Chromolithography is a unique method for making multi-colour prints.
This type of colour printing stemmed from the process of lithography,
and includes all types of lithography that are printed in colour.
When chromolithography is used to reproduce photographs, the term
photochrome is frequently used. Lithographers sought to find a way to
print on flat surfaces with the use of chemicals instead of raised
relief or recessed intaglio techniques.
Chromolithography became the most successful of several methods of
colour printing developed by the 19th century; other methods were
developed by printers such as Jacob Christoph Le Blon, George Baxter
and Edmund Evans, and mostly relied on using several woodblocks with
the colours. Hand-colouring also remained important; elements of the
Ordnance Survey maps were coloured by hand by boys
until 1875. The initial technique involved the use of multiple
lithographic stones, one for each colour, and was still extremely
expensive when done for the best quality results. Depending on the
number of colours present, a chromolithograph could take even very
skilled workers months to produce. However much cheaper prints could
be produced by simplifying both the number of colours used, and the
refinement of the detail in the image. Cheaper images, like
advertisements, relied heavily on an initial black print (not always a
lithograph), on which colours were then overprinted. To make an
expensive reproduction print as what was once referred to as a
“’chromo’”, a lithographer, with a finished painting in front
of him, gradually created and corrected the many stones using proofs
to look as much as possible like the painting in front of him,
sometimes using dozens of layers.
3 Arrival in the United States
4 Opposition to chromolithography
5 Famous printers
5.1 Louis Prang
5.2 Lothar Meggendorfer
5.3 August Hoen
5.4 Rufus Bliss
5.5 M. & N. Hanhart
8 Further reading
9 See also
11 External links
Chromolithography is a chemical process. The process is based on the
rejection of grease by water. The image is applied to stone, grained
zinc or aluminium surfaces, with a grease-based crayon or ink.
Limestone and zinc are two commonly used materials in the production
of chromolithographs, as aluminium unfortunately corrodes easily.
After the image is drawn onto one of these surfaces, the image is
gummed-up with a gum arabic solution and weak nitric acid to
desensitize the surface. Before printing, the image is proved before
finally inking up the image with oil based transfer or printing ink.
The inked image under pressure is transposed onto a sheet of paper
using a flat-bed press. This describes the direct form of printing.
The offset indirect method uses a rubber-covered cylinder that
transfers the image from printing surface to the paper. Colours may be
overprinted by using additional stones or plates to achieve a closer
reproduction of the original. Accurate registration for multi-coloured
work is achieved by the use of a key outline image and registration
bars which are applied to each stone or plate before drawing the solid
or tone image. Ben-Day medium uses a raised gelatin stipple image to
give tone gradation. An air-brush sprays ink to give soft edges. These
are just two methods used to achieve gradations of tone. The use of
twelve overprinted colours would not be considered unusual. Each sheet
of paper will therefore pass through the printing press as many times
as there are colours in the final print. In order that each colour is
placed in the right position, each stone or plate must be precisely
‘registered,’ or lined up, on the paper using a system of register
Chromolithographs are considered to be reproductions that are smaller
than double demi, and are of finer quality than lithographic drawings
which are concerned with large posters. Autolithographs are prints
where the artist draws and perhaps prints his or her own limited
number of reproductions. This is the true lithographic art form.
Uncle Sam Supplying the World with Berry Brothers Hard Oil Finish, c.
1880. This cheaply produced chromolithographic advertisement employs a
technique called stippling, with heavy reliance on the initial black
Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, introduced the subject
of colored lithography in his 1818 Vollstaendiges Lehrbuch der
Steindruckerey (A Complete Course of Lithography), where he told of
his plans to print using colour and explained the colours he wished to
be able to print someday. Although Senefelder recorded plans for
chromolithography, printers in other countries, such as
England, were also trying to find a new way to print in colour.
Godefroy Engelmann of
France was awarded a patent on
chromolithography in July 1837, but there are disputes over whether
chromolithography was already in use before this date, as some sources
say, pointing to areas of printing such as the production of playing
Arrival in the United States
1872 chromolithograph of roadside inn, published in Maryland
The first American chromolithograph—a portrait of Reverend F. W. P.
Greenwood—was created by William Sharp in 1840. Many of the
chromolithographs were created and purchased in urban areas. The
paintings were initially used as decoration in American parlours as
well as for decoration within middle-class homes. They were prominent
after the Civil War because of their low production costs and ability
to be mass-produced, and because the methods allowed pictures to look
more like hand-painted oil paintings. Production costs were only
low if the chromolithographs were cheaply produced, but top-quality
chromos were costly to produce because of the necessary months of work
and the thousands of dollars worth of equipment that had to be
used. Although chromos could be mass-produced, it took about three
months to draw colours onto the stones and another five months to
print a thousand copies. Chromolithographs became so popular in
American culture that the era has been labeled as “chromo
civilization”. Over time, during the Victorian era,
chromolithographs populated children's and fine arts publications, as
well as advertising art, in trade cards, labels, and posters. They
were also once used for advertisements, popular prints, and medical or
Opposition to chromolithography
Even though chromolithographs served many uses within society at the
time, many were opposed to the idea of them because of their lack of
authenticity. The new forms of art were sometimes tagged as "bad art"
because of their deceptive qualities. Some also felt that it could
not serve as a form of art at all since it was too mechanical, and
that the true spirit of a painter could never be captured in a printed
version of a work. Over time, chromos were made so cheaply that
they could no longer be confused with original paintings. Since
production costs were low, the fabrication of chromolithographs became
more a business than the creation of art.
A famous lithographer and publisher who strongly supported the
production of chromolithographs was Louis Prang. Prang was a
German-born entrepreneur who printed the first American Christmas
card. He felt that chromolithographs could look just as good as,
if not better than, real paintings, and he published well-known
chromolithographs based on popular paintings, including one by Eastman
Johnson entitled The Barefoot Boy. The reason Prang decided to take
on the challenge of producing chromolithographs, despite criticisms,
was because he felt quality art should not be limited to the
elite. Prang and others who continued to produce chromolithographs
were sometimes looked down upon because of the fear that
chromolithographs could undermine human abilities. With the Industrial
Revolution already under way, this fear was not something new to
Americans at the time. Many artists themselves anticipated the lack of
desire for original artwork since many became accustomed to
chromolithographs. As a way to make more sales, some artists had a
few paintings made into chromolithographs so that people in society
would at least be familiar with the painter. Once people in society
were familiar with the artist, they were more likely to want to pay
for an original work.
German chromolithographers, largely based in Bavaria, came to dominate
the trade with their low-cost high-volume productions. Of these
Lothar Meggendorfer garnered international fame for his
children's educational books and games. Owing to political unrest in
mid-19th century Germany, many Bavarian printers emigrated to the
United Kingdom and the United States, and Germany's monopoly on
chromolithographic printing dissipated.
A. Hoen & Co., led by German immigrant August Hoen, were a
prominent lithography house now known primarily for its stunning E.T.
Paull sheet music covers. They also made advertisements, maps, and
cigar box art. Hoen and his brothers Henry and Ernest took over the E.
Weber Company in the mid-1850s upon Edward Weber's death. August
Hoen's son Alfred ran the firm from 1886 throughout the early 20th
Rufus Bliss founded R. Bliss Mfg. Co., which was located in Pawtucket,
Rhode Island from 1832 to 1914. The Bliss company is best known for
their highly sought after paper litho on wood dollhouses. They also
made many other lithoed toys, including boats, trains, and building
M. & N. Hanhart
Mulhouse in 1830 by Michael Hanhart who initially
Godefroy Engelmann in London. The firm, established at
Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, was named after his two sons Michael
and Nicholas. Artists like Joseph Wolf, Joseph Smit, J G Keulemans and
others worked for him to produce natural history illustrations that
were used in the Ibis (1859-1874), Proceedings of the Zoological
Society of London (1848-1900) and a range of books. The company wound
up in 1902 after the death of Nicholas Hanhart and the rise of new
"Love or Duty", a chromolithograph by Gabriele Castagnola, 1873
Chromolithographs are mainly used today as fine art instead of
advertisements, and they are hard to find because of poor preservation
and cheaper forms of printing replaced it. Many chromolithographs have
deteriorated because of the acidic frames surrounding them. As
stated earlier, production costs of chromolithographs were low, but
efforts were still being made to find a cheaper way to mass-produce
colored prints. Although purchasing a chromolithograph may have been
cheaper than purchasing a painting, it was still expensive in
comparison to other colour printing methods which were later
Offset printing replaced chromolithography in the late
To find or purchase a lithograph, some suggest searching for examples
with the original frame as well as the publisher's stamp. Both
European and American chromolithographs can still be found, and can
range in cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The least
expensive chromos tend to be European or produced by publishers who
are less well-known compared to Prang.
Twyman, Michael. A History of Chromolithography: Printed Colour for
All. The British Library/Oak Knoll Press, 2013.
Friedman, Joan M. Colour Printing in England, 1486-1859. Yale Center
for British Art, 1978.
Henker, Michael. Von Senefelder zu Daumier: Die Anfange der
Lithograpischen Kunst. K.G. Saur, 1988.
Jay, Robert. The Trade Card in Nineteenth-Century America. University
of Missouri Press, 1987.
Last, Jay T. The Colour Explosion: Nineteenth-Century American
Lithography. Hillcrest Press, 2005.
Marzio, Peter C. The Democratic Art : Pictures for a 19th-century
America : Chromolithography, 1840-1900. D. R. Godine, 1979.
Friedman, Joan M. Colour Printing in England, 1486-1870: an
Exhibition, Yale Center for British Art. New Haven: The Center, 1978.
Hunter, Mel. The New Lithography: A Complete Guide for Artists and
Printers in the Use of Modern Translucent Materials for the Creation
of Hand-Drawn Original Fine-Art Lithographic Prints. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1984.
Marzio, Peter C. "
Lithography as Democratic Art: A Reappraisal."
Look up chromolithography in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
History of graphic design
^ “Planographic Printing.” Seeing is Believing. 2001. The New York
Public Library. 11 April 2007
^ a b “
Chromolithography and the Posters of World War I.” The War
on the Walls. Temple University. 11 April 2007 <"Archived copy".
Archived from the original on 2006-07-21. Retrieved
^ Clapper, Michael. “’I Was Once a Barefoot Boy!’: Cultural
Tensions in a Popular Chromo.” American Art 16(2002): 16-39.
^ “Chromolithography.” Beautiful Birds Exhibit.1999. Cornell
University Library. 11 April 2007
^ a b c Ferry, Kathryn. “Printing the Alhambra: Owen Jones and
Chromolithography.” Architectural History 46(2003): 175–188.
^ Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design. ©1998 John Wiley
& Sons, Inc. p 147 ISBN 0-471-29198-6
^ Gaffney, Dennis. “Chromolithography: Bringing Color to the
Masses.” Antiques Roadshow. 2006. WGBH. 11 April 2007
^ a b c d e f Clapper, Michael. “’I Was Once a Barefoot Boy!’:
Cultural Tensions in a Popular Chromo.” American Art 16(2002):
^ Glanz, Dawn. “The Democratic Art: Pictures for a
Chromolithography 1840-1900 (Review).”
Winterthur Portfolio 16(1981): 96-97.
^ “Planographic Printing.” Seeing is Believing.2001. The New York
Public Library. 11 April 2007
^ a b Stankiewicz, Mary Ann. “A Picture Age: Reproductions in
Picture Study.” Studies in Art Education 26(1985): 86-92.
^ "A. Hoen & Company". Perfessorbill.com. 1956-05-01. Retrieved
^ "Bliss Fire House & Pumper, ca. 1900 Roadshow Archive". PBS.
^ Jackson, CE (1999). "M. & N. Hanhart: printers of natural
history plates, 1830-1903". Archives of Natural History. 26 (2):
^ Peters, Connie and Greg Peters. “True and Company: I Can See You
Papa.” The Art of Print.True and Company. 11 April 2007
^ a b Antiques Roadshow: “Chromolithography: Bringing Color to the
Masses”, Gaffney, Dennis. 2006. WGBH. 11 April 2007.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chromolithographs.
The Chromolithograph: A Journal of Arts, Literature, Decoration and
Examples of the Liebig's Company trade cards
New York Public Library page on printing, includes an example in which
38 progressive proof prints are made with 19 stones to produce the
Temple University Libraries discussion and
World War I
World War I poster
University of South Florida Tampa Library
maintains the Noel Wisdom Collection of Chromolithographic Prints.
Chromolithography: The Art of Color from The Philadelphia Print Shop
Collection of Chromolithographic Prints of Edinburgh, Scotland, 1897