There are so many incredible artforms in the world. One particularly unique artform that stands on its own has to be the lithograph.
You’ve probably seen a lithograph in person and didn’t know it was created using lithographic printing. These types of art pieces look as if they were drawn or painted by hand. They likely were– but the lithographic practice is simply a method of reproduction that mirrors the original beautifully.
Let’s take a look at what a lithograph is and the rich and fascinating history behind this form of printing.
What is a Lithograph?
Lithography, or lithographic printing, is a method of printing that can involve either a stone (such as limestone) or a smooth metal plate. It can be used to print copies of text or artwork onto paper, though it can be used on different materials such as canvas.
The process of modern lithography involves applying a polymer coating in the shape of the desired image to a flexible metal (or occasionally plastic) plate. The image can then be printed directly from the plate itself onto paper or onto a rubber sheet for the purpose of publication and making copies.
Lithography is different from gravure, or intaglio printing, which is a process in which a metal plate is engraved or stamped to create cavities that can contain printing ink. It is also different from woodblock printing, letterpress, and stamping where ink is usually applied to raised surfaces of images.
You may be surprised to know that offset lithography is the most popular way to illustrate magazines with color. It’s been the most common way to print for over sixty years.
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The History of Lithographs
The lithograph was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder, a German actor and writer, for the purpose of publishing playbills and other theatrical reading material.
Originally, lithographs were made using a fat, oil, or wax-based image drawn onto the surface of a smooth and balanced lithographic limestone plate. After the image is applied, the stone was treated with gum arabic and acid, which would then etch the areas of the stone that were not protected by the oil, fat, or wax. The stone was then moistened and the etched areas were now able to collect and retain water. An oil-based dye or ink was then applied and repelled by the water through the natural process of immiscibility. The ink would then be able to be transferred to paper to complete the printed artwork.
What is Special About the Lithograph?
A lithograph is unique in that it has the appearance and clarity of a print, but isn’t a print at all.
There are three different ways to determine if a piece of artwork is the result of original or tradition lithography, or simply mass printing:
Note whether or not there is a signature. Lithographs that are handmade will include a signature on the back of the piece most of the time. A print or reproduction usually won’t.
Evaluate the density of the ink. In stone lithography, the paint or ink used in the piece will be raised ever so slightly on the surface of the paper. With offset lithography and traditional printing, the ink is often very flat. Note that you’ll need to wear gloves and be extremely gentle when evaluating the thickness of the ink.
Look for multiple dots. Traditional printing involves using dotted patterns in tight rows to create the image. Traditional handmade lithographic art pieces will often involve very sporadic ink dotting or color changes on the surface of the print.
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Different Types of Lithographs
There are five different forms of lithographs:
Stone lithograph. This old limestone method is the oldest way to create lithographs. It involves creating an image on a stone using a grease-type liquid and “carving” the image out of the stone with a mix of acid and gum arabic.
Plate lithograph. A plate lithograph is one of the most common ways to create lithographic prints. Artists use aluminum plates to print their work, rather than heavy limestone slabs.
Mylar plate lithograph. Mylar plat lithographs are made by drawing on a mylar sheet, a material that is similar to plastic. The completed drawing is then transferred to a photosensitive lithographic plate and printed in a similar fashion to regular plate lithography.
Offset lithographic print. This type of lithography is common in text or book printing. An offset press is used in a similar fashion to original stone lithography through the use of immiscibility. With an offset press, the dye or ink is transferred to a stamp-like rubber sheet and then applied to paper. This method is extremely quick and inexpensive to use.
Lithographic reproduction. A reproduction is essentially a copy of any type of art of any type of medium. A lithographic reproduction involves taking a photograph of an original piece of artwork, using color separation and transferring the image to photosensitive lithographic plates. This is a common way to create posters of artwork for mass consumption.
About Our Lithographic Art Prints from Dechamby Design
Are you a fan of the unique and captivating world of lithographic printing? Lithographic art can add a unique and colorful edge to any contemporary space. Our beautiful lithographic art prints at Dechamby Design are perfect for just about any living space.
Our mission at Dechamby design is to share color, beauty, and positive energy with the world with our vibrant compilation of arts.
Lithographs are not the only niche art genre we specialize in. Our pieces can complement any household as eye-catching decor.
By adding a lithograph to your bedroom, living room, or sunroom, you can really pull a room together with the use of art and encourage conversation among your guests.
Our lithograph print pieces can be found via our Dechamby Design catalog of artwork.
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What do you think about lithograph art and the lithographic process? Tell us about your favorite lithograph art piece in the comment section below!