The Ultimate Guide to Lithograph Posters 🇺🇸

March 30, 2021

What is Lithograph Printing?
Lithographic printing refers to a printing technique where posters are produced by applying colour to an object, usually a stone, a metal plate or a drum that is then pressed against paper. The word “lithograph” is derived from the Greek words: “lithos” which means “stone” and “grafo” which translates to “write.” Lithographic printing was first used in Europe in the 19th century. For posters, it was a popular printing method in the 1920s and 1930s. Technologically sophisticated versions of litho printing are still used in movie poster production today. The reason therefore is that lithographic printing most closely resembles painting.

How to tell if a Poster is a Litho Print?
Lithographic prints dating back to the 20th century are usually created using either plates or drums. Colour is applied via a dotted surface. Depending on the age and quality of the print these dots are either larger or smaller. Think of them as pixels that make up an image shown on a computer. By inspecting a poster with a magnifying glass you will be able to identify these dots and can thereby verify that a poster is a Lithographic print. 

For posters that are produced using stone litho printing, you will also be able to identify the layer of ink that is applied on the paper and thereby slightly increases its thickness. You can check this by carefully feeling the surfaces, however we do not recommend it as you may damage the surface or smear the ink (best to wear thin surgical gloves).

What are Common Types of Lithographic Printing? 
Stone lithographic printing gained in popularity in the pre World War I era. Largely driven out of Bavaria, Germany movie posters in Europe were being produced in larger quantities using stone litho printing. Following the destruction of the quarry where suitable stones were sourced the industry started using zinc plates for lithographic printing and stone litho printing was effectively replaced.

You can find all our stone litho vintage movie posters here. 

It is also worth mentioning offset lithographic prints. Offset lithography describes the process of printing an image on an intermediate surface first, before printing it onto the paper canvas. By doing so the original poster design is reversed twice and appears in the same orientation as it does the original design. In general, offset prints have a lower unit cost than other printing techniques while providing high quality results. It is thus popular for large volume prints. 

Are Lithographs Worth Anything?
Litho prints and in particular stone litho prints are amongst the most valuable items in our collection. This is because stone litho prints were typically produced at the beginning of the 20th century and these posters are thus antique pieces. They also tend to be of higher quality, with higher resolution than comparable prints from the same era. This focus of quality is often correlated with the use of higher grade paper which also contributes to improved colour preservation. 

As a result vintage movie poster stone lithos are often limited in supply, of high quality and thus often more valuable.