone. The mezzotint plate is given an overall, even grain by burring the surface with a curved, saw-toothed tool. The picture is then developed in light and shade with a scraper and a burnisher. The resulting print is softly tonal, with no sharp lines. Said to have been invented by Ludwig von Siegen c.1640, the process became prominent in 18th-cent. England, where it was often used to reproduce paintings.

Today, colors are separated by computer or camera. In the early 1700’s when Le Blon was developing his process, he had to mentally analyse the colors in a painting, then prepare a separate engraved plate for each color. Le Blon printed blue first, then yellow, then red.

Unsuccessful at establishing a company in Holland, he tried France in 1705, then England in 1719. In London he procured an investor and began printing copies of paintings that hung in Kensington Palace. There were about 50 plates engraved and there were made about 200 copies of each. Today, not more than a hundred survive today. The mezzotinted plates were too delicate for continuous use, and the impressions became faint after some use.

Le Blon also invented a process of reproducing pictures in tapestry, but was soon removed as head of this business.

In 1735 he moved to Paris, where he took out a patent on his three color process. A few prints were made. He died in poor circumstances in a hospital in May 1741.


Jacob Christoph Le Blon by Otto M. Lilien, 1985, Anton Hiersemann Stuttgart. ISBN 3-7772-8507-2. Winterthur Library Catalog Number Z258 L72.

Colour Printing and Colour Printers by R. M. Burch. Originally printed in 1910 in New York by The Baker & Taylor Co. Reprinted 1981 by Garland Publishing, Inc. of New York. ISBN # 0-8240-3882-7
Winterthur Library Catalog Number Z258 B94

©2007, Karen Furst. Please feel free to link to any of these pages. This information is for personal use only. Please do not copy, publish, or distribute it elsewhere.