23 November 2010 § Leave a comment

(Dutch: Lithografie or steendruk, German: Lithographie or Steindruck, French: Lithographie)

Lithography is a form of planographic printing, invented towards the end of the 18th century by the German Alois (or Aloys) Senefelder (1771-1834). Lithography is based on the opposing properties of printing ink and water, the first being hydrophobic and oleophilic – attracting grease -, the latter being hydrophilic and oleophobic – repelling grease. Because of those properties, planographic printing is possible; Senefelder therefore called it ‘die chemische Druckerey’, ‘chemical printing’, as opposed to printing based on ‘physical’ properties of material, i.e. height and depth. The name, lithography is derived from the Greek lithos, stone and graphein, to write.


Alois Senefelder was born in 1771 in Prague, but was raised in Munich. He was a poor playwright, looking for inexpensive ways to publish his work. Almost by accident, around 1798, whilst experimenting with a stone as printing surface, he discovered that it was not necessary to engrave a stone, as he had done until then, but that no height of depth differences were required for printing. So he discovered planographic printing. For years he experimented with the technique, adapting it many times. In 1818 finally he published his book Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Lithographie and des Steindrucks in Munich, in which he describes the process of his invention. In 1819 already it was translated into French and English. Lithography initially was used mostly for music printing, later also artist discovered its possibilities. From about 1820 lithography was used commercially, when printers discovered the advantages of the technique; it was not only cheaper and more versatile than other techniques, it gave them a possibility to print faster and without loss of quality. Within a few decades chromolithography was invented; a way to use lithography to print colours.


For making a lithography, basically only a few things are absolutely necessary. A stone, ink and water. When one draws an image on a stone with an oil based pigment, that pigment will attach itself to or even penetrate the stone. When the stone then is wetted, only the parts of the stone on which there is no image, and thus no greasy pigment, will be receptive for water. When the stone subsequently is inked, the ink will only attach itself to the greasy image that was already drawn. The wet parts will repel the ink. A print can then be made.

Of course this conception is put a bit too bluntly, but it does adequately show the techniques principle.Now we will look into the different stages and supplies of the process.

First, the stone; in the beginning only limestone was used for the printing. This stone is suitable because of its fine structure and porous nature. The stone is found in different colours, depending on the level of iron in it. Darker stones tend to contain more iron, be harder, and therefore to be more suitable for delicate work. The stone is prepared by flattening and graining it. For pen-and-ink-style litho’s the stone also has to be polished; the finer the surface, the more detailed the image will be. At first only limestone was thought to be adequate for the printing, but later also prepared paper and metal plated proved to be suitable (for instance a zinc plate: zincography). When the stone or other material is ready, a drawing can be made. because the image that is drawn onto the stone will be mirrored when printed, sometimes an offset of an image is used to get the image on the stone. For different effects, different drawing tools can be used; lithographic pen, lithographic chalk (for chalk style lithography) or brushes with diluted ink (for lithotint). When drawing, one must be careful not to let the hand touch the surface; greasy skin will undoubtedly leave a greasy mark, and thus will be made recipient to ink, which of course will show on the final print. Then, after wetting and inking the stone, a print can be made. In most cases however, the stone will have to be prepared before printing it because of the likeliness of the ink to spread on the stone, giving and unclear image. See Van der Linden (1979, pp. 170-173) for a detailed description of the preparation of the stone. He distinguishes three purposes of that preparation: fixing the drawing on the stone, increasing the hydrophilic quality of the stone, and stabilizing the hydrophobic quality of the drawing.

Many prints can be made from one stone, which of course is a great economic advantage. The main distinguishing characteristic of lithography is the  absence of an embossed plate-mark, as with intaglio- and relief printing. [Joëlle Terburg]



Mairet, F., Notice sur la lithographie, ou L’art d’imprimer sur pierre, l’imprimerie de Carion, Dijon, 1818.

Poppe, J.H.M., Die Lithographie oder Steindruckerei im ganzen Umfange und in allen Manieren, Scheible, Stuttgart, 1833.

Senefelder, A., Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindrückerey, Karl Thienemann, Karl Gerold, Munich, Vienna, 1818.

Rauh, J., Der praktische Steindrucker, K.K. Graphischen lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, Vienna, 1898.


Fuchs, S.E., Die Lithographie, ein technischer Leitfaden für Künstler und Sammler, Aurel Bongers, Recklinghausen, 1979.

Gascoigne, B., How to identify prints, Thames & Hudson, London, 2004, pp. 19.

Linden, F. van der, De grafische technieken, Cantecleer bv., de Bilt, 1979, pp. 163-193. Seymour, A., Practical Lithography, Scott, Greenwood & Co., D. Van Nostrand, London, New York, 1903.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Lithografie at PRINTING ILLUSTRATED.


%d bloggers like this: