AskDefine | Define lithography

Dictionary Definition



1 a method of planographic printing from a metal or stone surface
2 the act of making a lithographic print

User Contributed Dictionary



1813. From Lithographie, from λίθος + γράφειν.


  1. The process of printing a lithograph on a hard, flat surface; originally the printing surface was a flat piece of stone that was etched with acid to form a surface that would selectively transfer ink to the paper; the stone has now been replaced, in general, with a metal plate.


Extensive Definition

Lithography is a method for printing using a plate or stone with a completely smooth surface. By contrast with intaglio printing which uses a plate that has been engraved (engraving), etched (etching) or stippled (mezzotint) to produce cavities to contain the printing ink, lithography simply uses oil or fat and gum arabic to divide the smooth surface into hydrophobic regions which accept the ink, and hydrophilic regions which reject it and become the background. Invented by Bavarian author Alois Senefelder in 1796, it can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or another suitable material. The word "lithography" also refers to photolithography, a microfabrication technique used to make integrated circuits and microelectromechanical systems, although those technique have more in common with etching than with lithography.


The principle

Lithography is a printing process that uses chemical processes to create an image. For instance, the positive part of an image would be a hydrophobic chemical, while the negative image would be water. Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows for a relatively flat print plate which allows for much longer runs than the older physical methods of imaging (e.g., embossing or engraving).

The early process

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder - Czech - in Bohemia in 1796. In the early days of lithography, a smooth piece of limestone was used (hence the name "lithography"—"lithos" (λιθος) is the ancient Greek word for stone). After the oil-based image was put on the surface gum arabic, a water soluble solution, was then applied, sticking only to the non-oily surface and sealing it. During printing, water adhered to the gum arabic surfaces and avoided the oily parts, while the oily ink used for printing did the opposite.

The chemical process

Lithography works because of the repulsion of oil and water. The image is drawn on the surface of the print plate with an oil-based medium (hydrophobic). The range of oil-based mediums is endless, but the dexterity of the image relies on the lipid content of the material being used--its ability to withstand water and acid. Following the placement of the image is the application of an acid emulsified with gum arabic. The function of this emulsion is to create a salt layer directly around the image area. The salt layer seeps into the pores of the stone, completely enveloping the original image. This process is called etching. Using lithographic turpentine, the printer then removes the greasy drawing material, leaving only the salt layer; it is this salt layer which holds the skeleton of the image's original form. When printing, the stone or plate is kept wet with water. Naturally the water is attracted to the layer of salt created by the acid wash. Ink that bears a high lipid content is then rolled over the surface. The water repels the grease in the ink and the only place for it to go is the cavity left by the original drawing material. When the cavity is sufficiently full, the stone and paper are run through a press which applies even pressure over the surface, transferring the ink to the paper and off the stone.


Senefelder had experimented in the early 1800s with multicolor lithography; in his 1819 book, he predicted that the process would eventually be perfected and used to reproduce paintings.
In offset lithography, which depends on photographic processes, flexible aluminum or plastic printing plates are used in place of stone tablets. Modern printing plates have a brushed or roughened texture and are covered with a photosensitive emulsion. A photographic negative of the desired image is placed in contact with the emulsion and the plate is exposed to light. After development, the emulsion shows a reverse of the negative image, which is thus a duplicate of the original (positive) image. The image on the plate emulsion can also be created through direct laser imaging in a CTP (Computer-To-Plate) device called a platesetter. The positive image is the emulsion that remains after imaging. For many years, chemicals have been used to remove the non-image emulsion, but now plates are available that do not require chemical processing.
The plate is affixed to a drum on a printing press. Rollers apply water, which covers the blank portions of the plate but is repelled by the emulsion of the image area. Ink, applied by other rollers, is repelled by the water and only adheres to the emulsion of the image area--such as the type and photographs on a newspaper page.
If this image were directly transferred to paper, it would create a positive image, but the paper would become too wet. Instead, the plate rolls against a drum covered with a rubber blanket, which squeezes away the water and picks up the ink. The paper rolls across the blanket drum and the image is transferred to the paper. Because the image is first transferred, or offset to the rubber drum, this reproduction method is known as offset lithography or offset printing.
Many innovations and technical refinements have been made in printing processes and presses over the years, including the development of presses with multiple units (each containing one printing plate) that can print multi-color images in one pass on both sides of the sheet, and presses that accommodate continuous rolls (webs) of paper, known as web presses. Another innovation was the continuous dampening system first introduced by Dahlgren. This increased control over the water flow to the plate and allowed for better ink and water balance. Current dampening systems include a "delta effect" which slows the roller in contact with the plate, thus creating a sweeping movement over the ink image to clean impurities known as "hickies".
The advent of desktop publishing made it possible for type and images to be manipulated easily on personal computers for eventual printing on desktop or commercial presses. The development of digital imagesetters enabled print shops to produce negatives for platemaking directly from digital input, skipping the intermediate step of photographing an actual page layout. The development of the digital platesetter in the late twentieth century eliminated film negatives altogether by exposing printing plates directly from digital input, a process known as computer to plate printing.

Microlithography and nanolithography

Microlithography and nanolithography refer specifically to lithographic patterning methods capable of structuring material on a fine scale. Typically features smaller than 10 micrometers are considered microlithographic, and features smaller than 100 nanometers are considered nanolithographic. Photolithography is one of these methods, often applied to semiconductor manufacturing of microchips. Photolithography is also commonly used in fabricating MEMS devices. Photolithography generally uses a pre-fabricated photomask or reticle as a master from which the final pattern is derived.
Although photolithographic technology is the most commercially advanced form of nanolithography, other techniques are also used. Some, for example electron beam lithography, are capable of much higher patterning resolution (sometime as small as a few nanometers). Electron beam lithography is also commercially important, primarily for its use in the manufacture of photomasks. Electron beam lithography as it is usually practiced is a form of maskless lithography, in that no mask is required to generate the final pattern. Instead the final pattern is created directly from a digital representation on a computer, by controlling an electron beam as it scans across a resist-coated substrate.
In addition to these commercially well-established techniques, a large number of promising microlithographic and nanolithographic technologies exist or are emerging, including nanoimprint lithography, interference lithography, X-ray lithography, extreme ultraviolet lithography, and scanning probe lithography. Some of these emerging techniques have been used successfully in small-scale commercial and important research applications.

As an artistic medium

During the first years of the nineteenth century, lithography made only a limited impact on printmaking, mainly because technical difficulties remained to be overcome. Germany was the main centre of production during this period. Godefroy Engelmann, who moved his press from Mulhouse to Paris in 1816, largely succeeded in resolving the technical problems, and in the 1820s lithography was taken up by artists such as Delacroix and Géricault. London also became a centre, and some of Géricault's prints were in fact produced there. Goya in Bordeaux produced his last series of prints in lithography - The Bulls of Bordeaux of 1828. By the mid-century the initial enthusiasm had somewhat died down in both countries, although lithography continued to gain ground in commercial applications, which included the great prints of Daumier, published in newspapers. Rodolphe Bresdin and Jean-Francois Millet also continued to practice the medium in France, and Adolf Menzel in Germany.
In 1862 the publisher Cadart tried to launch a portfolio of lithographs by various artists which flopped, but included several superb prints by Manet. The revival began in the 1870s, especially in France with artists such as Odilon Redon, Henri Fantin-Latour and Degas producing much of their work in this way. The need for strictly limited editions to maintain the price had now been realized, and the medium become more accepted.
In the 1890s colour lithography became enormously popular with French artists, Toulouse-Lautrec most notably of all, and by 1900 the medium in both colour and monotone was an accepted part of printmaking, although France and the US have used it more than other countries. George Bellows, Alphonse Mucha, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, David Hockney and Robert Rauschenberg are a few of the artists who have produced most of their prints in the medium. M.C. Escher is considered a master in lithography, and many of his prints were created using this process. More than other printmaking techniques, printmakers in lithography still largely depend on access to a good printer, and the development of the medium has been greatly influenced by when and where these have been established. See the List of Printmakers for more practitioners.
As a special form of lithography, the Serilith process is sometimes used. Serilith are mixed media original prints created in a process where an artist uses the lithograph and serigraph process. The separations for both processes are hand drawn by the artist. The serilith technique is used primarily to create fine art limited print editions.
lithography in Bengali: লিথোগ্রাফি
lithography in Bulgarian: Литография
lithography in Catalan: Litografia
lithography in Czech: Kamenotisk
lithography in Danish: Litografi
lithography in German: Lithografie
lithography in Estonian: Litograafia
lithography in Spanish: Litografía
lithography in Esperanto: Litografio
lithography in Persian: لیتوگرافی
lithography in French: Lithographie
lithography in Croatian: Litografija
lithography in Indonesian: Litografi
lithography in Italian: Litografia (arte)
lithography in Hebrew: הדפס אבן
lithography in Lithuanian: Litografija
lithography in Hungarian: Litográfia
lithography in Marathi: लिथोग्राफ
lithography in Dutch: Lithografie
lithography in Japanese: リトグラフ
lithography in Norwegian: Litografi
lithography in Polish: Litografia
lithography in Portuguese: Litografia
lithography in Russian: Литография
lithography in Slovak: Litografia
lithography in Finnish: Litografia
lithography in Swedish: Litografi
lithography in Vietnamese: In thạch bản
lithography in Turkish: Taş baskı
lithography in Chinese: 平版印刷

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

albertype, artist lithography, book printing, chromotypography, chromotypy, chromoxylography, collotype, color printing, coloration, coloring, dyeing, electronography, electrostatic printing, emblazonry, graphic arts, gravure, halftone engraving, history of printing, illumination, job printing, letterpress, letterpress photoengraving, line engraving, lithogravure, lithophotogravure, mimeograph, offset, offset lithography, onset, palaeotypography, photo-offset, photochemical process, photoengraving, photogelatin process, photographic reproduction, photography, photolithography, phototypography, phototypy, photozincography, pigmentation, planographic printing, planography, printing, printmaking, publication, publishing, relief printing, rotary photogravure, rotogravure, sheetwork, staining, stencil, three-color printing, tinction, tinging, tinting, two-color printing, typography, typolithography, wood-block printing, xerography, xeroprinting, xylotypography, zincography
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