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From the illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period to aesthetically pleasing contemporary graphic novels, imagery has always played a central role in written works. Since the invention of the revolutionary printing press, book printing has come a very long way. Small hand-drawn sketches have given way to digitally designed and printed masterpieces, captivating readers’ imaginations and enriching the literary experience for all. In this article, we explore the importance of imagery in books, how the inclusion of images in books has evolved over time, and the reasons why authors should embrace imagery in their work.
Since humans first started communicating in written form, imagery has been used to help people understand stories or concepts. As humans developed the ability to write, they supplemented bodies of text with images to aid comprehension.
Museums around the world hold thousands of illuminated manuscripts dating back to the 11th century. Illuminated manuscripts are handwritten books that contain illustrations painted in gold, silver and rich colours that cause pages to shimmer.
In the mid-15th century, the printing press was invented. As book printing became more accessible and affordable to the masses, the demand for illustrated books skyrocketed. Printers added imagery to books using engravings, woodcuts and etchings.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the book printing market went through a period of rapid expansion. The 19th century ushered in an area of children’s books and picture books as colour printing techniques advanced. These illustrated books were incredibly popular with young readers, as they allowed them to use their imaginations and develop essential cognitive skills. In the 20th century, graphic novels and comic books became extremely popular, such as the ones published by Marvel and DC Comics.
The digital age has fundamentally transformed the role of imagery in books. For example, the rise of digital publishing has allowed authors and book illustrators to experiment with new formats, such as eBooks which combine text, images and even multimedia elements to create highly engaging and immersive reading experiences.
Authors include images, such as photographs and illustrations, in books for various reasons:
Imagery aids storytelling, allowing readers to visualise characters, places, objects and major events in more detail. By including imagery in their works, authors can create a more immersive experience for readers.
Using imagery in a book is an excellent way to evoke emotion because images sometimes speak in a way that words cannot. By embracing visual storytelling, authors can create a deeper emotional connection with readers, especially those who may struggle to visualise emotive scenes without a visual aid.
Book imagery also simplifies complex concepts, helping the reader understand the topic. Imagery is commonly used in instructional or educational books to break down complex ideas to make them more accessible. For example, biology textbooks use photographs, diagrams and drawings to explain different types of life on earth.
Humans are better at processing images than text. In fact, one study found that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text! For this reason, authors include imagery in their books to break up the text and keep readers engaged for longer.
Imagery is an essential element of fantasy and science fiction books. For example, authors usually include detailed maps at the beginning of fantasy books to help readers understand and visualise the world they’re stepping into when they open the book.
Incorporating visually appealing imagery into a book may help to attract a wider audience. For example, eye-catching book covers have the power to capture the attention of readers in bookshops or create interest when posted on social media. But that’s not all—novels that consist mostly of imagery, such as graphic novels, help those who may struggle to read large and daunting walls of text.
When humans first started to embrace written communication, images accompanied text to aid comprehension and create visual interest. The invention of the printing press and advancements in printing technology from the 15th to the 21st centuries has led to a proliferation in book printing. In the digital age, there are even more ways authors and illustrators can create engaging experiences for readers. For example, the invention of eBooks made way for the combination of text, images and multimedia elements to create a truly immersive experience for modern readers. Today, imagery plays a central role in books. Illustrations complement narratives, evoke emotion, simplify concepts, break up text, attract wider audiences and, in the case of some genres, help to build a picture of complex new worlds.
Kelly Harris lives a life in CMYK as the Business Development Director for YouLovePrint – Making professional printing available to everyone online. As part of the Pureprint Group, they print everything themselves in the UK on industry leading printing machines. They’re also CarbonNeutral®. Click here to see Kelly’s LinkedIn Profile.