A brief history of Lithography

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What is Lithography?

Lithography is a printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate on which the image areas are worked using a greasy substance so that the ink will adhere to them, while the non-image areas are made ink-repellent. Frank Stella.

Butterflies from Adalbert Seitz’s Macrolepidoptera of the World (1923)

What was Lithography first used for?

Lithography was invented in 1796 by the German writer and actor Alois Senefelder, and was initially used primarily for music scores and maps. Lithography can be used to print text or pictures on paper or other suitable material.

What is the history of lithography what is it used for today?

Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art

Lithography is a printing medium that uses a stone press on which parts are made ink acceptable, other regions do not. The word “litho” means stone, related to using a stone press. Lithography is mainly used in modern-pop art and printing.

What is the Lithography Process?

At first, the limestone should be granulated well with white sand and a little water to make the surface. Then the limestone should be washed by graining it well, then when it is dry the 4 sides of the limestone should be well filled. Then you have to draw on the limestone.

Stone Graining Process
After Graining the stone

What kind of ink will it use?

Apply Tusche ink to stone

You can use a lithography crayon, charcoal, glass marker pencil, or any type of crayon with a grease content. If you want the effect of watercolor, it would be nice to draw with Tusche ink.

We need to make sure that we do not put our hands on the stone while doing this. When the drawing is done you start to process the stone to prepare it for printing. We need to make sure that we do not put our hands on the stone while doing this.

When the drawing is done you start to process the stone to prepare it for printing. The first step of processing your stone and preparing it for printing is called the ‘first etch’. What we want to do is to start the chemical process that prepares your stone to be printed.

 After you draw on your image the stone is still sensitive to grease and we need to desensitize the stone. By using Gum Arabic and Nitric acid we will be starting the chemical process. You apply the Gum Arabic onto the stone, together with the limestone creating a layer that we call the ‘absorbed gum layer.

Gum Arabic and Nitric Acid apply to the stone

The gum arabic and the nitric acid will together help the grease from the drawing material get penetrated into the stone and create a greasy reservoir directly underneath your drawing. This is what your printmaking ink will hold onto because grease attracts each other.

After you’ve done your first etch you want your stone to rest for at least an hour so that the grease can settle into it. After you’ve been waiting and the stone has been resting we are going to start the second part of the processing of the stone, which is to wash out the drawing materials and replace them with the printmaking ink.

In Lithography, we use a special printmaking ink. The first step to do when you wash out your drawing is to use turpentine to literally wash up and remove the drawing from the stone. At this point, you can only see a ghost image of the drawing you made and this is the grease that has penetrated into the stone from the first etch.

Ink rolling on stone

After that, you want to buff in a bit of the printmaking ink onto this stone and let the stone rest for about five minutes. After that, we will be using a leather roller to roll up the stone with printmaking ink. The stone created a thin layer of water and this is when the absorbed gum layer is helping to hold on to the water. After you sponge you want to straightaway roll with the printmaking ink onto the stone, which will attract the grease that is already in the stone and you can see your image building up again. After you have rolled off your stone it’s time to do the second etch. The second etch helps to really establish the absorbed gum layer, to make sure that the stone is not sensitive to grease anymore. The second etch works in the same way as the first etch, you apply gum arabic onto the stone and also apply gum arabic mixed with nitric acid onto the stone. After you’ve done you’re second etch, you want your stone to rest for at least an hour, but then after the stone has been resting you can start printing your stone.

To print your stone you need to have a special lithography press, you place your stone on the press and you adjust the pressure for the stone because all stones have got different thicknesses. Then you want to wash out the ink that you have on the stone you use turpentine to wash it out.

Buff in the ink you will be printing with and then you roll up the stone in the same way as you do when you’re rolling up to prepare it for the second etch. When you get the right blackness on the stone you can start pulling prints. Between every paper, you need to Re-ink your stone and when your print starts to get grey you need to add more into your roll as well.  

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