Writer Alois Senefelder invented lithography in 1798 to establish a method of publishing multiple copies of his works. Realizing the economic value of his discovery, Senefelder had his process patented in Munich in 1799.
The technique of lithography (from the Greek for stone drawing) relies on the mutual repulsion of grease and water. The image is initially created in reverse traditionally on limestone with some greasy material. The fatty acid of this material interacts with the lime in the stone to form insoluble lime soap. Once the image is complete, the stone is wetted and ink is applied to the surface. The greasy drawing on the surface of the stone repels the water and holds the ink while the ink is washed from the unmarked area. The image is then transferred from the surface of the stone.
Transfer lithographs do not require the artist to reverse his or her drawing. The design is made on paper and transferred to a heated stone using pressure. The printing requires a special lithographic press with a sliding bed passing under a scraper.
In 1837 Godefroy Engelmann patented a color printing technique called Lithocolourprinting or Lithographs in color imitating painting. Engelmann?s use of the phrase imitating painting illustrates the publics perception that printmaking had not yet evolved as an autonomous art form. Color lithography is a more complex process that usually involves multiple pressings, one for each color in the image. Different stones are sometimes used for each color but the same stone can be used for multiple colors.
Lithography was not widely accepted as a legitimate technique, many people dismissed the result as an inferior reproduction of art by a renowned painter. European artists of the nineteenth century, such as Gericault and Delacroix, brought some prestige and acceptance to lithography in the world of fine art, however frequent use of lithography for commercial and popular purposes was damaging to the credibility of the technique as an art form.
Lithography again fell into disfavor among the art world at the beginning of the twentieth century, but its commercial uses were continually exploited. More recently lithography has found a respected niche among fine art techniques, and now is seen as an important technique with unique expressive capabilities.
Back to Tips & Techniques