What Is The Difference Between A Lithograph And A Print?

Modern Digital Printer

What is a lithograph? This frequently asked question can be answered with it’s basically a type of print process. It originates from the Greek of lithos meaning stones, and graphien meaning to write. Lithograph meaning is a printmaking process done by stone and metal. Lithography is unique as it closely resembles a painting.

What is print? Print meaning is a work of graphic art which has been produced by a process which allows multiplication – normally on paper – done by the printing machine. The print is simply a drawing which can be copied many times.

What is the difference between a lithograph and a print? To find out more read on…

A little history

The original method of lithography was used to commercially print artwork in around 1796 when a German playwright Alois Senefelder found he could duplicate scripts by writing them in a greasy crayon on slabs of limestone, and then printing them with rolled-on ink.

Use of stones was replaced by the end of the 19th century with metal plates made of zinc, and then copper and aluminium plates.

Paper printing goes all the way back to 220 AD by Chinese printers, with a movable type of printing discovered by Bi Sheng around 1040 AD. Johannes Gutenberg discovered the printing press in the 15th century.

Offset printing became a widely used technique in the 1870s with screenprinting having its origins in the early 1900s. Thermal, laser, and inkjet printers followed with digital printing emerging in 1993.

The difference between lithograph and print

Look at a comparison of lithograph vs print for a more detailed explanation:

Lithograph data

  • A lithograph is a copy of artwork made using stone or metal plates
  • On an original stone, lithography ink will be slightly raised on the surface
  • Lithography is based on the principle that oil and water don’t mix
  • A lithograph will show signs of irregularities in the dot pattern with offset lithography leaving a dotted circular pattern in rows
  • Original lithographs will have a signature on the reverse
  • When printing plates used in offset lithography aren’t properly maintained discolouration can occur

Printing particulars

  • A print is any pictorial image where multiple copies exist
  • Prints are typically done using mechanical devices where images are produced by putting various types of inks, plates, and blocks and applying pressure – these offsets the image onto a roller and then onto the paper
  • A print will have no irregularities in the dot pattern
  • Prints and reproductions have no signature
  • Print creation involves the transfer of ink from one surface to another

Creating a lithograph

The artist will make the lithograph by drawing an image directly onto the printing element using litho crayons or greasy pencils specifically designed for the work. The surface is then treated with a chemical etch – bonding the materials to the surface.

During the process, blank areas attract moisture and repel the ink whilst the drawn-on areas hold the ink. Water is then wiped across the unpainted areas to prevent smearing. After the image is inked the paper is laid over the stone or appropriate plate and covered with a layer of packing to equalise the pressure. Then the materials pass through the scraper bar of the litho press. As the backing is removed and the paper pulled off the paper retains the crayoned drawing, creating a perfect replica.

Types of lithographs

In today’s marketplace, the types of lithographs you’re most likely to see are:

Original stone – also known as hand-pulled – these traditional lithographs are hand-drawn on limestone or marble. Multiple stones are required for more colours. The artist will sign and number each hand-printed edition.

Original plate – the hand-drawn image is reproduced on original plates making them a cost-effective alternative

Lithograph reproductions – a photo of the original piece will be taken followed by a colour separation process and a transfer to photosensitive lithographic plates

Mylar plate – the mylar sheet on which the artist draws is similar to a polyester film, then the image is transferred onto a photosensitive lithographic plate and printed