The following descriptions of types of lithographs and other
important terms will help you better understand what you're
Original stone lithographs
Hand drawn by the artist on limestone or marble. Each stone is
used to print one color. (The best stones, which are Bavarian
limestone, are grey in color and have a clear complexion free
of fossils and other flaws. These stones are becoming increasingly
rare.) After the edition (the number of impressions made) is
hand-printed, each impression is signed and numbered by the
artist, and the mark, or chop, of the printer is embossed on
each print. Imperfect impressions are destroyed, the stones
and plates are effaced, and each edition is carefully documented.
This is the oldest lithographic technique, and still the best.
Original plate lithographs
Hand drawn by the artist on aluminum plates. Plates are cheaper
than stones, readily available and easier to transport. These
factors make plate lithography a popular alternative to stone
lithography for the creation of original prints.
Mylar plate lithographs
The artist draws on a mylar sheet. The information is transferred
to a photosensitive lithographic plate. The plate is printed
in a manner similar to original plate lithography.
The artist produces an original artwork in any medium. The original
artwork is photographed. A color separation is produced from
the photograph. The information from the color separation is
transferred to photosensitive lithographic plates. Each plate
is printed individually. Reproduction prints are usually called posters.
Any lithograph mechanically printed using an offset press. With
an offset press, the ink from the plate is transferred to a
rubber blanket, and from that blanket onto paper. However,
with a direct or hand press, the ink is transferred directly
from the plate or stone onto the paper.
There will never be more prints produced than is signified on
Prints will be produced as long as there are people to buy them.
A document which describes how a print was created, which lithographic
processes were used, who drew the plates, where and when the
print was made, and how many prints are in the edition. If
one is not sure of the print's history, the documentation should
Was the artist directly involved in production of the print
(and to what degree), or was the artist's original work reproduced
Was the intent to use lithography to create an original work
of art, or was the intent to reproduce an existing image?
Were the plates drawn by the artist who signed the piece
or by a craftsman following the artist's instructions? An original
print may be created in this manner, but whose signature belongs
How large is the edition and is it thoroughly documented?
Beautiful reproductions are available. It should
be remembered however, that the more directly involved the artist
is, the more valuable the piece. It's up to you to ask
these questions and to determine if the origins of the piece
merit the price.
Excellent resource books on lithography are The
Art of the Print, Fritz Eichenberg and The Tamarind
Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques, Garo Z. Antreasian
and Clinton Adams. Both books are published by Harry N. Abrams,
Inc, New York.