He was apprenticed in the printing workshop of Gaspard and Melchior Trechsel, and then worked for about ten years as a compositor in the workshops of Sébastien Gryphe.
From 1559 he was the imprimeur du Roi, printer to the French king. He was an learned humanist, and published accurate editions of works of both ancient and modern authors. Until 1547 he employed the engraver Georges Riverdy for illustrated works.
After that date he used the noted engraver Bernard Salomon.
Jean de Tournes died of plague in Lyon in 1564. In 1727 they returned to Lyon, and in 1906 they were among the founders of the Imprimeries réunies in that city.
The emblem of the de Tournes press was two entwined vipers. Their mottoes included Nescit labi virtus.
Son art en Dieu; Per ipsum facta sunt omnia.
Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris and Virum de mille unum reperi.