Lithography: steps of the process

Below are my notes about the process of lithography. The steps listed describe the way I have learned at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Since I received all of my instruction in Chinese some of the names of the terms may not match up with the standard ones used in the US and Europe. At the Central Academy we use a combination of local, Japanese and American materials. This means that the process varies from the techniques I learned in Michigan. Tamarind press in New Mexico has published an excellent book which gives detailed instructions for the standard techniques used in the US.

Gum Process

the gum process is the first process done once the image on the stone is completely drawn
1. add whiting to stone and lightly rub with cotton to reduce oil, wipe till brushed off 加滑石粉,用棉花擦石头
2. wipe stone clean with water加静水,擦
3. cover stone with clean gum, don’t let dry 加干净的阿拉伯胶
4. test acidic gum on stone. Find a clean place on the stone to test. Acidic gum should bubble lightly within about 2 seconds if at right acidity, if only one or two bubbles add a little acid, if so many bubbles almost white add a little gum, test again. While testing wipe stone periodically with clean gum to keep from drying试试如果阿拉伯胶太酸,还是酸不够
5. paint darkest part of drawing on stone with acidic gum, if most of image light go over it 2 times
6. add cotton to acidic gum, use to fist wipe edges and then wipe quickly across whole stone
7. ring sponge and wipe down stone, add a little clean gum to the stone
8. wipe with clean gum sponge and then pat dry to give rough but small pebbled texture like orange peel. Do not want bubbles but also don’t want it to be smooth
9. fan dry stone and then protect with paper
10. rinse out gum sponge and put away acid etc…
11. let sit 10 hours

Ink Process

After the stone has been etched with acid (gum process) the drawing materials on the stone need to be substituted for ink so that the image can be printed.
1. with clean sponge wipe stone with water to wash off gum
2. add clean gum and cover stone
3. use folded gauze/tarlatan to buff gum into stone, switch sides of tarlatan as cleaning and buff until dry (white)
4. Dry stone with fan. It is important to keep dry! Water drops on fan can damage image
5. pour turpentine over stone and with cotton cloth clean off crayon (1st time) or ink (2nd time and after), repeating until no black left on stone
6. prepare ink slab and roll out area the same size as stone. Ink should be fairly stiff and roll out texture should be finely textured like litho stone (should be able to see texture of stone slab through ink) do not roll up with too much ink or else image will fill in too fast
7. add lots of water to stone
8. remove ink with clean roller, don’t let stone dry
9. when image completely clear and no ink on blank area of stone or edges wash off roller with water and put away
10. use sponge to dry majority of water off stone- have now replaced crayon with ink
11. clean edges of stone with cloth and sandpaper or finger if necessary
12. roll up roller from slab
13. make sure stone is wet but without puddles (almost dry)- do this by first wiping with wet sponge then dry sponge
14. roll up with ink, then wipe with wet sponge then dry sponge– repeat, each time at end of roll gently lifting roller
15. dry stone
16. return to step one of gum process (add whiting)
17. when gum process repeated let sit 1 hour


The first time the stone is inked it needs to sit and then be etched a second time to reinforce the image and make it more stable. In other words, the second etch makes helps the oily places on the stone stay oily and the clean/wet areas of the stone stay clean. At this point then the stone can be inked and printed. The first few prints pulled from a stone are called the proofs because they are test prints. I use the test prints to figure out how much ink should be added to the stone to create a clear image (not to light and not to dark). The proof also lets me check if there are any corrections I need to make to the image before printing. If I correct the print I need to then re-etch it and let it sit for 10 hours so that the corrections are also stable.
1. after one hour can return to step one of ink process (washing off gum) through step 14.(rolling up stone with ink), at this point can pull the first proof
2. At this point wet the paper
2. re-ink (12,13,14) proof….etc…usually print 3 proofs,
3. after 3rd proof re-ink and continue through step 15,
4. then re-gum
5. let sit 10 hours


Once a good proof has been pulled and the image is fully corrected and properly etched I can start printing an edition. An edition means that a number of prints are pulled from the stone. It is important that all the prints in an edition are the same quality/darkness/contrast etc… unless it is a variable edition.

1. after one hour can return to step one of ink process (washing off gum) through step 14.(rolling up stone with ink)
2. at this point can print edition, re-ink (12,13,14) print….etc…usually print edition of 30 prints,
3. for best results after 15th print re-ink and continue through step 15,
4. then re-gum
5. let sit 15 minutes,
6. return to step one of ink process (washing off gum) through step 14.(rolling up stone with ink),
7. at this point can print second 15 prints of edition, re-ink (12,13,14) print….etc…
8. when finished re-gum for further printing or grind off image and start new work


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