Benjamin West, Angel of the Resurrection, 1801-1806
Lithography was a method of printing first invented in Germany in 1796, by Alois Senefelder. Unlike other image printing methods back then which required carving into the medium, lithographs were created by drawing an image using greasy ink or chalk onto a smooth stone, usually limestone, and was treated with water and chemicals, before transferring and printing on paper. The flat surfaces of the stones enabled artists to have more freedom in drawing directly on the medium, and enabled prints to resemble exactly as what the artists drew or painted, unlike other methods of printings.
The “permanent” impressions on the stones enabled Lithography to become one of the most popular printing method in the 1820s, as engravings made on copper and steel would flatten over time due to the pressure from the printing processes. Hence, Lithography enabled the prints to be more easily mass-produced and at a lower production cost.
Lithography process video
Chromolithography process video
- Image / artworks are drawn directly onto a limestone using oil-based or waxy material.
- The limestone is coated with gum arabic and other chemicals to etch the portions of the stone that was not drawn.
- Moisture would be applied to the surface of the limestone, and would adhere to the areas coated with the chemicals applied previously.
- Once the surface is ‘dry’, the ink roller oil-based ink will go over the surface, and the ink would adhere to the areas drawn with greasy ink.
- The artwork / image would then be transferred onto paper.
Chromolithography was later developed in France by Godefroy Engelmann in 1837. Chromolithography is a method of making multi-coloured prints, developed from the processes of lithography. It uses the same process as lithography, but with more stones – one stone for one colour, and a full-coloured print would consist of several layers of printing. A chromolithograph could also be made using as many as forty stones. The process could be rather arduous and time consuming, as each individual layer of colour had to be individually aligned one after the other.
Louis Prang, Prized Babies, 1888
Louis Prang was one of the key figures of Chromolithography. During the Civil War, he travelled to Europe to study printing methods, and brought the technique back to Boston. He realised how he could make prints which resemble greatly to an oil painting, but at a much lower cost. He produced fine-art subjects, such as still-life, landscapes, and famous paintings. One of his most popular print was the Prized Babies, which used 19 different stones. He would also commission artists to create artworks which would eventually be mass-produced as greeting cards, which worked as a self-advertisement of sorts to promote his ability to produce prints, while the commissioned artists would be able to get people to be more familiarised with his/her works.
Chromolithography eventually became one of the most successful and dominant colour printing method in the 19th Century, and enabled coloured prints and art to the affordable for the masses. It was amazing how the earlier and higher-quality Chromolithographs were able to replicate picturesque images and and artworks which resembled oil-paintings so identically without the usage of technology that we have today.
These two methods of printing eventually led to the development of offset printing, which was also based on the same principle that grease and water does not mix.
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