The Tools I Use to Create My Lithographs

the tools i use to create my lithographs title image

I get a lot of questions about what I do. Lithography is not the most mainstream of art forms and because of this, most people aren't too familiar with the litho process and the tools involved.

But I intend to change this!

I want to share all of the tools and equipment I use to create lithographs in the studio so you can understand the process a little better!

ALL of the tools I use are integral to the process of making lithograph prints. Without these key tools and equipment, the printing process would not work.

Lithography uses a chemical process to change the molecular structure of the stone's surface, which makes the white/negative spaces of the drawing hydrophillic (water-loving) and the image area that was created with greasy materials hydrophobic (water-hating). This process allows the image to be rolled up with greasy litho ink and printed when the stone is sent through a lithography press with some paper.

Everything about lithography is very specific: the stone, the press, the chemicals, the drawing materials, the ink, etc. I've separated the supplies by what part of the process they are used in.

Graining

Graining the stone is an integral part of the process. It levels out the stone as well as prepares the surface for receiving a drawing.


Lithographic Stones

  • Litho stones are fine-grained, porous stones from quarries in Europe. 
  • They come in a few different variations; grey and grey-blue stones are harder while light colored stones and yellow stones are softer.
  • I like to work with two stones minimum at a time so that I can grain them together and also have an extra drawing surface if I need to wait for another drawing to dry or to add another color layer to a print.

lithography tools
Carborundum Grit and Water

  • A dark colored, sand-like abrasive made of tiny bits of silicone carbide
  • Mixed with water and used for graining the stone for the purpose of removing old images, creating a clean and responsive surface again for both grease and gum arabic and for making a slight texture on the stone so that the drawing materials can adhere. 
  • I use four carborundum grits to achieve my needs: #80, #100, #180 and #220.
  • I grain two stones at once by placing a smaller stone on top of a larger one with carborundum grit and water in between. I then move the smaller stone in a varying figure 8 pattern to get the desired effect.

Litho Fan

  • Used to dry off the litho stone after graining, during drawing, etc.

    lithography graining tools

Drawing

Iron Oxide Paper

  • Transfer paper that uses iron oxide (rust)
  • While normal transfer paper that uses graphite or carbon can often show up in the final print, transferring the image with iron oxide paper keeps the original line drawing from appearing in the final image

Gum Arabic

  • Can be used as a resist; areas of stone treated with gum become insensitive to grease and attract and hold water in printing. 

Brushes

  • Used to apply gum arabic for creating image.

Rubbing Crayon

  • Rubbing Crayon is a specially formulated greasy drawing material used for lithography. 
  • It is made to smear, smudge and provide smokey tones, and can be used to achieve very subtle greys.
  • Currently this is the only drawing material I use for creating images on the stone, but I have used several different kinds of drawing materials such as litho crayon, sharpie marker, tusche, xerox toner, and spray paint. All of these materials have in common the fact that they are greasy and will attract litho ink.

Panty Hose

  • By far the most random tool in my line up. 
  • I use rubbing crown with pantyhose in order to get soft continuous gray and build up value on top of value. 
  • I hold the crayon in my left hand and rub the hose over the surface to pick up the grey pigment and transfer it to the stone surface using a circular motion.

    lithography drawing tools

Etching

Talc/Rosin

  • Talc allows for the gum to flow easily over the drawing.
  • Both talc and rosin are acid resists and are used to protect the surface grease from the acid during the etching process. 

Gum Arabic

  • A hydrophilic substance derived from various species of the acacia tree.
  • Used to make a gum etch when nitric acid is added.

Brushes

  • Both for creating the image and spot etching the stone. 

Nitric Acid and Small Glass Measuring Cups

  • Used with gum arabic to etch the stone. 
  • Etching with acid desensitizes areas of the stone so that later these areas can repel ink during the printing process. 
  • Cheesecloth
  • Used to remove excess gum from stone surface and to buff down the gum and acid mixture into a thin layer.

Cheesecloth

  • Thin, loosely woven piece of cotton cloth used for removing excess gum arabic and buffing down the surface of the stone during the etching process.

    lithography etching tools

Ink Mixing

Inks and Modifiers

  • Special inks mixed with lithography in mind have the right consistency, pigment and grease content to be used when printing lithographs
  • Ink comes in a variety of colors
  • Modifiers such as Magnesium Carbonate and Transparent Base are able to change the viscosity, transparency, tackiness and other important characteristics of the ink

Palette Knife and Ink Slab

  • Palette knives are used to remove ink carefully from ink cans and onto the slab
  • The ink slab is an easy to clean piece of glass or similar material that ink can be mixed on top of and then rolled out onto using a brayer or roller before adding ink to the image

Vegetable Oil and Vinegar Water or Simple Green

  • A much preferred, non-toxic alternative to mineral spirits and/or lithotine for cleaning up my ink and brayers
  • Vegetable oil removes ink residue, vinegar water removes oil residue

    lithography ink mixing and clean up tools

Printing

Roller/Brayer

  • Used for rolling up the stone with ink. 
  • I roll the brayer or roller across my ink palette to pick up ink onto the roller for transferring onto the stone image. 

lithography brayers and rollers
Paste Wax

  • Used for replacing drawing material with a greasy substance before removing gum layer. 

Lithotine/Odorless Mineral Spirits

  • Used for removing ink from stone surface without affecting gum arabic for color changes.

Bowls/Water/Sponges

  • Two bowls of water and two sponges. There are two sets of bowls and sponges for a couple reasons: one is clean and the other is dirty (has been used with solvents), and one is wetter than the other for different printing needs.
  • Used to keep stone surface damp while printing so ink does not stick to blank areas.
Ink and Palette Knives
  • Specific lithographic inks are used for mixing colors and rolling onto the brayer.
  • Modifiers can be added to the ink to change viscosity, transparency, tackiness, etc. 
  • Palette knives are used to mix and move ink around the palette.

    Paper and Newsprint

    • Paper is used to receive the drawing during printing. After going through the press, the drawing on the stone is transferred through pressure onto a piece of paper. 
    • My top 3 favorite papers currently are Rives BFK, Pescia and Kitikata paper. 
    • Newsprint is used for proofing images before starting the edition and also for placing in between tympan and good paper (called packing).

    Tympan/Tympan Grease

    • A flat, smooth polycarbonate sheet that separates the scraper bar from the packing and paper underneath. 
    • The tympan with tympan grease allows the scraper bar to move smoothly across the surface of the stone, applying an even amount of pressure.

    lithography printing tools
    Lithography Press

    • Used for applying a great amount of even and consistent pressure to the scraper bar and stone in order to print stone drawing onto paper. 

    Scraper Bar

    • Scraper bars are integral for printing using a lithography press. 
    • They are used to create an even, consistent pressure through the litho press to the tympan, paper, plate and press bed underneath.

      lithography press 

      And that's it!

      Make sure to check out these tools in action in the posts about some of my most recent prints where I show a visual walk through of the graining, drawing, etching and printing processes in detail. 

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