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What Is a Lithograph?

Only a handful of people could possibly own an original Van Gogh or Matisse, but others can still enjoy the beauty of their work through something called a lithograph.

Lithographs are actually copies of original works, but unlike fakes, they are authorized and authenticated. In fact, lithographs may actually increase in value (just like art works) especially if the print quality was excellent and if they were produced in small numbers.

Lithographs are made through a unique process, quite different from the printing techniques used for newspapers or books. The “traditional” prints are made by engraving an image or text on metal plates, wooden blocks or other soft materials. These are then run through the printing presses. Lithographs, on the other hand, involve drawing mirror images on smooth stone tablets. This is a painstaking and elaborate process that requires great skill, patience and time. The lithograph must also be approved by the artist before it goes through the press.

Once the plate has passed inspection, an oil-based ink is applied to certain areas, while the blank areas are wiped with water. (This is due to the principle that oil and water don’t mix.) It is then pressed on a cotton-type paper, transferring the ink. Colored lithographs will go through several presses, one for black, red, yellow and blue, in order to achieve the desired shade. In fact, lithographs can take as much time to make as an original art work.

Authentic lithographs bear not just the signature of the artist and a set of numbers that indicate the unique serial number and the total print run (ex. 15/200).

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