See Lithography.


The art of printing in colour from lithographic stones. It is used chiefly for the production of copies of coloured drawings and paintings. The object being to produce as nearly as possible fac-similes in colour, touch, and texture, as well as in drawing and light and shadow, of pictures from the penciles of painters of the highest standing, it has been found necessary to employ a large number of stones, in order to produce the almost infinite varieties of tints which are found united in a single picture—every stone giving a separate impression in its own particular colour or tint.

The mode of procedure is somewhat as follows:

First, an outline of the entire subject is made by means of transfer paper, or otherwise, on a stone which is called the outline or keystone of the work. This stone yields impressions which are transferred as guides to all the other stones.

On a second and third stone, which serves as the basis of the print, the general effect of the drawing is washed in, and from these are printed what may be called the chiaroscuro, in a faint tint of sepia and of a neutral colour of gray,—corresponding, in fact, very nearly to the neutral or dead colouring of a water-colour drawing in the method adopted by the early water-colour painters.

The stones which follow are each charged with a particular colour or tint, and each leaves its impression on only a particular portion of the print,—one stone printing only the parts which are intended to be yellow or a modification of yellow, another red, another blue, and so on.

Other stones charged in parts with grays or secondary colours serve to blend and harmonise the crude colours; others follow which modify these; and, finally, one gives the sharp dark touches, and is usually followed by another which supplies a sort of glaze or finishing wash, and subdues and harmonises the whole.

Of course, we have merely indicated the general method. It will be understood that the sequence of the colours in the printing, the special quality and strength to be given to each particular print, the effect to be produced by their superposition, and many other particulars, have all to be taken into account in planning the arrangement of the colours on the stones;—since a sequence in some respects different and an entirely different modification of colours, have to be employed for the works of most artists: and it happens that much of the colour on each of the earlier stones is covered by that of succeeding stones, and that thus only can the broken tints of the original be imitated. It is, in fact, only by watching the progress of a print through all its stages that any clear idea can be obtained of the beauty and accuracy of the whole process, of the prevision that must be exercised, and of the skill, care, and taste required at every step to carry it to a successful termination.

For some of the more elaborate prints, from thirty to forty stones have been required to produce a finished print. And, in order to produce this print, it must be borne in mind that each sheet of paper has to be passed as many times through the press as there are stones, since each stone imprints upon it only its own particular section of the work. Of course, in proportion to the increase in the number of the stones does the difficulty increase of making the work upon each fall exactly upon its proper place in the general design; for, if any one were misplaced only the fiftieth of an inch, the drawing and colour of the whole would be disturbed. Hence it is found necessary to arrange the register, or adjustment of the stones, with the utmost care and precision, and to exercise the most careful supervision in the printing (which is generally a hand process), since the sheet of paper expands considerably in passing through the press, and has to be dried and re-damped before it can be passed through again. But practically this is all accomplished with seeming ease, and a large and most complex subject will be found, when the last stage has been reached, to bear the most minute scrutiny; and the result, even when the copy is placed alongside the original, with surprise and delight equally those who have followed the work through its several steps, and those who may only examine the completed work.

« Back

Go behind the scenes and see how this project was made.

Read the blog post