How is limestone used in lithography


Lithography is the oldest flat printing process for producing colored printed matter. The term is made up of the Greek words “lithos” (= stone) and “grafein” (= to write) and can be traced back to the original use of limestone as a material for the printing plates. Later, instead of the unwieldy and above all expensive limestone, granular zinc or aluminum plates were used.

In the original lithography, the motif to be printed is painted on the printing plate with greasy chalk or ink. After erasing with a separating water solution and a coating with a mineral acid rubber solution, the printing plate can be moistened and colored using rollers. Since the limestone absorbs the fat of the drawing well, the roller paint only adheres to the image, but not to the moistened non-image surface. The great advantage of this process is the low wear and tear on the plate. In principle, a single printing plate can produce an almost unlimited number of prints.

The process was developed around 1796 by the German-Austrian theater writer Alois Senefelder. At that time he could not find a publisher for his manuscripts and wanted to print them himself. After years of experimentation, he finally discovered the mutual repulsion of water and fat as well as the good absorption properties of limestone and continued to refine his newly created printing technique in the decades that followed. Lithography quickly became an established process for the rapid and large-scale reproduction of texts, drawings and early photographs. In the middle of the 19th century, the elaborate, but ultimately very remarkable color lithograph was developed, which was mainly used by the advertising industry for posters and packaging. Different colors were printed one after the other on the same sheet of paper in dozens of successive print runs, starting with the lightest color. For 150 years, lithography was the most important printing technique in Europe and was only replaced by more modern printing processes in the 1950s.

Lithography was of great importance in artistic application. The technology allowed the artists to design their motifs without complex chemical processes or technically demanding work and at the same time simple reproduction and thus possible high revenues were always possible. Francisco de Goya, but also a number of French artists such as Eugéne Delacroix, often and happily did lithographs with chalk, which was then worked on with a scraper after the commission. In impressionism, well-known artists such as Paul Cézanne and Edvard Munch used lithography for some of their work. A particularly enthusiastic lithographer was Pablo Picasso, who was fascinated by the diverse design possibilities, but also by the prospect of printing spontaneously drawn works as desired.