key line cigar box label

Key Line
(typical size 'Varies')

A 'Key Line' drawing is an original sketch by the artist/lithographer that breaks down the various colors to be used in the cigar label.  This drawing is laid on a Bavarian Limestone and then traced.

Here is a more detailed explanation of the process:

Each new label or print required preparation of a different Bavarian limestone for each color to be used.  Most cigar labels required less than 8 colors to produce a finished image.  That being said, the majority of labels from the 1920's on, usually had 4 or less colors.  Another exception would be many of the exquisite European images, ranging from 8 to 13 colors.  The first step of the lengthy process to create a new label began with the lithographic artist who broke down the design into its individual colors using a key-line drawing.  This drawing looked like a paint-by-numbers kit.

Next the stone was carefully cleaned and polished with a thin solution of gum Arabic in dilute nitric acid, which was then washed off, leaving a thin film of the gum, thus making the entire stone's surface now impervious to grease.  The design having been traced from the key line sketch was then scratched (engraved) in the film of gum using sharp pointed steel tools.  Engraving the stone was a very tedious process, as practically all of the work had to be done with great care under a magnifying glass.  Engraved lines were made very shallow; the purpose was to cut only through the prepared gum surface, which was very thin.  This would uncover the absorbing qualities of the stone at these points, and then the stone would take ink.

Example 2   Example 3   Example 4   Example 5   Example 6

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