What is a Lithograph ?

Posted by Fine Rare Prints 04/02/2015 0 Comment(s) Antique Print Tips,

A lithograph is an artwork or illustration printed from a stone block onto paper.

Lithography became popular after about 1820. Its great attraction was that drawing on stone was almost as natural as drawing on paper.

1) The artist would draw onto a polished stone (usually limestone from a particular quarry in Bavaria) using a special, waxy lithographic crayon,  pen or pencil.

2) The artist would roll black ink over the stone.

3) The ink would only stick to the wax, not to the stone.

4) The stone would be pressed onto paper to print the image.

5) The artist would then either color the print by painting on water colors, or use other printing stones to apply different colored inks to selected parts of the picture (these prints are known as chromolithographs - the Victorians printmakers were superb at this).


Antique lithographs have a soft and natural appearance compared to prints made from metal plate engravings. The characteristic tiny speckles you can see under a magnifying glass are due to the printing surface being limestone.

Chromolithography was invented in about 1830 and was the first true multi-color printing technique, previously color had to be applied by hand. A printing stone was used for each color so highly colorful prints such as these required a lot of stones and a great deal of care in aligning them. The Victorians loved this method of printing because of the rich coloring that could be achieved.

Hand made lithographs had their heyday in the period from 1820-1900. Before that, engraving was used to make prints. After that, less expensive photomechanical printing techniques became widespread.

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