Just Hit Print… Lithography

Lithography is a term that is used to describe resistance-type printing. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Bohemia in 1796. Today I’m going to cover traditional lithography. Tomorrow I will cover offset lithography (contemporary photo-mechanical).

In lithography a design is drawn or painted on the polished flat surface of a stone (usually limestone) with a greasy crayon or ink. The design is chemically fixed on the stone with a weak solution of acid and gum Arabic. When printing, the stone is flooded with water which is absorbed everywhere except where it is repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled on the stone, which is repelled by the water-soaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. A piece of paper is laid on the stone and it is run through the press with light pressure. The final print has  neither a raised nor embossed quality but lying entirely on the surface of the paper.

Multicolor lithography was introduced in the 1830s. It is known as Chromolithography. The process uses a different stone for each color. Chromolithography became enormously popular with French artists in the 1890s, most notably Toulouse-Lautrec.

While some lithographers still use stone, some use aluminum plates. Aluminum plates are cheaper than stones, readily available and easier to transport. These factors make plate lithography a popular alternative to stone lithography for the creation of original prints.

The advantage of lithography is the ability to use a plate (stone) over and over. Thus the ability to produce multiples of the same image. In traditional lithography a “hand-pulled print” is considered an original work of art.

Below are examples of traditional hand-pulled lithography prints.



Hope you enjoyed this snippet about traditional lithography, next up with be offset lithography.


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