Lithography was a popular printing method, used to print books, pamphlets, posters and fine artwork during the 18 and 1900s. Lithography is a Germany invention, created by Alois Senefelder in 1796. The method soon spread across Europe, becoming more advanced and allowing for multiple colors to be printed. The multi-color technique, known as chromolithography, is how publishers were able to reproduce paintings as prints.
A lithograph is traditionally printed from a stone, the word “lithos” meaning stone. An oil-based ink would be applied to the stone’s grease-less surface. The oil-based text or image would then be transferred to a piece of paper by applying pressure from a press. Stone lithography was later replaced by aluminum plate lithography. The plates are less expensive, lighter an easier to replace and transport than heavy limestone.
Modern day printers use a modified version of lithography called offset lithography. This technique uses aluminum or synthetic plates, coated in a photosensitive emulsion. The photographic image is offset from a printing plate to a sheet of paper.
Lithographs often look like original drawings or watercolors at first glance. It is for this reason that lithography became a popular printing method for 19th century artists. Artists would draw directly on the lithography stone with an oil-based crayon or a material called tusche. Tusche can also be mixed with water, creating ink that can be brushed or painted onto the stone. Liquid tusche creates distinct striations and appears more textured than regular ink or watercolor. Lithographs can be printed on a variety of papers ranging from book pages and posters to machine or handmade printmaking paper.
The value of a lithograph depends on several factors: the artist, the edition size, the publisher and the condition. Generally smaller editions are more valuable than larger editions. Lithographs that are hand signed and numbered also have more value than unsigned prints.
Offset printing , the plate is washed and the resin or wax layer is removed from the plate. Ink is then applied to the plate, sinking into the etched lines. An oil-free cloth is then used to remove all excess ink. Leaving more or less ink on the plate can create plate tone. Once the plate is ready, it is placed on the bed of the printing press. A damp printing paper is registered, placed over the plate and run through the press. The more pressure used, the darker the print will be.
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