what is a lithograph?

A lithograph is a type of printing process during which original works of art can be printed and reproduced; the final product is also known as a lithograph, which is an authorized copy of an original work created by an artist or other skilled craftsmen. The printing process for creating lithographs is different from other traditional methods, mainly because it does not require the print-maker to first etch the image into metal plates. Prints can be made of original works of art, first created on the stone table or metal plate, or images from paintings or drawings can be duplicated with this method. If the print quality of a lithograph is excellent and the production numbers are low, it may have significant value in the art world.

The Printing Process

Perhaps the biggest advantage of lithography is that it does not require the printmaker to etch an image into metal plates, as some other reproduction methods do; neither is it necessary to physically carve out the image on blocks of wood or other soft material. Instead, an artist uses a set of greasy crayons or pencils to draw a mirrored image of the artwork, usually onto a smooth stone tablet or metal plate. While this can take less time than etching the image into metal, it is still the most time-consuming part of lithography. If the final image has multiple colors, it may be necessary to make separate stones or plates for each.


I recently purchased a Picasso lithograph from a reputable art dealer. I understand how lithographs are made, but how can one tell if something is an original lithograph or a copy of a lithograph? Is there an easy way to tell the difference?

The answer is more than a yes or no. I would like to approach the answer to your question assuming you don’t have much information about the difference between hand lithograph and
offset lithography. This way I can give a more complete answer.

When a hand lithograph is made the artist draws directly on the printing element. (stone, aluminum, Mylar, etc.) From this drawing the prints are inked and pulled. One drawing for each different color. Each print records the unique mark of the artist and their hand.

When prints are made using offset lithography, an original (painting, drawing, watercolor etc.) Are taken to a commercial printer. The printer photographs the original and then converts all the colors into a combination of 4. (Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black) A negative is made for each of these colors and a photographic plate is prepared for printing. They are run, usually all at once on large high speed presses. The mark of the artist is lost in the translation from original to photograph and then
color separation. Depending on the printer, colors can vary drastically from the original.

A common way to tell if a print is a hand lithograph or an offset lithograph is to look at the print under magnification. Marks from a hand lithograph will show a random dot pattern created by the tooth of the surface drawn on. Inks may lay directly on top of others and it will have a very rich look. Prints from an offset press will show a mechanical dot pattern from the color separations. Each color generates a separate dot pattern that when combined produce a very small circle or “rosette”. The dot patterns look like the dot from the newspaper comics but smaller. You can easily see these dots under small magnification or sometimes with the naked eye. All the dots line up in neat little rows. If you can see these dots it is a sure sign of camera and commercial involvement. If the dots are random and you purchased the print from a reputable dealer it is most likely a hand drawn lithograph.

I understand that AP on a lithograph denotes an artist’s proof. What do HC, EA, and BAT mean?

The designation HC stands for Hors Commerce. These are prints pulled with the main edition but are not numbered with it. They are used for commercial purposes such as entering shows or advertising. They are normally not sold.

The Mark EA stands for Epreuve D Artiste. This is another designation for Artist’s proof.

BAT (Bon A Tirer) is the designation given to the print by which the rest of the edition is evaluated. It a print does not match the BAT it is destroyed. Only those prints that are high enough quality are made part of the edition. The BAT is not part of the numbered edition and typically belongs to the printer rather than the artist.




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