Planographic printing/lithography

Stones ranging in size from 13 × 16 cm to 43 × 62 cm are available for creative exploration of lithography. Preparatory grinding must be done manually, printing is done on a Sutter reamer press with a carriage size of 83 × 108 cm. The history of this printing technique, offset printing and its forme production can be explained.

Sutter reamer press from 1839Stone grinding tableLithography stone shelfLithography roller shelf

Erasmus Sutter stone scribe press, stone scribe table, lithography stone shelf and lithography ink roller shelf Photos: E. Hartwig

Lithography (lithography)

Lithography (Greek: lithos = “stone” and graphein = “to write” / also lithography) is the basic and most widespread type of flat printing in graphic art. It is a very beautiful and at the same time in its basic features simple technique, which is closest to the drawing on paper and at the same time faithfully captures the character of the artist’s handwriting. Developed in 1798 by Alois Senefelder – he called it “chemical printing” – it achieved great importance in reproduction. Goya, Daumier, Matisse, Picasso, Miró, Chagall, Tàpies and Rauschenberg, to name but a few, created outstanding works with it. And everyone knows the multicolored posters of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Nowadays, all lithographers confirm their charm and vividness. All lithographic stones used worldwide today come from Solnhofen in Bavaria.

Lithography is the origin of the various planographic printing processes (printing and non-printing elements are at the same height). In artists’ prints, “lithography” is not infrequently used as an incorrect term for other flat printing processes, such as algraphy, zincography (on aluminum or zinc plates), granography, collotype, and offset.

The principle of this pressure process is classically based on the opposition of grease and water – grease and water repel each other. The image to be printed is applied with greasy material (here: lithographic ink, chalk) to the prepared image carrier (printing form, printing plate) – in the case of lithographic printing to the lithographic stones – limestone slates from Solnhofen in Lower Bavaria with special density and purity. These formed about 150 million years ago from deposits of countless tiny single-celled organisms with inclusions of fossils in the “primordial sea”.

Chemical preparations (the so-called “etching”) ensure that non-printing areas hold the water (better) after the image is applied to the stone. Immediately before and after each inking, the lithography stone must be moistened with water – it must not “run dry”. This prevents the greasy ink from sticking to the entire stone during inking.

Printing with grease and water is just as true for classic offset printing, the most widely used printing process today. Here, however, thin metal sheets with a light-sensitive layer are used as image carriers. The printed image is exposed, developed and from this the ink is first transferred to a rubber blanket and then from this to the substrate (material, most commonly used: paper) (indirect printing).

Lithographic techniques include chalk, pen and brush drawing, wash, splash, mezzotint, chipping, overprinting (duplex) and overprinting (autograph), detachment (anastatic printing), material impression, frottage, tanage, positive-negative technique, stone engraving and etching, chromolithography and photolithography, soap technique, iridescence and gradient printing, and (to a certain extent) combination printing (with other printing processes).

1-The dressing of the stones

The process of grinding is to make the stone flat, remove the old drawing visually as well as chemically and prepare it for a new drawing. The abrasive used is corundum sand of grit sizes 80 (coarse) through 120-180 (medium) up to 240 (fine). To deacidify (remove chemical structure of old drawing/grease particles) between the 1. and 2. coarse quenching grinding we use 15% acetic acid on the dry stone, then the stone must be rinsed well again! We check the flatness of the stone with a steel ruler and round the edges with a fine file. Now follows medium grinding, rinsing, fine grinding and rinsing of the stone again.

Litho stone grinding movements-1Litho stone grinding movements-2Correction litho stone grindingLithography stone grinding movements as well as correction grinding.

To make a chalk drawing, the stone must be grained. For this we use corundum (medium) and a little less water than for grinding. For an overprint, the stone should be matted (fine grit/more water) or pumiced (pumice stone); for a pen drawing, matted or polished (grinding with 240-grit or finer sand or polishing stone); and for an engraving, polished. This last step should take place just before marking, because the stone must be “fresh” – otherwise it will be less receptive to fat due to the action of oxygen.


on the neutral (equally grease- and water-absorbent), dry (wind vane!) stone:

– Drawing with lithographic crayons and/or

– Working with lithographic ink: pen and brush drawing, wash technique, spray technique

sideways drawing on the stone with lithography crayons and / or ink, photo: M. StrümpelM. Brush dries the stone with the wind vaneventually pre-etch stone edges even distribution of the rubber etching on the stone

  1. sideways drawing on the stone with lithography crayons and / or ink, 2. Drying the stone with the wind vane, 3. Pre-etch stone edges if necessary, 4. Even distribution of the rubber sets on the stone.

3-Preparation – Etching

(takes time – always observe the effect!)

– 1. with pure gum arabic approx. 12 to 24 hours

Wash off rubber, let stone dry, possibly dry with wind vane

– 2. with etching gum (2 to 5% nitric acid additive)

Apply evenly by hand or with a sponge, linen cloth or brush, wash off after exposure (gum if necessary). Possibly let rest a little, then soak and wash out with turpentine, clean with water (for large or “complicated” surfaces possibly rub with wash-out tincture). Dampen with water using a sponge, roll with feather color, dry (if necessary with wind vane!), talc and

– 3. Carry out second etching with etching gum (2 to 5% nitric acid additive) (allow to dry in if necessary).

Wash out drawing with turpentine, photo: M. StrümpelWash out drawing with turpentine, photo: M. StrümpelClean with water, photo: M. StrümpelRoll with feather color, photo: M. StrümpelDry with wind vaneTalkumierenRemove talc2. Etching with etching rubber

  1. and 6. wash out the drawing with turpentine, 7. Clean with water, 8. Roll with feather color, 9. Dry with wind vane, 10. talc, 11. remove talc, 12. second etching with etching rubber

4-Preparing the press

In order to achieve a successful printing run without broken bricks or “folded” or “skewed” printing paper, the brick is “locked” on the printing carriage with timbers, the printing paper unit is set up, the reamer is installed according to brick size and preset to height in the printing position and greased. The pressboard must also be greased. Now the inking of the wet stone begins (see Printing). Since the printed image does not yet have the optimum color guidance for the print run during this process (approx. 3 × rolling in) and the setting of the press requires a little time, appropriate paper is used for the press proof. Place this on the stone, above it the intermediate layer and the rubbing board. Move the print carriage forward until the reamer is just above/on top of the stone – mark this “print start”. Lower and raise the reamer by means of the “Bengel” – adjust the pressure force (approx. 350-400 bar 35,000,000 Pascal) by handwheel according to experience and with feeling. Now continue to move the carriage quickly with the grater in the pressure position until the grater is still just on/above the stone, lift the grater and mark this “end of pressure”.

CAUTION: Never release the crank while the reamer is at “pressure start” or “pressure end”!

Now carefully peel off the printed paper with both hands, moistening the stone with the “third” hand. If this proof does not show any serious defects, printing can be started.


Using a “wet” sponge, dampen the stone with water. Dampen the paper with the sponge provided, first the reverse side, then the print side. Now dampen the stone again with a “wet” sponge and minimize surface moisture with a second, minimally damp sponge. Color the stone by hand roller, dampen again. If necessary, clean the surface of the stone from paint in areas that are not to be printed, then dampen. Repeat process until the image has the amount of ink required for printing. Place the dampened, surface-dry paper, intermediate layer and printing pen board on top, move the carriage under the vibrator until printing begins, press the vibrator down using the hand lever (Bengel), continue moving the carriage until printing ends, lift the vibrator, move the carriage back to the starting position and remove the vibrator board/intermediate layer. Now carefully remove the printed paper with both hands, dampening the stone with the “third” hand, and then place the printed paper on/in the cardboard dryer. Here it can be “tested and evaluated” for its quality now and should dry between the moisture-absorbing boards for about 3-4 days.

Cut through litho hand press13. Dampening the stone with “wiping” water, photo: M. Strümpel14. Inking roller with ink reservoir and inking roller on roller stand, photo: M. StrümpelInking roller, photo: M. Strümpel… thus inking the stone print imageDampening and checking ink acceptance… inking againand again dampening the stone and checking ink acceptanceDampening the printing paper with a spongePlacing the printing paperIntermediate layer and friction boardPush the printing carriage forward until printing begins, photo: M. Strümpel. Strümpelusing Bengel to set friction pressure and run through to end of printingusing Bengel to end friction pressureMove printing carriage backTake off friction board and intermediate layerWith both hands, remove paperWet stone, photo: M. StrümpelGraphics on dry boards, check quality, photo: M. Strümpel

Fig.: Section through manual litho press, 13. dampening the stone with “wiping” water, 14. roller block with ink reservoir and inking roller on roller stand, 15. inking roller, 16. … inking the stone print image with it, 17. dampening and checking ink acceptance, 18. … renewed inking, 19. and again dampening the stone and checking ink acceptance, 20. dampening the printing paper with sponge, 21. Place printing paper, 22. place intermediate layer and friction board, 23. move printing carriage forward to start of printing, 24. set friction printing with Bengel and move through to end of printing, 25. end friction printing with Bengel, 26. move printing carriage back, 27. remove friction board and intermediate layer, 28. remove paper with both hands, 29. dampen stone, 30. graphics on dry boards, check quality

6-Correction options

If necessary, roll the stone, dry, talc and correct by scraping (+ etching 5%) or subsequently remove the separating layer briefly (approx. 1 min) with vinegar (5%). Then rinse and dry again. Now the drawing can be completed or corrected by scraping away (+ etching 5%). Now the preparation procedure follows again (possibly without 1. with pure gum arabic).

7-The erasing of the “drawing” on the stones

The residual ink is best removed immediately after printing. It is then washed/rubbed off the water-wet stone with turpentine. Keep wet and rinse with water! The following process of grinding (two stones with the drawing side against each other) should make the stones even again, remove the old drawing optically as well as chemically and already prepare for a new drawing. Corundum sand of grit size 80 (coarse) is used as the abrasive. To deacidify (remove chemical structure of old drawing/grease particles) between the 1. and 2. coarse erase grinding we use 15% acetic acid on the dry stone, then the stone must be rinsed well again! We check the flatness of the stone with a steel ruler and round the edges with a fine file. If the stone surface is concave or convex due to incorrect grinding or possibly too much etching, the higher areas must be removed/leveled by “corrective or straight grinding”. Now the stones can be prepared again for the new drawing via medium and fine grinding … Or they are marked and put on the stone shelf and “wait” there for their next use – for us.

Remove residual color with turpentine, photo: M. StrümpelScatter corundum sand on stone grinding tableClear by grinding stone against stone, photo: M. StrümpelAfter deacidification, grind stone again, photo: M. Strümpel

Fig: Remove residual paint with turpentine, 32. Spread corundum sand on stone grinding table, 33. erase by grinding stone-against-stone, 33. grind stone again after deacidification

Signing prints according to the “rules” of Lothar Lang

On the left under the print, impressions before the edition are marked with Roman numerals, possibly also as a proof = E.E., or as a voucher print for the artist (number = 10% of the edition size) = e.a./E.A. = Épreuves d’artiste = A.P., or outside the sale = h.c. = hors commerce. The edition, if the printing sequence is known in this sequence, is labeled as a fractional number with Latin numerals, in the numerator the consecutive number and in the denominator the edition size. If the printing sequence is unknown, always 1 run height.

On the right is the signature and the date of creation, in the middle a possible title and/or cycle. It is sometimes noted here the technique.