Lithographic  stone (Atelier du Livre d’Art et de l’Estampe, Imprimerie nationale)Lithographic stone (Atelier du Livre d’Art et de l’Estampe, Imprimerie nationale)

Lithography and hand-drawn characters

The invention of lithography by Aloys Senefelder in 1798 freed lettering from the constraints of lead that had been present from the invention of moveable type in the 15th century. The technique involves using an oily medium (ink, charcoal, soft lead pencil, etc.) to draw on a flat piece of hard limestone, almost as if one were making a sketch on a piece of paper.

With lithography, the painstaking preparations involved in creating lead type – design, punch-cutting, striking the matrix, casting the type, and so on – are eliminated in favour of a quick, easily reproduced drawing done by hand, that is both inexpensive and can be corrected at will.

This new graphic freedom meant that display characters became independent from characters used for running text. Traditional forms did not disappear, but co-existed with the new, increasingly fantastical characters.

Drawing on a flat piece of hard limestone, almost as if one were making a sketch on a piece of paper.

With chromolithography (colour lithography), the black-and-white text imposed by moveble type for both practical and economic reasons (it is simpler and cheaper to print with one colour of ink) was threatened by coloured characters, just as the illuminated initials in medieval manuscripts had been.

Lithography sparked an explosion of creativity in many areas. One is of particular interest: the processes for transferring an existing image onto the lithographic limestone allowed lithographers to imitate historic alphabets, such as those used in medieval manuscripts, or old-fashioned typefaces. Thus the historicising quotation made its appearance in the world of typefaces – sometimes for the better, often for the worse. Garamont's sober characters were not old enough, "blackletter"enough or exotic enough to fall prey to this "revival", at least at first.

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