The history of flipbooks – 150 years from kineographs to digital

By |Published On: May 2nd, 2022|Categories: Digital Publishing|

What is a flipbook? Depending on what century you’re in, the answer to that question might be a little different. The truth is that flipbooks have evolved from what they once were. The history of flipbooks, although you might not think it, is actually very rich and somewhat interesting. It certainly allowed for the foundation to be poured into what we know digital flipbooks to be today.

It’s time for a history lesson. Let’s jump back in time and walk through the steps we’ve taken and pages we’ve turned to get to where we are today. Let’s talk about the history of flipbooks.

Table of contents

What is a flipbook?
Who invented the first flipbook?
How flipbooks evolved to be digital
How flipbooks have changed
Digital flipbooks today
The future of flipbooks

What is a flipbook?

A flipbook is a reading experience that recreates the layout and flippable nature of a standard, printed publication in a digital format. Magazines, brochures, reports, and more can be converted from PDF or created from scratch in order to add interactive elements to enhance the experience.

As I mentioned just above, what we know flipbooks to be today isn’t exactly what they’ve always been known as. You can categorize them in two distinct ways. You have the drawn (or traditional) flipbook, and then you have the digital flipbooks or flipbook animation. In a way, the creation of the first flipbooks paved the way for the history of animation, too.

The drawn flipbook is essentially created for pure entertainment. You know those little picture books that people draw, where on each page, the image changes or moves slightly? Then, when you flip through it, it looks like the drawing is moving? Believe it or not, that was the first flipbook. More on this style of flipbook later.

Jump forward a few centuries and introduce software, we know flipbooks to be something a little different now. Instead of drawn images, people use software to create magazines, brochures, and many other publications out of scratch or PDFs. Using the software, you can flip through these publications just like you can a real book. Hence why they call them a flipbook. 

Don’t worry, we’re going to go over the history of flipbooks, both of them, in a little more detail in the following sections. For now, keep in mind that traditional flipbooks are hand-drawn and used for entertainment, and modern, digital flipbooks are made using software, and they’re used for a variety of applications.

digital flipbook banner. create your own digital flipbook today.

Who invented the first flipbook?

Since the beginning of time, people have been drawing to express themselves. However, it wasn’t until around 1860 that Pierre-Hubert Desvignes was credited for creating the first flipbook. Or, at least, the drawn version. 

Eight years later, in 1868, John Barnes Linnett, a lithograph printer for Britain officially patented the design. Back then, they referred to it as a kineograph, which is Latin for “moving picture”.

Fast forward just a bit to 1897, and English filmmaker Henry Williams would learn how to mechanize this process. Then, it evolved even further into what they called a filoscope. Essentially, each image was placed into a metal bracket to hold it in place. A knob would be turned, thus “flipping” the pages. This was referred to as the mutoscope.

Flipbooks like this are now largely considered to be a novelty or even a toy for children. That being said, back in the late 1800s, they were widely used as a form of entertainment for people of any age, and were quite the advancement in technology, leading the way for flipbooks as we know them now, and even movies.

They were sold mostly in toy shops and as jokes, purely for simple and cheap entertainment. They were further popularized by The Cracker Jack company in the early 1900s when they gave them away as prizes in their product packs. Soon after, the trend began to pick up, and flipbooks could be found in bubblegum wrappers, cigarettes, and other snack foods.

How flipbooks evolved to be digital

Nailing down the first digital flipbook software is quite a difficult task. Flipbook animation technology has existed for a while now, but it’s still constantly evolving. What we can pinpoint, however, is the first time the word “flipbook” was used for digital software.

Back in 1999, a company called DigiCel decided to make their mark in the history of flipbooks and brought 2D characters to life using their flipbook animation software. Granted, this technology still isn’t what we picture flipbooks to be nowadays, but it is a really good time stamp showing when this technological leap took place. And, it’s an important stamp in the history of animation, as well as flipbooks.

As far as actual PDF flipbooks go, page-flipping technology has existed since the mid-2000s, but has changed even since then. Big corporations like Walmart and Autotrader have been using digital catalogs for years, as more and more people migrate towards the internet and digital means of communication.

collage of digital flipbook covers.

How the history of flipbooks has changed over the years

I would say that flipbooks themselves haven’t changed much. After all, we still have plenty of people out there that create drawn flipbooks. What has changed, however, is the idea. We’ve changed the very definition of the flipbook because digital flipbooks and drawn flipbooks are simply not the same things.

So when you think about it like that, the history of flipbooks has changed completely over the 150+ years they’ve existed. Everything about them has changed, right down to their very definition. Instead of being used strictly for entertainment, they’re used for business and education, too.

What started out as a hobby has slowly become a tool that has transformed the way businesses operate and children learn. Flipbooks went from simple pieces of paper, glued together, and flipped through to resources that can be created from a PDF file or by using your own creativity. They’re now digital, easy to share and still promote that page-flipping effect that gives the reader the feeling of a real book.

digital flipbook flipping through pages.

Flipbooks have become something that promotes interactivity. Instead of relying on something that’s hand-drawn, you can add videos, links, and a lot more. You no longer need to be an artist to create a flipbook. 

Digital flipbooks today

Today, flipbooks are created using HTML5 and provide a way for people of all skill sets in a variety of industries to advertise and promote their businesses. Take Flipsnack, for example. We have thousands of users across all sorts of industries that use our platform to create helpful marketing materials. Flipsnack is a pioneer in the flipbook industry, and we’re proud to have made our mark in the history of flipbooks, and to be at forefront of ingenuity and the evolution of their in the digital era.

timeline showing how the flipbook was created, who created it, and when it was created.

And it’s not just one industry. We have real estate agencies and agents, retailers and wholesalers, travel agencies, universities and schools, and a lot more. Many students even use our platform to create interactive and visually alluring projects.

At Flipsnack, we’ve made it our mission to make flipbooks accessible to anyone and everyone. We want to lead the charge into the paperless future, one PDF flipbook at a time. 

We have people and companies spanning across basically any industry you can think of creating flipbooks and distributing them. Here are some incredible examples of flipbooks our users are creating in their industries.

Digital flipbook page flipping effect.

Guides, brochures, catalogs, flyers, and a whole lot more. All of these are examples of flipbooks in Flipsnack. Admittedly, these may not seem to meet the standard definition of a flipbook. But under the new guidelines and definition of a flipbook, they have been turned into impressive and interactive business materials that promote that ever-important page-flipping effect.

Real estate

real estate digital flipbook example about Chicago.

Users like BWcorp are taking their guides and brochures to the next level using Flipsnack. As you flip through the pages, you’ll see links, images, and other details that will help readers decide whether or not Chicago is the best place for them. 

Using flipbooks in real estate allows agents to create property listings, brochures, and other materials to help sell more. Using Flipsnack, you start from a PDF or from scratch. Add your details and the descriptions for the house. Load it up with high-quality images to really help seal the deal quickly. 

On top of that, you can quickly and easily share your newly created listings, brochures, and fliers with clients via email, social media, website embeds, and more.

Travel

travel digital flipbook example for France

Marketing materials for travel like this one from The Islands of Marathon use Flipsnack to help future travelers get a better sense of their desired destination. Colorful images of the underwater world, QR codes to direct them to more details, and even a table of contents to help them navigate the brochure are all elements that you can also add to your own flipbook. 

For a travel agency, you might need to create a lot of fliers quickly. If you’re using standard printing practices, that could take a while, and significantly cut into your budget. 

Or, if you want to publish a travel magazine, you can do that, too. Everything you need can either be created from scratch or started from one of our amazing templates.

With Flipsnack, you can create and distribute travel brochures, fliers, magazines, and more in no time. Upload your PDF or start from one of our templates. Add images, links, and even a map to show the soon-to-be travelers their destination. You can make the travel brochure as interactive as the vacation itself, all with the help of Flipsnack.

The best part is that you can avoid having to print anything out. Keep it digital and save some money, then distribute it quickly through email.

Medical

Medical digital flipbook for product guides.

In this product guide for medical instruments, you can see exactly how detailed and creative you can be. As you go page-by-page, you get a clear understanding of everything Lombart has to offer. For someone looking for new medical gear, you have all the details you need, all packed into one PDF flipbook.

Or, you can create a brochure for your medical services using one of our medical brochure templates. Display prices, talk about insurance plans and make it interactive by adding instructions in video format. Maybe you want to publish a medical magazine. Or a report for your practice. Anything is possible in Flipsnack.

Once it’s all done and looks professional, you can share it directly with the patient or customer. If there’s sensitive medical information, you can keep the flipbook private and password protected, only giving access to those who need to see it. There are many sharing options available. 

Wholesale & Retail

wholesaler digital flipbook example for exterior systems.

Wholesalers and retailers can easily create flipbooks to help customers navigate through what they have for sale, and easily pick out what they want. Using the interactive and immersive features that Flipsnack has to offer, you can make the digital catalog shopping experience a lot less time-consuming and stressful. Not to mention, you can save a lot on paper by keeping big publications like a catalog digital. 

For retailers and wholesalers, making a catalog interesting and good-looking can be tough. When you’re displaying hundreds or even thousands of products, there’s only so much you can do. Unless, of course, you have Flipsnack. 

With Flipsnack, you can even make your catalogs interactive. Add your brand colors with our brand kit, add helpful descriptions for your products, and sell more.

Education

Educational flipbook example for University of Tennessee.

Educational institutes all over the globe use Flipsnack. Universities, primary and secondary schools, and education management services use Flipsnack for many different kinds of internal and external documents. Take a look at this example from the University of Tennessee. Using the digital flipbook layout, they were able to showcase their incredible campus, give some statistics, and talk about some of their students and staff. All while maintaining a seamless design.

Teachers, students, and faculty can use Flipsnack to create learning materials, presentations, school newspapers, magazines, reports, and more. Our Design Studio makes it easy for anyone and anyone to make exactly what they need and when they need it. It’s quick and simple.

Because of their newly found interactive nature, the concept of flipbooks has completely changed. No longer are we talking about simple drawings moving from page to page. When we say flipbooks, we’re talking about interactive, engaging, and visually impressive documents that can be used in a variety of industries.

Technology

Biotech digital flipbook example.

In the tech world, there are so many reasons for you to use a flipbook. For starters, digital flipbooks are at the epicenter of technology when it comes to digital publications. They make it easy for anyone and everyone to interact with your written work, whether it be tech magazines, brochures, catalogs, or reports.

Take a look at the example above from one of our users in the biotech industry. Using Flipsnack, they’ve created a series of reports, showcasing their impact on the environment. Using graphs, infographics, and data visualizations, they bring what they’re passionate about to life in their flipbooks.

Their flipbook is bright, colorful, easy to follow, and visually very pleasing. It takes all the headache out of reading a report and combines design elements, interactivity, page-flipping, and easy shareability to make a stunning flipbook.

Finance

digital flipbook example for the financial services industry.

Believe it or not, even the financial services industry can benefit from a good flipbook or two. Using interactivity to explain your services in a report, brochure, or flier is a great way to promote your business. 

Take a look at the example above. They used Flipsnack to really promote their business with nice visuals, data, design, and personability. Because of the intuitiveness of the Design Studio in Flipsnack, you can really make your flipbook into whatever you want. 

Add images, shapes, links, videos, GIFs, and more with a simple drag-and-drop system. Take it to the next level of customization by adding your own brand colors and fonts with our brand kit. The sky’s the limit with what you can create in Flipsnack, and many businesses around the world are already using it to really make their mark.

digital flipbook banner. create your own digital flipbook today.

The future of flipbooks

We’ve talked about the history of flipbooks, so naturally, we need to talk about the direction they’re going to take in the future. The truth is that flipbooks have unlimited potential. As more and more people gravitate towards digital mediums, flipbooks will become more and more relevant for a variety of applications.

Flipbooks have revolutionized the way businesses operate. Taking marketing materials from simple documents to things that people can interact with, increasing sales conversions and brand awareness, and making it a lot easier to create and share new flipbooks.

The future of flipbooks is bright and always pushing forward. Technology like easy drag-and-drop capabilities, integrations with APIs and databases, and entire workspaces dedicated to creating and collaborating with certain people are all a reality that we can indulge in now. 

As we inch closer and closer to the future, who knows what we’ll see? If the history of flipbooks provides any foreshadowing, we can be sure that flipbooks, their accessibility, ease of use, interactivity, easy sharing, and their applications will get better and better. They’re already changing the world of business, education, and entertainment, so we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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