1864 - 1869

To begin at the beginning

The sunrise of Autotype began in 1868 when Joseph Swan (later to become Sir Joseph Swan, the famous inventor of the incandescent electric bulb) set up the company to commercialise his patented process for producing permanent photographic images. Swan had been in business with his brother-in-law, John Mawson since 1846 and when Swan was granted a patent on the 29th February 1864, the company, Mawson and Swan began selling elegant carbon prints.

In 1868 he sold the English rights to John Robert Johnson, a chemist and Ernest Edwards a photographer. Together with John Frederick Boyes, they set up the Autotype Printing and Publishing Company Limited. The company opened its offices at No. 5 Haymarket and a factory in Brixton. This was the start of Autotype and its history highlights a modern business preoccupations-managing change.

At this time another critical success factor was established; that of creating strategic links with overseas contacts. The company became the sole wholesale agent for the United Kingdom and Colonies, supplying Braun's carbon reproductions from different museums of Europe.

An Autotype staff outing by the Thames in 1872.

The tradition of staff social gatherings still continues to this day.

1869 - 1873

Innovations and Improvements

In 1869 Johnson patented a more practical system for managing the carbon process that made it easier to produce quality reproductions. This was quickly followed by another patent in January 1870 that improved the carbon tissue. In the same year Autotype moved its offices to No. 36 Rathbone Place, next to Winsor & Newton, the well known artist's suppliers.

In 1871 the company decided to diversify and built a Mechanical Printing department for photo-collographic printing. This was managed by John Robert Sawyer and Walter Strickland Bird who made their own improvements to the process.

In January 1873 a reorganisation of the company was announced. Spencer, Sawyer and Bird purchased the company and its patents to form a new company 'Spencer, Sawyer and Bird & Co'. The Autotype Fine Art publishing business carried on separately but by the end of 1875 the Fine Art publishing business was amalgamated with the Autotype factory in Ealing.

A view of the premises occupied by Winsor & Newton in Rathbone Place.

Autotype was located in the next building (by kind permission of Winsor & Newton, London)

1874 - 1881

Improvements and company extensions

In March 1874 Autotype opened a new printing facility at Ealing and increased its staff and plant. In October of that year, Sawyer patented his 'Flexible Temporary Support'; this was a formulated paper that allowed images to be transfered to canvas, opal glass or wood. One year later Spencer retired and the company became known as The Autotype Company.

In 1876 Autotype purchased patents from Claude Leon Lambert of Paris for his improved method for retouching negatives and positives called Lambertypes and Lambert's own version of the carbon process which he christened 'Chromotype'. Autotype's business activity also became more commersialised, the company was now producing many more publications in various translations and had expanded its network of agents to cover Berlin, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Düsseldorf, Copenhagen and New York.

And in 1881 the company introduced a high quality gelatine bromide called the 'Autotype Challenge Dry Plate'.

Building Plan 1873

The new factory was neatly fenced along Brownlow Road and the boiler house became a local landmark.

1914 - 1932

Into the 20th Century

Charles Sawyer died in 1914 and his son was killed on active service in 1917. Walter Rouse assumed responsibility for running the company with the help of his two sons, Edward and Kenneth, for the next 40 or so years. In October 1923 the company became known as Autotype Company Limited.

As Autotype's prosperity continued to rise, the development of the silk screen printing industry, with its demand for photostencil materials, added further impetus. In 1909 the Autotype Fine Art Company Limited was sold and in 1926 Autotype set up new offices in Albion House at 59 New Oxford Street.

The twenties and thirties were a time of rapid change followed by economic depression. While the large photographic companies such as Ilford and Kodak competed for the silver bromide market, no one seemed interested in the business of coating pigment paper and so Rouse set out to corner the largely uncontested market. The rise of public and trade exhibitions with their need for giant prints provided another boost to Autotype's business during this period.

Ealing Christmas Party 1932

The tradition of social gatherings was upheld even during the challenging 1930s.

1925 - 1950

The rise of the photostencil market

Screen printing machines accelerated the manual process and in 1925 the process was applied to the large scale screen printing of textiles. Autotype quickly established itself in this growing industry by manufacturing a comprehensive range of products that included special pigment paper and temporary support paper as well as publishing booklets and supplying trial outfits for those using the process for the first time.

In 1945 Autotype introduced a pigment paper that could be used more quickly when taken from stock and in 1950 it produced a paper that could be used almost instantly. It was coated on a plastic film that could be applied directly to the screen so that no temporary support paper was needed.

From the 1950s onwards, Autotype diversified into screen printing products for retouching and blocking out applications known as screen fillers.


Heavy ink deposit and bright colours made screen printing ideal for billboards.

1939 - 1945

World War II

By 1939 Autotype consisted of three main departments: the Photogravure Manufacturing Department (know as the Tissue Department), the Photographic Printing Department (know as the Bromide Department) and the Photostencil Department.

As war became inevitable, the company began taking appropriate steps. Fortunately, the Ealing factory escaped the Blitz in 1940 but as the war continued Autotype became increasingly engaged in the production of bromide prints and colour transparencies for government departments, while the carbon process was used extensively for printing compass dials on mica. Producing materials for fascia is an application of Autotype coating technology that was to come to the fore many years later at the beginning of the 21st century.

Inspection and conversion to rolls.

During wartime ladies kept the wheels turning.

1946 - 1976

The leaving of Ealing

Even before the war ended in 1945, orders started flowing in once again from the Continent and the last 30 years at Ealing was a period typified by a growing export market.

When production of materials for the carbon and Carbro processes ceased, Autotype ended its 90 year relationship with the amateur photographer. However the photogravure and photostencil processes did continue. Production of illustrated magazines and colour supplements started to expand in the 1950s with most titles printed using the photogravure method.

In March 1958 Autotype was bought by the rapidly expanding Norcros Group.

The new commercial availability of polyester film led to a breakthrough in the 1960s when Autotype developed Autofilm in which gelatine is coated onto a dimensionally stable plastic film base. A second major innovation in 1962 was to coat photostencil emulsions onto the new film base, this resulted in Five Star, destined to become the biggest selling indirect photostencil film in the world. By 1966 both the Bromide and Photostencil Making Departments were closed to focus on production and improvement of photogravure and stencil materials with significant recruitment of scientific staff. The need for new products and processes was the key driver to move from the Ealing Factory.

The new lab was created in the house once occupied by the site Director.

1970 - 2005

The new era of Autotype

Until 1970 most of Autotype's work had focused on gelatine coated materials aimed at the gravure and screen printing industry but by the early Seventies a young and dynamic board directed by a charismatic Managing Director, Geoff Barber, led a team that produced a portfolio of new products. This was the starting point for major expansion and a creative period that would take the company in a new direction.

In 1970 a new factory was opened in Wantage housing a newly built coating machine, 'A' machine, to produce the new range of products. Commissioned in 1972 it was the first of serveral new production lines. The multi-million pound machines are complex processing plants that represent the lifeblood of the company.

Peter Levinsohn joined the company in 1991 becoming sales and marketing director. Graham Cooper introduced a number of visionary concepts, planning for year 2000 and introducing Total Quality Management. He returned to the US office in 1993 with Peter Levinsohn taking over as managing director and subsequently becoming chief executive of the Autotype International Group.

'A' Machine

This coating line was commissioned in 1972 to make new stencil films for cutting edge screen printing technology.

1975 - 1978

Product development at Wantage

Manufacturing at Wantage began on 'A' machine with a unique new product called AutoStar followed by AutoLine, AutoCut and AutoMask. AutoStar was aimed at the screen printing industry and used new photochemistry patented by Hepher and Sperry. The film was light sensitive and required no chemical fixing process other than development. It was superseded by the improved NovaStar which is still in use today.

By the mid Seventies, Autotype was brand name associated with high quality products. 'B' machine came online in 1975 providing greatly increased quality and capacity to meet the demand of gravure and screen printing companies and distributors worldwide. The commissioning of 'B' machine enabled all production all production to be transfered from Ealing. This was essentially a gelatine coating machine, the conventional way to dry these products was to chill the coating and then circulate them in a hot air room to dry.

Later that year the production of Five Star and Autofilm was transferred to 'B' machine. Finally in 1976 the Ealing administration offices were transferred to Wantage followed by the R&D department. By 1978 Autotype was developing more chemicals for screen printing applications such as screen fillers and adhesion promoters, the company introduced a dedicated plant for packaging chemical products to support the new films.

Drying gelatine film in a tunnel

requires precise temperatures and humidity control in 14 separate zones.

1982 - 1985

The heyday of masking film

The rapid spread of four colour printing was a major contributing factor to Autotype's success. Companies producing offset plates, such as Howson Algraphy and Horsell Graphics were similarly prospering from this Eighties phenomenon and they soon became agents for Autotype masking film. The rise in demand for this product surprised everyone at Autotype and sales grew exponentially with turnover doubling every four years for most of the decade.

In 1985 the Company was presented with the Queen's Award for Export for their endeavours and in 1990 Autotype achieved a production record, producing a total of 13 million square meters of masking film in one year. Possibly the most significant technical development in screen printing during the Eighties was the introduction of capillary films. Autotype quickly innovated products for this technique which was first introduced in the USA.

Capillary films were used for producing screen printing stencils. The advantage was that they produced a superior coating on the printing mesh along with a more durable image than indirect films. Printers gained longer printing runs and a superior image. Autotype produced a range of films called Capillex that gained screen printers a clear commercial advantage over their competitors who were still using old technology.


This became the largest selling masking film in the world.

1985 - 1990

Making Pre-Press pre-eminent

During the Eighties Autotype was looking for more ways to expand its business in the pre-press market. It identified and satisfied a demand for planning films. These products were used by layout artists in photo studios. They enabled the artist to have a master plan of all the images from different artworks on a page as it would be printed. The new products were based on similar diazo photochemistry to that developed for Capillex films. The most successful product in the range was SPF Blue.

During the period of masking film expansion in the Eighties Autotype developed a number of specialised types of masking film to work with computer driven technology and the rapid expansion introduced new and important suppliers including ICI, BASF, Sandoz and ICI Paints who all became strategic partners.

In 1987 Autotype became the first pre-press company in the UK to introduce a quality management system based on BS5750 (later to become ISO 9001). The company was formally accredited in 1988. Work on industrial film applications for control panels and name plates began in the late Eighties and around 1990 the company saw the first signs of masking film maturity which would subsequently have a major impact on production capacity and future planning.

'C' Machine

Dedicated to coating thick solvent at high speed.

1990 - 1999

The Nineties

The appearance of the Environmental Protection Act in 1990 had considerable effect on production processes and the company's future planning. Environmental issues became increasingly important with an Environmental Management System introduced in 1993. This was accredited by the BSI in November 1996. Again Autotype were the first pre-press printing industry supplier to achieve this accreditation in the UK.

In 1993 Autotype expanded its chemical manufacturing capability by acquiring CPS in Denmark. The Danish processing facility enabled the company to widen its range of environmentally friendly products for the screen printing industry. The installation of a new "state of art" production line, 'D' machine, followed quickly, the new process plant was specially designed to produce the new hard surface coated and textured films for membrane switches and fascias. 'D' machine offered the dual functionality of coating masking film as well.

In 1994 Autotype won the Queen's Award for Technology for its hard coated films which had been spearheaded by Stewart. By mid decade, 'D' machine was dedicated to industrial film production and it became clear that a new generation machine would be needed. This led to the commissioning of 'E' machine in 2000 with yet another advance in Autotype technology.

Autotype hard coated film technology is used in a variety of applications throughout the world.

Polyester film ensured touch panels were now scratch and solvent resistant with a long active lifetime.

2000 - 2004

E Machine

'E' Machine took hard coated film to a new level of quality and further established Autotype as the supplier of choice. As the electronics market developed new products, Autotype was ideally placed to move with it, satisfying the higher quality requirement. One of the main threads of Autotype's research and development was creating coatings that would adhere to polyester film. These breakthroughs enabled the company to apply this technology to other areas requiring good adhesion to polyester film. One of these was the field of digital imaging products.

The versatile technology is used for producing floor graphics that are popular in supermarkets on the continent. The strong adhesion to polyester and high durability also led to the SIGMAGraF range of films used for display graphics. Autotype developed a range of lacquer products for complementing its hard coated films to provide a hard surface coating with or without windows. This led to a range of UV curable windows printing lacquers called Windotex and Fototex.

The company produced an offset printing plate where the coating was able to adhere to the polyester film. This could be imaged digitally and used for short run printing. The development formed the basis for a new range of products the OMEGA range of films. The same technology was used to develop the DELTA range of products for creating original photographic work on laser printers for screen printing process.

'E' Machine

For the fist time 'E' Machine brought the whole manufacturing process into clean room conditions.

2005 - 2010

Sunrise of the 21st century

Autotype's gloss hard coated film had already found applications in flat or near flat mobile phone lenses, providing a scratch resistant surface to the lens capable of accepting graphics printing on the back and the injected resin to provide bulk strength. With a range of a unique films with a protective hard coat and all the same properties but capable of being formed to considerable depth and around tight corners.

The global success of Autotype's world leading In Mould Decoration (Film Insert Moulding) technology was recognised in 2005 with Queen's Awards for Innovation, Autotype's third Queen's Award. Autotype also identified new opportunities in the rapidly growing medical industry. Film for diagnostic test strips and more recently hard coated film with anti-microbial properties have provided first steps into a area of major potential.

Autotype became MacDermid Autotype after the purchase by MacDermid Inc of the USA, after 47 years in the Norcros Group. MacDermid, like Autotype, is a global company, focused on innovation and service for the printing and electronics industries. The combined strength of the business started to open new opportunities for growth, part of which was the manufacture of products in both the USA and China to help serve the local markets more effectively.

Flat panel for better display clarity.

2010 - 2020

New Horizons

In the fast moving markets that MacDermid Autotype supplies, not only do today's team have the responsibility to create new business areas for the next decade, but also to ensure that we continue to excel in our existing markets.

A large growth area is the supply of hard coated, formable films into the Automotive industry as Film Insert Moulding becomes accepted as a mainstream technology. Internal moulded parts using MacDermid Autotype films are now common sight in many of the top automotive brands.

Screen Printing is a common link between the hard coated films and the screen making products and this imaging technology is still core to the MacDermid Autotype business after nearly 100 years. The core values of innovation, efficient manufacturing and customer support that were integral to the Autotype Printing and Publishing Company back in 1868 are just as important to MacDermid Autotype today.