Like screen printing and engraving, lithography now has a commercial application, though originally it was a fine arts process. Invented in 1798 by a Bavarian writer called Senefelder for book illustration, it used calcium carbonate based stone (hence lithography from the Greek lithos a stone) as the plate, and that is still the process used by fine artists today. The lithographic process has since been adapted for commercial use, and now commercial printing is done on a rubber roller, producing very high quality images.
Lithography relies on the fact that oil and water will not mix. Very briefly, the design is drawn in reverse on a stone with a perfectly flat surface using a greasy medium like crayon or oily ink. The stone is then wetted with water and after various intermediate steps – which include an etching process and the removal of the original drawing, the ink is applied with a roller – and it will adhere only to the design. Printing is done in a special press. If more than one color is to be printed, it is common to print the colors separately using separate blocks.
Lithography is pretty versatile, probably because it is a very immediate process, and one that allows for drawing in a freehand manner if required. It is possible to produce wonderfully relaxed and textured images like the one on the left below by Odilon Redon, yet it also lends itself to great detail and clarity, for items like maps and instructional images. See the image on the right – an illustration by Ernst Haeckel for his _Artforms of Nature_ :
I have not tried lithography – as you can see it requires some pretty specialized equipment, usually only available in teaching institutions or studios dedicated to the process.. As with woodcut and woodblock, the artist may be involved only with the design work and may hand the printing procedure over to craftsmen who produce the actual prints to his or her satisfaction.
I hope this little expose of printmaking.will be of interest and help to people who haven’t had much to do with fine art printmaking before.