THE HISTORY OF mistakes on the genuine copper plates. For
this, he found a mixture of wax, soap, lamp-
LITHOGRAPHY black, and rainwater were satisfactory.
The two materials, limestone and the “cor-
Alois Senefelder invented lithography in rection fluid” became the primary ingredients
1798. From its modest beginnings, it has of lithography.
become one of the largest industries in the By experimenting, Senefelder found that an
United States—a part of the Printing Industry, image drawn onto the limestone with his cor-
which is the third largest manufacturing rection fluid would repel water, while the sur-
industry in the U.S. face of the stone itself would hold it. He found
For many years, indeed over a century and he could first wet the entire stone then apply
a half, lithography was a very small segment ink, with a roller, to the entire stone to replen-
of the printing industry, used mainly by artists ish the ink on the image. The stone, which
to produce prints. However, during the late held water, repelled the greasy ink; the “cor-
1800’s and throughout the twentieth century, rection fluid,” which is greasy and thus repels
great advancements in technology made water, accepted additional ink. The chemical
lithography into the most popular form of process is known as the Principle of Litho-
printing in the United States. graphy.
The history of lithography occurred in four Because lithography is based on a chemical
major steps: 1) The invention and early use of principle, Senefelder preferred to call the
the process; 2) The introduction of photogra- process chemical printing.
phy to the process; 3) The addition of the off- From the invention of lithography on, the
set press to the process; 4) The revolution of entire life of Senefelder was devoted to the
the lithographic plate. lithographic process. In 1817, he designed a
press that featured automatic dampening and
THE INVENTION OF inking of the plate. He was well recognized by
LITHOGRAPHY his contemporaries, received many prizes and
medals, and died very comfortably as the
Alois Senefelder was the son of a German Bavarian Royal Inspector of Lithography.
actor. During his early life, he was compelled Lithography was a very easy medium for
by his father to study law, which he disliked. the artist. He simply drew one picture on the
He had a love for the theatre, but, alas, he stone which was then used to reproduce many
found he had little talent as an actor. He did, copies of the identical image on paper.
however, become very successful at writing Because of this, the process became popular
plays. Several of his works were published; throughout the world, including the United
however, the profits were very slim and this States.
prompted Senefelder to seek a less costly
method of reproducing copies of his plays.
In an attempt to reduce his publications
costs, he tried to produce his own copperplate
engravings. Making reverse images in copper
was a very difficult process, a process that
required much time and practice to master.
Thus, Senefelder decided to practice his
engraving on slabs of Bavarian limestone
instead of the costly copper.
In the mean time, Senefelder needed a liq-
uid that could be used to correct his frequent
The first lithograph appeared in the United the paper. Because of the abrasive action
States in 1819. The most popular lithographic caused by the rubbing together of plate and
product were prints depicting the contempo- paper, the image on the plate soon wore off.
rary scene. Currier and Ives are the best- Because of this, the direct rotary presses never
known American lithographic printmakers of became very popular.
the day, but there were a host of others besides
them. THE INTRODUCTION OF
Demand for lithographic prints and other PHOTOGRAPHY
products continued to grow, and by 1871,
“there were at least 450 hand operated and The making of lithographic plates was a
about 30 steam presses in the United States. long, tedious task requiring much hand labor.
TRANSFER PROCESS: In another of A method of making plates easier and quicker
Senefelder’s experiments, he found an addi- was needed. The transfer process, previously
tional attribute of lithography: a drawing or described, had many technical difficulties,
writing done in special ink on special paper and began to lose popularity. Lithography
could be transferred from the paper to the lith- found a great partner in photography to pro-
ographic stone where it became the printing duce printing plates. Thus, the marriage of
image. This allowed the artist to draw the lithography and photography, PHOTOLITH-
original reading right instead of backwards, OGRAPHY, took place.
which was necessary when drawing directly Joseph Niepce, a French scientist, produced
onto the stone. The same process could used the world first photograph in 1826. This
to transfer an image printed by other printing development, and those that followed, made
processes onto the stone. This allowed several possible the halftone process: i.e. the act of
identical images to placed on the same stone, breaking down an original photograph into
thus increasing productivity. It also helped dots and varying sizes suitable for press
increase the popularity of lithography as a reproduction.
copying process because previously printed Henry Talbot, of England, used the first
images could be transferred to the stone to be halftone screen for the reproduction of photo-
reproduced. graphs about 1852. About 33 years later,
DIRECT ROTARY PRESSES: In the Frederick Ives, an American, designed and
beginning of the twentieth century, the posi- made the first PRACTICAL halftone screen
tion of lithography weakened within the print- that consisted of two exposed glass negatives
ing industry due to great strides in the effi- with lines scribed equidistant on each of them.
ciency of letterpress machines. Lithography They were cemented together so that the lines
was a slow process due to the flat bed design would cross at right angles. (Max Levy, of
of its presses. What was needed was a rotary Philadelphia, succeeded in 1890 in develop-
method. But, the rotary method required a ing a precision manufacturing process for
plate that could be bent around a cylinder. these screens.) An original photograph would
Obviously, litho stones could not be bent be rephotographed while the halftone screen
around a cylinder! Senefelder had foreseen was placed in front of the new film. The
the use of chemically treated metals as the squares created by the crossing of lines on the
base material for lithography. By experimen- glass plates would focus the light coming
tation in the late nineteenth century, it was from the original photograph into dots. The
found that zinc and aluminum could be effec- lighter areas of the original, reflecting more
tively used as lithographic plates, thus allow- light to the film, would be represented by
ing the use of rotary presses. large dots; the darker areas of the original
The first rotary lithographic presses printed reflected less light, resulting in smaller dots.
directly from the metal plate to the surface of Thus, a halftone negative was produced. The
halftone process made possible the quality produced pictures in magenta, cyan, and yel-
reproduction of original photographs without low. He also experimented, in 1870, with
the need to engrave or draw them onto the process color lithography using three colors of
printing plate. Soon after the invention, major ink instead of three continuous tone photo-
newspapers began using more and more illus- graphically-produced pictures. Rather, du
trations in their article, although the average Hauron used three overlapping halftone
“man on the street” never knew what was hap- images, one each in magenta, cyan, and yel-
pening. low. He also emphasized the importance of
PHOTOLITHOGRAPHY: is the act of adjusting exposure time for each image so that
making a lithographic printing plate by photo- no excess of any color would appear.
graphic means. A French chemist, Alphonse Although halftone photography, photoli-
Louis Poitevin, invented it in August 1855. thography, and process color printing were
Poitevin coated the stone (grained for very important steps in the history of lithogra-
halftone picture) with a solution of potassi- phy, they were, at that time, unable to be put
um bichromate and albumin, equalizing the
coating with a towel. Dried, exposed under
to much practical use due to the limitation of
a negative, washed with water, rolled up the lithographic press. Both the flat bed litho
with greasy ink which only adhered to the stone press and the rotary direct press had to
parts which had become insoluble by expo- many limitations, so lithography lay dormant
sure to light, but did not adhere to the moist waiting for new impetus
parts. The stone was then etched and print-
ed by the usual lithographic manner.
THE ADDITION OF THE
It became clear that it was impractical to OFFSET PRESS
coat the stone directly and expose it to light.
As a result, experiments were conducted into The image area on a photolithographic
the use of the transfer process, previously plate is delicate. For this reason, the abrasive
described, to transfer a photolithographic action cause by direct contact with the paper
image from a support base to the stone. Other surface on flat bed or direct rotary presses
experiments were carried out to transfer the caused the image to quickly wear away from
photolithographic images to a metal (zinc) the plate. The offset press removes t h e direct
plate. These processes worked, but had the contract between plate and paper by the addi-
inherent problems of any transfer process. tion of a rubber blanket surface. The plate
PROCESS COLOR PRINTING refers to image is transferred to the rubber blanket
the full color reproduction of a color original which, in turn, transfers the image to the paper
using only three color of ink: yellow, magen- or other substrate. Therefore, the offset is a
ta, and cyan. James Le Blon first conceived it method of “indirect” printing. The press
in the late 1600’s. He based his work on design is shown below.
Newton’s theory of color, made his first color
separation by eye, and printed it by engraving
process. The prints were beautiful, but the
process failed to become popular
Three-color printing, in the modern sense,
is closely related to the development of color
Probably the most important man in the his-
tory of process color printing is Louis Ducos
du Hauron. He outlined, in 1868, the idea of
reproducing objects in their natural colors by
the superimposition of three photographically
A model of a three-cylinder offset-lithographic press.
The lithographic offset press had its origin top of the machine, where both ink and water
in England about 1875. The press was a litho- rollers could touch the plate. Directly below
graphic stone flat bed press designed for metal the plate cylinder, and in contact with it, was
decorating (printing on metal). An intermedi- the blanket cylinder around which a blanket
ate cylinder, covered with a specially treated wrapped was wrapped. Finally, the bottom
cardboard, transferred the printed image from cylinder was the impression cylinder that gave
the litho stone to the sheet metal. About five pressure to the paper passing between it and
years later, the cardboard covering was the blanket in order to transfer the image to
changed to rubber. the sheet. At this point, the machine was still
Credit for the first use of the offset process hand fed. But, in a few years, automatic feed-
in the printing of paper goes to Ira Rubel, a ers would be added to the machine resulting in
paper manufacturer from Nutley, New Jersey. presses very similar to the ones now in use.
He produced sulphite bond, then lithographi- The offset lithographic press had six systems:
cally converted it into bank deposit slips. It is feeder, feed board/register, dampening, ink-
generally agreed that Mr. Rubel discovered ing, printing, and delivery.
the use of the offset press for paper printing in The success of the offset press was a strong
about 1904 or 1905. stimulus for other manufacturers to enter the
The press Mr. Rubel used was a flat bed field. Many adaptations of the process
stone machine. The particular machine he had appeared including perfecting (prints on both
was equipped with a rubber covered impres- sides of the sheet at once) and web fed (feeds
sion cylinder to help in the transferring of the from rolls rather than sheets of paper) designs.
images from stone to paper. Whenever the Now, the offset lithographic press is a marvel
feeder (a person, not a machine) missed feed- of efficiency and perfection, utilizing many
ing a sheet while the press was in operation, electronic and computer controls.
the stone printed its image to the rubber cov- Because the offset press removes the direct
ered impression cylinder. The next impression contact between plate and paper, the plate
thus had an image on both sides: direct litho lasts many times longer than on direct litho
on the front as well as an image transferred presses. Also, because the offset press is
from the rubber on the back. Mr. Rubel rotary rather than a flat bed design, production
noticed that the image produced on the back speeds can be greatly improved. For these rea-
of the sheet was much sharper and clearer than sons, the offset press allowed the photograph-
was the direct litho image. This was due to the ic inventions of halftone photography, photo-
fact that the rubber, being soft, was able to lithography. and process color to become very
press the image onto the paper better than the popular within the lithographic field. At the
stone, which was hard. He decided to design a present time, when one thinks of color, he
press which printed every image from the automatically thinks of lithography and offset
plate to the blanket and then to the paper. printing. Thus, its is generally agreed that the
Mr. Rubel and another lithographer, A.B. offset press brought lithography from a rela-
Sherwood, joined forces and produced 12 off- tively unimportant part of commercial print-
set machines. However, Rubel’s death in 1908 ing into the number one spot in the industry
ended his experimentation.
The next major force in the development of THE EVOLUTION OF THE
the offset lithographic press was Charles LITHOGRAPHIC PLATE
Harris of the Harris Automatic Press Com-
pany. He designed an offset press around a One of the most important elements of
rotary letterpress machine. He thus needed a quality lithographic printing is the quality of
metal plate so that it could be bent around a the plate. It, more than anything else, deter-
cylinder. This metal plate was situated at the mines how the image will print as well as the
number of problems to be solved in order to commercial printer in the production of good
maintain good print quality. quality work.
The original litho plates were limestone, as Since the 1950’s, much work has been done
previously discussed. As the industry grew, to improve the pre-sensitized plate. Plates are
two major problems occurred with the stones: now available in which no image developer
1) They were heavy, difficult to store, and need be applied: the entire image is pre-coat-
expensive; 2) They could not be bent around ed and the non-exposed area is removed after
the cylinder of a rotary press. exposure. This type is called subtractive while
Metal plates were introduced to help solve the former type is called additive.
this problem. At first, the image was trans- In the late 1970’s, a further advancement
ferred from a master image to the metal plate. was introduced in plate making. Plates were
Later, Poitevin’s work with sensitizing litho made that required no special developing
stones was applied to metal plates. Bare metal agents after exposure: the unexposed subtrac-
plates were coated with potassium bichromate tive coating was removed with water. This
and albumin, placed in a special whirling product was called the “Aqualith” plate and
machine which rotated the plate at high was also developed by the 3M Company.
speeds to equalize the coating across the In the 1990’s, Toray, a Japanese firm, intro-
entire surface of the plate, exposed to light duced the first effective waterless lithograph-
under a negative, washed with water to ic plate. Instead of the non-image area attract-
remove the unexposed coating, and inked. ing water, the Toray plate’s background area
The ink adhered only to the exposed sections. repels ink while its image area attracts ink.
Every step of the above process was carried The process requires modifications of the off-
on in the lithographer’s own shop. Due to the set press to keep the ink rollers cold.
fact that the process was very complicated and Otherwise, ink will stick to the non-image
that the chemistry of the solutions had to be areas.
just right, there were many problems in the
making of plates. The unexposed plate coating SUMMARY
had little shelf life; therefore, plates could not
be coated in advance. Like any other industry, the lithographic
In the 1940’s work was done by many sci- printing industry has had a history with major
entists to invent a method for pre-coating events, each event interdependent upon the
plates in a factory to assure uniformity and others. The major events in the history of
consistency. Most of these plates were paper lithography included the invention of the
based, and thus, not suitable to long runs. process in 1798; the introduction of photogra-
The first practical pre-coated (or pre sensi- phy to the process in the early and mid 1800’s;
tized) aluminum plate was developed by the the introduction of the offset press in the early
3M company in 1951. The plates had a coat- 1900’s; and the evolution of the lithographic
ing with a longer shelf life, had a uniform sur- plate which had been ongoing since the begin-
face, and were easy to develop. The plate ning of the process but saw its greatest
required four steps: 1) exposure of the pre- improvement in 1951 with the successful
sensitized plate to high intensity blue carbon development of the 3M pre-sensitized plate.
arc light; 2) removal of the unexposed coating The major events listed above have
with Gum Arabic; 3) application of a special increased the popularity of the lithographic
image developer; and 4) a reapplication of process. This is evidenced by the increase in
Gum Arabic to act as a protective layer. The the number of lithographic printing firms
process was immediately approved by lithog- (3000% increase from 1900 to 1970).
raphers and removed the worst obstacle of the