Lithos = Stone - Graphein = To write (In ancient Greek) 

The method is based on the immiscibility of oil and water – their mutual repulsion. The image is drawn in reverse on a smoothed, level lithographic limestone using an oil-based ink and/or crayon. The stone is etched with a weak solution of nitric acid and gum Arabic, and then water is applied. A thin layer of paint is rolled over the wet stone. The paint only sticks to the oily areas and the image can be transferred to a sheet of paper. 



The year 1798 is generally regarded as year that lithography was developed, when the German playwright Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) invented the art of stone printing. He was looking for a less costly way to reproduce copies of his plays and pieces of music. The model that Senenfelder first designed is known as the pole press. 1805 another type of printing press was introduced, the cylinder pressThe advantage of the cylinder press was that it achieved both greater and more even pressure. It was also considerably easier to handle than the pole press. Senefelder later met publisher Johan André. He recognised the advantage of the new lithographic printing method and commissioned Senenfelder to furnish a lithographic workshop for his music publishing in Offenbach. 

The knowledge and technology spread quickly as André established stone printing presses in several major cities in Europe, including London, Paris and Berlin. The first lithographic press in Stockholm was established in 1818. 

In 1851 the first mechanical lithographic cylindrical Schnellpresse (Rapid press) was producedThey quickly became popular and outrivalled the hand press, which then came into use primarily for artistic prints. 

Here is how it works: 

Preparing the stone 

The basis for a stone print is having a good quality stone. Limestone consists of 98 percent pure calcium. It has been found that this provides the best condition for stone printing. Different porous stones with varying densities are used, depending on what wil be printed. The stone is obtained almost exclusively from Germany, from SolnhofenBavaria (Senenfelders home district). 

The stone is placed on a bed of wooden plinths across a water trough. Here the stone is examined to ensure that it is completely smooth on both sides. Edges are sharpened with a file. The stone is dampened and carefully polished using increasingly fine abrasives artist is satisfied with the surface. 

The artistic work on the stone

The artist uses and oil-based ink and /or crayon to draw reverse directly on the stone. When the image is ready, the stone is etched with a mixture of nitric acid and gum Arabic. The ink and the oily crayon are thereby set on the stone and the free areas are protected from colouring. 

From stone to paper

The stone is then dampened with water and rolled with an even layer of paint. The paint only sticks to the areas drawn with ink and oil-based crayons. In traditional painting methods, one stone is used for each colour. However, it is also possible to use single stone for multicolour printing. 


(Text from Lithographic Museum, Huddinge)