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Signed Ltd Ed lithograph / serigraph

Signed Ltd Ed lithograph / serigraph Biography


Lithography is a method for printing on a smooth surface. It can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or another suitable material. It can also refer to photolithography, a microfabrication technique used to make integrated circuits and microelectromechanical systems. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798.

Lithography refers to 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)

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.

The early process

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Bohemia in 1797, and it was the first new printing process since the invention of relief printing in the fifteenth century. In the early days of lithography, a smooth piece of limestone was used (hence the name "lithography"-"lithos" (?????) is the ancient Greek word for stone). After the oil-based image was put on the surface, acid burned the image onto 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.

Within a few years of its invention, the lithographic process was used to create multi-color printed images, using a new process developed by Godefroy Engelmann (France) in 1837 known as Chromolithography. A separate stone was used for each colour, and a print went through the press separately for each stone. The main challenge was of course to keep the images aligned (in register). This method lent itself to images consisting of large areas of flat color, and led to the characteristic poster designs of this period. Many fine works of chromolithographic printing were produced in America and Europe.

The modern process

Modern high-volume lithography is used to produce posters, books, newspapers, packaging, credit cards, decorated CDs - just about any smooth, mass-produced item with print on it.

In this form of 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.

Lithography 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 1820's lithography was taken up by artists such as Delacroix and Gericault. London also became a centre, and some of Gericault's prints were in fact produced there. Goya in Bordeaux produced his last series of prints in lithography - The Bulls of Bordeaux of1828. 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 1870's, 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 1890's 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, 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. 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 influence by when and where these have been established. See the List of Printmakers for more practicioners.


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