About Lithographs, Giclees, and Serigraphs


What is a Lithograph?

Lithograph is the most misunderstood, abused and misrepresented word in the field of fine art today.  Inaccurate usage of the word in advertisements and articles has blurred its real meaning and produced considerable confusion among buyers and even dealers.  Incredible as it may seem, even some galleries that sell prints misrepresent lithographs or label a reproduction as a stone lithograph.

In an original stone lithograph, the artist draws the image on the surface of a block of limestone with a grease crayon or ink.  After chemical treatment with gum Arabic and nitric acid, the stone is wetted and the ink charged roller is pressed over the surface.  Ink is accepted by the grease image and simultaneously repelled by the blank areas of the stone, which retain the water.  A print is obtained by placing a sheet of paper on the inked stone, which is mounted on the bed of a lithographic press and then the stone and paper is run under the scraping pressure of the press.

Lithography is based upon the antipathy between grease and water and is essentially chemical in nature.  The image on the stone is neither higher nor lower than the surface being printed as in some other printing processes.
For a multi-colored lithograph, the artist must draw and prepare a separate stone for each color used.  Thus, one sheet of paper must be printed from four different stones to create the desired effect of a four-color lithograph.  The combination of a good drawing, proper preparation of the stone and successful printing results in a good lithograph.

A lithograph must be pulled by the artist, but a master printer pulls most at a lithographic press.  The embossed chop mark of the press and the printer may be found at the bottom of the paper.  The embossed chop mark of the press and the printer may be found at the bottom of the paper.  Each lithograph is an original and is signed and numbered by the artist in an edition of 75-200 or so.  When the printing of an edition is complete, the stones are effaced, making the future production impossible.

Lithograph definitions:

Color Trial Proofs (CTP) and Trial Proofs (TP) - These pieces are the first ones that come off the press. They are done to test the color unitl the correct combination is found. These pieces may or may not differ in appearance from the normal edition.

Bon-a-tier (BAT) - This French phrase means "the right to print". This is the first print to come off of the press that is 100% accurate, according to the tastes of the artist. The normal, numbered edition is printed after this piece.

Roman numbered impressions - These are often kept by the publisher.

Printers and Artist Proofs - These pieces are kept by the printer and artist respectively.

Arabic numbered impressions - Impressions from the commercial edition are usually designated by an arabic number over another arabic number, such as 50/200. In the printing, the first impression should be no different than the last impression. The true meaning of the number 1/20, for example, is that the impression is one of an edition of 20, not specifically that it is the first pulled. All impressions in the edition should be identical to the others.


What is a Giclee?

A Giclee (pronounced jhee clay) is a digital image printed by a very high resolution ink jet printer. Original artwork is converted inot a digital format and then sent to the printer. The printer shoots tiny droplets of ink inside the paper at the rate of 4 million drops per second. Each one of these droplets is one tenth the width of a human hair. The printer has the capability of laying down 30 droplets of ink per pixel in the image. The result of this amazing technology is a wonderful image, with unmatched quality. These can be printed on canvas or archival paper

Giclees are now found in the finest galleries, such as the Louvre, New York Metropolitan Museum, and the Guggenheim..


What is a Serigraph?

A serigraph is a hand painted silk screen that provides very high quality reproductions. Serigraphy is a process where a stencil is attached to a fabric, usually polyester, which has been stretched on a frame. The ink is then squeegeed through the stencil onto the paper, one color at a time. This process is also known as silk screening because the first stencils were made from silk. Less expensive materials are used today.

Serigraphy is said to be based on the Japanese art of katazome, a form of stenciling using waterproof papers that was used in ancient Japan to copy an image. The art of serigraphy of today was patented in England in the early 1900's, with the first commercial use in 1914.


Framing and Protecting Your Artwork

Printed works of art are delicate by nature. Great care must be taken regarding their handling and framing to protect your investment.

FRAMING: Archival framing should be used so that nothing but 100% acid free mats touch the artwork. Spacers shold be used so glazing will never rest on the print.

TAPE: Adhestives from some tapes have been shown to be able to migrate through paper and cause pigment changes in inks. Virtually all tape or adhesive available over the counter can be a problem. To be safe, use only rice paper hinges with purified starch paste adhesive. Do not allow moisture to soak through the paper. Do not apply heat to the print.

ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT: Exposure to UV light can cause pigments to fade. Lithographs should be kept away from natural daylight and florescent light as much as possible. Incandescent light is safe, having virtually no UV. Special UV plexiglass can protect the artwork, although UV glass is not as effective.

Be sure to use an archival framer who can properly hinge and mat your lithograph and obtain the UV plexiglass.