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Offset Lithograph Prints

Offset lithograph prints were developed in the 20th century. They are based on the principles of the traditional lithography process, which relies on the repulsion between water and oil. Nearly all modern posters, newspapers, and magazines with images and print are produced by some variation of offset lithography, connecting this modern printing method to the history of printmaking as a way to mass produce images for commercial means.

Offset lithography is largely a commercial, industrial process, making use of advancements in 20th century chemical and plastic technology. Instead of a limestone block, printers use a polymer or aluminum support that contains a photosensitive chemical. A photographic negative is exposed on to plate to create the image.

Large printing presses have sophisticated inking and dampening systems to prepare the plate for printing, as well as mechanical reels that feed the paper against the inked, dampened plate. To remove the excess water and ink, which adheres to the image emulsion, the plate first contacts a rubber blanket that transfers the image to the paper, thus offsetting the two components.


Quick Facts

  • Color is applied to offset lithographs in a four color system. Plates are created in cyan, magenta, yellow and black, and then impressions are made in all four colors, mixing them to produce the desired image
  • Contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami have experimented with the method as an artistic tool to create signed, limited edition works
  • Artists have also experimented with manipulating offset lithographs after the run is produced to create a single, original custom work

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