Lithography, was invented in the final years of the 18th century. The process is a chemical one which relies on the principle that water and grease do not mix, rather than difference of relief (as in woodcut, wood engraving and copper engraving). First a design is made on stone (later a metal plate) in greasy ink or crayon or, alternatively, on specially prepared paper for transferring to such a surface. It is then subjected to a chemical process, which reinforces the difference between printing and non-printing areas. The process is extremely versatile, and allows for impressions from type to be transferred to the printing surface. Taking a print involves two procedures: dampening the stone or plate and then rolling up its surface with greasy printing ink. The greasy ink is attracted by the greasy marks and repelled by the damped surface.
In Britain, lithography began to be taken up as an alternative to both
intaglio engraving and wood engraving from the 1820s, especially for
relatively short-run printing. It was ideal for circulars, giving the appearance of handwritten text, and especially for seamlessly combining images and text, tables and diagrams. Even before the mechanisation of lithographic printing, it was quicker and cheaper than the alternative process for combining text and image in one print: copper-engraving.
This two-sided Jennings advertisement for ‘patent capsules or covers for family jars’ cleverly shows all available sizes in a series of concentric circles on the verso, while the recto combines a table of sizes and prices with illustrations and elegantly curved text.
This mid 19th century two-sided trade advertisement for John Porter’s Grove Iron Works, Southwark shows that lithography was ideal for drawing the delicate straight and curved lines of ironwork. Some firms advertising their products at the Great Exhibition of 1851 used the process in similar ways.
However, the application of monochrome lithography in advertising was not widespread. It was the commercialisation of lithographic printing in colour (chromolithography), aided by the widespread use of powered machines, that was to take the advertising world by storm.