Chromolithography is an early method printed color for making multi-color prints. This type of color printing stemmed from the process of lithography: the process of printing from a flat surface treated so as to repel the ink except where it is required for printing. Chromolithography first started with stone in the late 1700’s and then switched to metal plate on a smooth surface.
The process of chromolithography is chemical, because an image is applied to a stone or zinc plate with a grease-based crayon. Limestone and zinc are two commonly-used materials in the production of chromolithographs. After the image is drawn onto stone, a gum arabic and nitric acid solution is applied and then inked with oil-based paints. The stone is passed through a printing press along with a sheet of paper to transfer the image to the paper. Colors may be added to the print by drawing the area to receive the color on a different stone, and printing the new color onto the paper. Each color in the image must be separately drawn onto a new stone or plate and applied to the paper one at a time. It was not unusual for twenty to twenty-five stones to be used on a single image. Each sheet of paper will therefore pass through the printing press as many times as there are colors in the final print. In order that each color is placed in the right position in each print, each stone or plate must be precisely ‘registered,’ or lined up, on the paper using a system of register marks.///Depending on the number of colors present, a chromolithograph could take months to produce by highly skilled workers. Less expensive prints were made with few colors and details. Cheaper images, like advertisements, relied heavily on an initial black print, on which colors were then overprinted. To make a higher quality chromo reproduction print, a lithographer gradually created and corrected the many stones using proofs and layers.///Early Chromolithography found in Europe, included printed products such as playing cards and advertisements. By the mid 1800’s, the process had moved to America. Although chromos could be mass produced, it took about three months to draw colors onto the stones and another five months to print a thousand copies. Chromolithographs became so popular in American culture that the era has been labeled as “chromo civilization”. Even though chromolithographs served many uses within society at the time, many were opposed to the idea of them because of their lack of authenticity. Some felt that it could not serve as a form of art at all since it was too mechanical, and that the true spirit of a painter could never be captured in a printed version of a work. Over time, chromos were made so cheaply that they could no longer be confused with original paintings. Since production costs were low, the fabrication of chromolithographs became more a business than the creation of art.///Production costs of chromolithographs were lower than hand colored materials, but efforts were still being made to find a cheaper way to mass produce colored prints. Early printed color maps and prints became available around 1870’s in the United States.
Maps of Antiquity is located on Cape Cod
Generally open 10-5 Call ahead: 508-945-1660
1409 Main Street (Route 28)
Chatham, Massachusetts 02633