Tone lithography

12 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Tone lithograph by Alexandre Calame

Tone lithography (Dutch: toonlitho, tintlitho, getinte litho) is a lithographic colour printing technique that belongs to the manual planographic printmaking family. It is one of the earliest lithographic colour printing methods. It is called tone litho because for this technique only one stone containing the tone or tint is used – contrary to the traditional colour lithography and the “tintkleurenlitho” where it is common to use several tones.

Technique description
For making a tone litho, two stones are used. One stone contains the illustration, the other contains the tone or tint. Lithographic chalk or tusche is used to apply the illustration and the tone to the separate stones. Two “drukgangen” are necessary to make the tone litho; the tone is applied during the first “drukgang”, and the illustration during the second.

Description of the instruments, machines and chemicals used for tone litho
Two stones, lithographic chalk/tusche, paper and a printing press.

Aloys Senefelder (1771 – 1834). Senefelder invented besides the traditional lithography also some lithographic colour techniques, which he published in 1818 in Vollständiges Lehrbuch des Steindruckerey. But by that time foreign printers – especially from France and England –  were experimenting with lithographic colour techniques as well.

History of the use of tone litho
The tone litho was invented at the beginning of the 19th century, and it was mainly in Germany, France and England that one developed and perfected the technique. In the Netherlands, tone litho’s were experimentally used until ca. 1830. In 1819, the first Dutch tone litho was probably printed by H. Carbentus in Den Haag on one of the few lithopresses available back then.
In the 1820’s the tone litho was mainly used as a drawing example. These early tone litho’s are recognizable by their solid light beige or brown tint (from the tone stone). Around 1830, one started scraping away parts from the tone stone, resulting in subtle tone transitions.
Compared to colour lithography’s, tone lithography’s were rather inexpensive in their use. This is why the latter were often used for cheaper book editions during the 19th century.

Related techniques
Related to the tone litho are tintkleurenlitho, lithographic iris print and the colour litho.

Stijnman, A., de Zoete, J. De techniek van de Nederlandse boekillustratie in de 19e eeuw. Amstelveen : Koninklijk Verbond van Grafische Ondernemingen, 1995.

By: Eva Veenendaal


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