History of Lithography
The invention of lithography unleashed the second great printing revolution after the printing press and laid the foundation for our contemporary mass image culture.
Stone lithography is invented
The lithographic process is accidentally discovered by German author and actor, Alois Senefelder.
Finding it increasingly difficult to print his play Mathilde von Altenstein, Senefelder found he was falling deeper and deeper into debt. He grew desperate to find a way to print his beloved play in a way that wouldn’t financially ruin him and so began experimenting with an etching technique which used greasy, acid resistant ink printed onto limestone.
He gradually brought his technique into a workable form, perfecting both the chemical processes and the special form of printing press required for using the stones. He called it "stone printing" or "chemical printing", but the French name "lithography" became more widely adopted.
Lithography gains traction
Compared to earlier techniques such as engraving and etching, lithography was easier and more versatile.
The art of lithography rapidly began to find uses in a variety of artistic and commercial circles due to its inexpensive and precise reproduction. Prints of local views, notable people, sheet music, and other commonly produced prints such as illustrated bills could be rapidly and cheaply produced.
Chromolithography is invented
A few decades later, the second revolution in stone printing took place with the discovery of color printing technology. With this, the possibilities of lithography increased enormously.
The printing technique made possible very precise drawings and illustrations, such as detailed atlases, graphic art and cigar bands. This laid the foundation for our contemporary mass visual culture.
Offset lithography is invented
By 1853, the method of offset lithography was patented by Englishman John Strather.
Unlike standard lithography where the image is printed onto the surface, the inked image is instead printed onto a rubber cylinder which then ‘offsets’ the image onto paper or other materials. The flexibility of the rubber cylinder also allowed for it to print onto a variety of materials, from paper and cloth to wood and tin. By the end of the 18th century, offset lithography became the standard method for creating printed matter such as newspapers, magazines, maps and posters in extremely large quantities.
Modern offset printers are now able to produce high-quality and extremely precise impressions at high speeds and the process now accounts for a total of 40% of all printing, packaging and publishing.