Lithography uses the concept of oil and water repelling each other to ultimately transfer ink onto paper. When invented, the image to be printed was drawn in wax or grease and then treated with acid and water. The first Litho plates were made of limestone but today we use a smooth metal surface, typically made from aluminium. The image that is to be printed is transferred to the plate through either film developing or laser etching. The plate then is attached to a drum that is housed inside the press. Each color that is to be printed has a unique plate that attaches to a unique drum. Ink is applied to the rollers and sticks to the image on the plate. A sheet of paper is fed into the press through these drums and the ink is transferred from the roller to the paper as the paper is “pressed” in between the two cylinders; one cylinder for ink, the other holds the image.
Lithography can use Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) to create any desired color. A four-color build is used to dictate a ratio of CMYK for all images. A press can also use Pantone colors which dictate specific shades of any color, for example: blue, orange, red, yellow, pink, grey, etc.
While Litho Prints are referred to in the Fine Art domain, Lithography can be used for any number of printing projects from posters and packaging to letterheads, envelopes, business cards, wine labels, announcements and invitations. The press operates at much higher speeds than do letterpress, engraving, foil stamping, or embossing presses. A litho press also operates at much faster speed than does a digital press thereby bringing the cost down on items with large quantities.
In the fine stationery world Lithography is knows as flat printing and is often used to create stationery for Law Firms, Banks, Financial Services, Architects, and other professional service areas. Most marketing materials and letterheads and envelopes would be printed via a Litho process and then perhaps enhanced - to add sophistication - with engraving, letterpress, foil stamping or embossing.