Thanks to printing pioneers such as Johannes Gutenberg our industry has developed to a thriving field. Alois Senefelder is another visionary thinker in our series of printing pioneers. In this article we take you on a journey through the life of Alois Senefelder, whose invention of lithography serves as a basis for today’s reproduction technologies and offset printing.

Who Was Alois Senefelder
Senefelder was born in Prague in 1771 and took piano and singing lessons during his childhood. In school he was very talented in maths, physics and chemistry, which paid off for him later on. From 1789 to 1793 Senefelder studied law at the university in Ingoldstadt and decided to become an actor and playwright after the death of his father. Because he did not find any publisher to print his works, he made every endeavour to publish these on his own.
Back in these days the possibilities and capacities of printing were still extremely limited, so that even the printing of identical sheets could only be done with an enormous effort and high expenses. Therefore, his aim was to find a more efficient way of printing. In 1798 he developed the “Chemical Printing” process, which later became world-famous as lithography.

The Principle of Lithography
The technique is based on the repellence of water and grease. Taking this into consideration, Senefelder drew an image with a greasy crayon on a lithographic stone and then covered it with a thin coat of water. The water acted as a barrier, so the oily ink stuck only to the image but not to the areas covered in water. During his developing process, the Solnhofer limestone turned out to be the best suited for his method due to its even grain size, hardness and density.

Offset Printing is the Lithography of Today
In comparison to complex processes such as wood engraving or copperplate print, Senefelder’s method became very popular in the 19th century as it made printing easier and considerably cheaper. Thanks to the benefits of lithography, this technique was developed further to offset printing in the 20th century. As this method differs from other methods in many ways, offset printing is still very common for the producing of everyday products such as newspapers, catalogues, packaging, stamps or bank notes.

Copyright Image: Flickr/Edinburgh City of Print