Lithography and Photography

Looking at Lithography, by the middle of the 19th century, wood engraving had become an industry and engravers such as Joseph Swain and the Dalziel brothers were as famous as the illustrators whose work they interpreted.

Magazines such as the Illustrated London News used a system of separating large blocks into more manageable pieces, sending them out to a team of engravers then reassembling them. Journalistic accuracy came second to visual impact. Often the same blocks used over again.

There was a process that could easily be combined and pictures on the same page and it had been around since the end of the 18th century.

It was lithography. Invented in Prague by Alois Senefelder around 1796. Neither a relief not an intaglio process, it is better described as a planographic process. It is based on the principle that oil and water do not mix and in effect everything happens on a flat surface.

Ironically, it was the versatility of the process that prevented it from being taken up more universally. Almost any greasy mark made on the lithographic stone from the end of the 19th century on a prepared metal plate, will print. Illustrators could at last work directly and spontaneously. By the end of the 19th century, greeting cards, postcards, maps and sheet music and posters were all being mass produced by lithography.

Offset lithography is in which the image is transfered from one stone or plate to a rubber roller and then to substrate (entered the scene surreptitiously). The process was first used in about 1875 for printing ornamental decorations onto tinplate for applications in packaging.

Type produced by letterpress could be transferred onto the stone using special transfer paper but thus was not a totally satisfactory process. One more ingredient was necessary before lithography could take over from letterpress as the most versatile of all printing processes – the invention of photography in the late 1830’s.

Photography whether analog or digital is the basis for every print production process in use today. Early photographers were eager to reproduce their work in large quantities.

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