Lithography was created by Alois Senefelder in 1796. It comes from the Ancient Greek lithos meaning "stone" and graphein meaning "to write." Traditional methods of lithography uses limestone or marble upon which an image is drawn with a greasy material. Next, the image is etched into the stone using a weak acid, like gum arabic (you might recognize this material as the binder in watercolors!). Because water and grease repel each other, an oil-based ink can be used to ink up an image on a wet stone, which can then be transferred to paper or another material using a lithography press.
The process of lithography has evolved though the years. Fine artists still use the traditional techniques of drawing on stone, but they also have commercial techniques like plate lithography and offset lithography available to them as well. The first gallery contains examples of stone lithography in our Book Arts Collection, and the second gallery contains plate and offset lithography examples.