Lithography works on a principle that grease and water repel each other. All work remains on the surface and no carving is needed. This work of art is usually done on a flat surfaced stone. The artist uses crayon to create an image or mark the stone, then the surface of the stone is covered with a thin film of water. When ink is then applied to surface, the water from areas that have not been touched by the greasy crayon repels the ink, but the ink is attracted to the image on the stone.


A designer in 1817 named Senefelder, designed a press that could both dampen and ink the plate at the same time thereby making the creation of lithography simpler. He designed the first lithograph in the US in 1819, which led to an increased demand for lithographic designs. In 1971 there were approximately 450 hand-operated and 30 steam presses in the US alone. Senefelder has also been credited with the discovery of the transfer process. Through trial and error, Senefelder realized that it was possible to transfer drawings and writing from paper onto the lithographic stone to create the printing image. This was a great discover as it allowed people to ‘copy’ previously existing text and images. In addition, one no longer needed to be expert at reverse imaging. In 1837, Godefroy Engelmann discovered Litho color printing, which is Lithograph in color imitating painting. After that, Litho printing became very popular and at the end of the eighteenth century the first rotary lithographic press was invented.

How it is done


First, a stone is needed for this work of art. Usually limestone is the stone of choice because, its surface can easily be smoothed and etched before an image is transferred to the surface. The process of smoothing the surface of the stone is called ‘Graining’.  The major reasons why a stone is grained are:

  • To remove the previous images if any, and the greasy residue left over on the stone.
  • To create a smooth drawing surface of the right texture.
  • To create a level surface without any waves so scratches that the pressure of the press is even across the stone during printing.

For smoothing, it necessary to use an abrasive such as powdered sandstone, silex, or carborundum grit. The final texture of the surface, which will affect the final look of the image, depends on the amount of grit the artist uses for graining. The stone can have a coarse rough texture or a surface as smooth as glass. If the surface is not level, it will break under the pressure of the press.

Drawing on the Stone

A greasy chemical called ‘Tusche’ is first used to create the background of the image. The artist mixes the tusche to the right consistency and then applies it to the surface of the stone. An outline of the image is then drawn on tracing paper and the front of the sheet is then dusted with iron oxide. After that, the images is then placed face down on the stone and the image is retraced on the grained stone with lithographic crayons. Scraping of the stone may also be done to bring out highlights.

Processing the stone

Processing of the stone starts by applying a layer of talc to absorb excess tusche and grease. Then the talc brushed and to protect the stone. To etch the images on the stone, the artist mixes gum arabic and nitric acid to the stone and applies it to the stone. The acid affixes the images to the stone and not the areas without grease. To make sure all areas have been etched, the artist checks the surface of the stone with a magnifying glass. To prepare the stone for printing the artist by dissolves the tusche and crayon of the image with an oil based solvent with leave a ghost of the image visible. When the tone is dry it is ready to print.

Printing the image

Lithographic ink is first mixed and spread evenly on an inking slab. Because lithography depends on water and grease repelling each other, water must be must be used during the entire printing process to keep the surface damp. The water collects in the non-image areas of the stone and repels the greasy ink. While the image area attracts the greasy ink and repel the water. Then a sheet of paper, newsprint and tinting are added is then places on the stone, this enables evening the print of the press. Then the paper is removed to reveal a mirror image of the stone.

Lithography is used in books, maps newspapers and most mass-produced items with print and graphics on it. In modern times other commercially well established techniques of lithography are microlithography and nanolithography, X-ray lithography, ultraviolet lithography, nanoimprint lithography, just to name a few. Limestone is barely used for lithography in our modern times, and has been replaced by metal plates.


 1.)   Emily Orzech. (April 25, 2011). Meili Paper. In   Meili Paper. Retrieved may 19, 2012, from

2.)    Marshall Brain. (March 31, 2011). How Stuff Works. In How Stone Lithography Works. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from

3.)    Artsmia. (Jun 24, 2008). Printmaking Processes: Lithography. In Youtube. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from

4.)    History of Lithography. (2001). Retrieved May 23, 2012, from


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