Introduction to Lithography


Lithography is a planographic printing process that makes use of the immiscibility of grease and water (the principle that oil and water do not mix). In the lithographic process, ink applied to a grease-treated image on the flat printing surface, done from a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a grained surface. (Attwood, 2003.) Due to the need for time management, our group did both processes simultaneously. I was able to grasp the basic non-image (blank) areas, would hold moisture and will repel the lithographic oil-based ink were the blacked areas the ink would be accepted — inking of one colour at that time.

Other parts of the process, I find complex and am struggling to understand. In the off-set process, my image moves on to the aluminium printing plates with the use of phytochemical transferences, much like the screenprinting process I’ve used in the past. With positive plate-making, a positive film is “the original” meaning the non-translucent, blackened sections of the film correspond to the ink-accepting surface elements on the plate.

Phil explained at this point if the images were transferred directly to paper from the plate, it would create a mirror-type image, but also, the paper would become too wet. Instead, the plate rolls against a cylinder covered with a rubber blanket, which squeezes away the water, picks up the ink and transfers it to the paper with uniform pressure. The blanket cylinder passes over the paper counter-pressure, and the image transferred to the paper. “Because the image is first transferred, or offset to the rubber blanket cylinder, this reproduction method is known as offset lithography” (Attwood, 2003)

The stone lithography process is a more lengthy technique and has taken me longer to understand. The process uses gum arabic. The purpose of the gum is to chemically separate the image and the non-image areas so that the greasy image areas become water repellent; which I found out is called ‘hydrophobic’ and the non-image areas become water receptive or ‘hydrophilic’, (Attwood, 2003) so that when printed, only the image areas receive the ink print. Phil explained this chemical change happens only in the very top layer of the stone, creating the ‘gum adsorb layer’ which is less than 1mm thick.

He further explained that Nitric acid is sometimes added to the gum to stop the grease in the stone from spreading. Nitric used in the gum its referred to as an ‘etch.’

It is usually necessary to ‘etch’ the stone twice. The first etch Phil applied to the stone with a clean sponge. Once Phil covered the whole stone was with gum, a clean sponge and then a clean rag is used to buff the gum down to a thin, even layer. Heat is then applied to dry the gum. The stone should then be covered and, left (overnight if possible) to allow time for the gum to chemically change the stone and establish the image within the stone. We didn’t have that time, so we used our lunch hour as the etch time.

Next, we were shown how to removes the drawing materials from the stone and replaces it with non-drying black ink.

For me, this was the most confusing part. I went to the internet to get a better understanding, [].  A wet rag is used to remove the gum arabic from the first etch. A damp cloth is wiped over the stone to remove the excess water. The stone is then dried and dusted with fine chalk before a second gum arabic etch is applied. The gum etches, then buffed down to a thin layer and dried, and the stone should be left to rest for at least an hour before proofing.

The stone is washed out – as before. (The stone is gummed and dried, then washed, and the gum washed off.) (Attwood,2003)

At this moment we began to need two people to get a good print. While the stone is damp, the greasy printing ink is rolled on using either a leather roller (we used a Non-drying black ink.) until the image in the stone is clearly visible, We found a good technique was to re-damping the stone between rolls to keep the surface from drying out, thus needing two of us to work together.

The first few proofs were taken onto newsprint, and after that, damp paper is usually used to ensure the maximum amount of detail is picked up from the stone. The paper is laid onto the stone, and a few sheets of newsprint packing laid on top. The stone and paper are then rolled through the direct transfer press, and the paper is then pulled back from the stone to reveal the printed image.

Despite the long involved process of stone lithography, the image quality is awesome compared to the offset lithography. Every mark and wash I made transferred. However, its deeply involved process has made me reluctant to attempt it again on my own.

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Research Source:

Attwood, M. (2003). Lithography. [online] The Artists’ Press. Available at: [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019].

Introduction to Letterpress

Wednesday 2nd October: Introduction to Letterpress

Letterpress is a direct relief print method, meaning that a design is printed by transferring ink from plate to paper.
The group were each given a verse from the Lewis Carroll poem; Jabberwocky. Keen Children’s Literature readers, both Stephine and I were aware of the poem and its author, so chose to work together on the task.
“Jabberwocky” is a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll about the killing of a creature named “the Jabberwock”. Included in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The book tells of Alice’s adventures within the back-to-front world of Looking-Glass Land.


In The Life of Lewis Carroll (1932), an early Carroll biographer, Langford Reed, stated: “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) was an individual who, through his rare and diversified literary gifts and power of communication, left an indelible mark upon the imaginations of children and adults both during his generation and in generations to come.”

With the original of the poem being Victorian and Reed’s use of the words “indelible mark” in mind the tactile quality of letterpress seemed very appropriate. We didn’t stop there, having access to more than 50 fonts at UWE’s proofing press room Stephanie and I came up with the idea of mixing the fonts to emphasise the disjointed imagery in the poem. Below you can see our result in the first stanza compared to the uniform font in the stanza below it.


Executing this effect took a lot more thinking than originally expected, but also lead to more ideas forming. Firstly, we discovered “typesetter”, setting letter by letter and line by line had to be done upside-down to make sure the type was backwards in a composing stick, a mechanism which holds several lines, so the print is correctly orientated on the paper when transferred. As a result, we had to ensure we chose font types of the same size to sit firmly in the composing stick. We choose 24pt, which was slightly less than the 30pt originally recommended by our technician to give us more space to manipulate on the final image. We generated our font choice at random, again to emphasis the impression of chaos and unconformities of Wonderland. Selecting by blindly picking from three fonts meant we had to record a number to each letter and character, mapping our result to return the fonts correctly at the end. Apart from the start of each line, capitalisation we also selected at random by adding a dot to a number in our blind selection. We considered the use of irregular spacing, but this caused too much white space and overly disrupted the readability of the stanza creating a river of white in the text, a serious consideration that has to be thought over in any letterpress task. Instead, the decision to add additional spacing before the word “shun” as if shunned away, worked well.

However, we also reflected that the character of Alice at this point in the novel is in the “back-to-front world” sparking the idea to purposely reverse and capitalise the “C” in “catch” to look like the letter is trying to catch the “cat” part of its full form, and the misspelling of “claws” with a “K” as this letter is a sharper form than a “c” indicating sharp, dangerous claws of the Jabberwock.



The type of depth is dependent on the paper. Typically Letterpress papers are thick and soft to allow the type to create a deep impression, which gives tangible evidence of the printing process.
Maximal control over the quality of the print is apeling, many of our group seemed to like letterpress for that. I found the method of compositor gradually to build out the text of an individual page letter by letter difficult and brian taxing. The risk of “furniture” popping out violently from the press scared me in honesty. What I did love was the colours are true and vibrant, and the lines are sharp. Digital printing is done by accumulating groups of small dots to produce the image. While the resolution of the dots is usually small enough that the resulting print looks “close enough,” we can see the difference, especially when viewed side by side.
Dark ink on a light paper gives the best image. Inks are translucent, and the paper colour will show through. For light colours on dark paper, foil stamping or engraving should be used instead of Letterpress. Building up the colour density of a specific colour can be achieved with Letterpress pieces run through the press two times using the same colour, but again this is a risk on registration moving. However, the risk is the lowest in all our manual print techniques thanks to the methods and mechanisms involved.

The chances of using Letterpress outside of UWE is debatable. Presses are being discarded by commercial print shops and becoming affordable and available to artisans throughout the country. There is currently a viable sales market for this form of print.
“Letterpress publishing has recently undergone a revival in the USA, Canada, and the UK, under the general banner of the ‘Small Press Movement’. Renewed interest in letterpress was fueled by Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, which began using pictures of letterpress invitations in the 1990s.” (Pertwee, 2019)
I do think I will be using this form as publishing and illustration are hand-in-hand. Learning this process has helped me think more about page layout and text as a part of the illustration itself. More investigation on my part is needed.
I do understand this process a lot more now having used it form myself, and I better appreciate the use/effectiveness of the text.

We also had a chance to use the Albion press, which is an early iron hand printing press, designed and manufactured in London by Richard Whittaker Cope around 1820. It works by a simple toggle action. Originally used for commercial book-printing until the middle of the nineteenth century, now it is mostly artisans who use them for proofing, jobbing work and by private presses for art projects.
I thought it might be fun to use the woodblock letters to help me start a poster image for the 1976 science fiction film Logan’s Run. The showdown scene between Logan 5 and Francis 7 always reminded me of 19th Century American Western genre, so, I chose the Slab Serifs font mixed with the smaller LHF Becker font to reflect that drama visually. I plan to use the large “0” to represent the tunnels used to flee the city in the film. Logan’s Run explores utopian and dystopian themes. The 1970s were dubbed the “Me Decade” by writer Tom Wolfe. An important concept expressed in the film is “the dangers of hedonism” (Wolfe,1976), meaning youth worship. Sexual freedom and seeking pleasure or luxury at whatever cost of the 1970s has also reflected in the current social demographic term “Millennials”. I’m interested in exploring this link and what effect hedonism has on a cohort of people.