The Art of Printing: What is a Lithograph and How to Identify One?

What is a Lithograph?
Lithograph is an accredited replica of original piece of artwork using a printing process called Lithography. It has come a long way, and over time, it has seen an upgradation due to the latest technology; however, the basic process remains the same. ArtHearty tells you what exactly a lithograph is.
ArtHearty Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
How to Identify Lithograph?
Take a close look at the painting and examine it thoroughly. Look for the artist's signature or edition number. If the signature is in pencil, it means that it is a lithograph approved by the artist. Originals are usually signed in paint, and will have raised blotches of paint. If you find an edition number written, contact the artist or dealer and inquire about the painting.
You must have come across the masterpieces of Picasso or Van Gogh, and wished you could own one of them too. Most of us can't afford to own an original piece by such renowned artists, but getting a replica of their masterpieces wouldn't be a bad idea, would it? This is where Lithography makes an entry.

Lithograph is an authorized replica of the original work created by any artist or other skilled person, and its printing method is known as Lithography. It is a planographic or surface printing process where the chemical resistance of oil and water makes the ink stand out.

Before getting into the details of lithograph, let us first see how lithography was invented.
History of Lithography
The process of lithography dates back to 1796. It was invented by a German author, Alois Senefelder. He initially called this new method, chemical printing, as it is based on the principle that oil and water repel each other. The word 'lithography' come from the Greek words 'lithos' meaning 'stone' and 'graphien' meaning 'to write'. Printing was initially done on a limestone plate where the image was carved using an oil-based crayon or ink.
Lithographic Printing Process
View of Ellesmere canal
Black and White
As mentioned above, the printing was done on limestone plates. After the image was carved with an oil-based ink, the surface was brushed with rosin powder. After which, it was treated with a chemical etch and smothered with oil. The stone was, then, moistened with water, and the parts that were not covered in oil, soaked up the water. The etched areas retained water, and the applied oil-based ink repelled by water, stuck to the original drawing. The oil-based ink was then rolled onto the stone. The oily parts of the stone picked up the ink while the wet parts did not. A blank sheet of paper was then rolled onto the stone, and the ink on it produced a printed page. The first lithographs were printed in black ink only, but later was replaced by colored ink.
Present-day Lithography
Interior of house
Color
In today's digitized world, lithography may seem obsolete, but this method has greatly advanced since. The first press for offset lithography was established in 1903. The prints made by machines are known as offset lithographs. This new method used these days is a speedy printing process for high-volume printing. The process is more automated, and aluminum or zinc plates are used instead of limestone. A polymer coating is applied to these plates. The image can directly be printed from the plate itself. A photographic negative image is created after the artwork and transferred onto a printing plate, which is exposed to UV light. It is made of rubber that acts as a 'blanket' which then rolled across the paper. The paper is sandwiched between the blanket and another rubber roller so that the image stays crisp. It is, then, used to print the final product.
Applications
Lithography has both commercial as well as artistic use. The older technique of lithography is still used these days in fine art applications. It is one of the most versatile printing processes that still exist. It is mainly used by the budding artists as it gives them the freedom of creativity and expression. It allows them to use pencils, pens, crayons, oils, and brushes to create masterpieces.

Commercially, Photolithography plays a major role than lithographic printing. However, the same principle applies. The task of drawing the image onto the stone has now been eliminated. All thanks to technology, it now saves a lot of time and effort. Complex images can be created in a short period of time. The commercial applications of lithographic printing include magazines, newspapers, posters, banners, cards, etc. The applications are vast and countless.

Lithography has the ability to capture minute details and subtle variations in shading. There are other methods of duplicating the original work too; however, it is best to consult an expert or the dealer in case of any confusion. The quality of printing can vary in lithographs. In some cases, a signed lithograph is more valuable than the replicas made using other processes.