In most cases it is a description of the text typography, often entitled A note about the type. This will identify the names of the primary typefaces used, provide a brief description of the type's history, and a brief statement about its most identifiable physical characteristics. A colophon may also identify the book's designer, software used, printing method if letterpress, the printing company, and the kind of ink, paper and its cotton content. Detailed colophons are a characteristic feature of limited edition and private press printing. Books publishers Alfred A. Knopf and O'Reilly Media are notable for their substantial colophons.
If a book has a colophon, it may appear either on the same page as the copyright information, or at the back of the volume. In early printed books the colophon follows the explicit, the final words of the text.
A less frequent use of the term is for a printer's mark or logotype. This originated in Renaissance printing shops, where a title page would feature the printer's mark (colophon) near the bottom of the page, usually above the printer's name and city.
The term "colophon" derives from the Late Latin colophon, from the Greek κολοφων (meaning "summit", "top", or "finishing"). It should not be confused with Colophon, an ancient city in Asia Minor, after which "colophony", or rosin (ronnel) is named.
The term derives from a tablet inscription appended by a scribe to the end of an ancient Near East (e.g., Early/Middle/Late Babylonian, Assyrian, Canaanite) text such as a chapter, book, manuscript, or record. In the ancient Near East, scribes typically recorded information on clay tablets. The colophon usually contained facts relative to the text such as associated person(s) (e.g., the scribe, owner, or commissioner of the tablet), literary contents (e.g., a title, "catch" phrase, number of lines), and occasion or purpose of writing. Colophons and "catch phrases" (repeated phrases) helped the reader organize and identify various tablets, and keep related tablets together. Positionally, colophons on ancient tablets are comparable to a signature line in our own times. Bibliographically, however, they more closely resemble the imprint page in a modern book.