Like the probable origin of life, ‘lith’ printing came together by the chance meeting of some complex chemicals. Going back a few decades, to the pre-digital age, the graphic arts industry operated by consuming vast swathes of lithographic film and paper. These were designed to give an absolutely total high contrast, eliminating half tones by the use of ‘infectious development’ in high energy lith developers. It was a chance discovery that by diluting the developer, and extending the development time an exciting new range of colours and tones could be produced. Over a few decades, especially in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s lith became artistically and commercially of age.
This is a very creative printing process and the results are unlike conventional black and white printing in several respects. The prints produced using this technique can often be more ‘arty’ looking than conventional black & white prints.
The process of lith printing is parallel to that of toning, in that the colour comes from producing the image silver in a very finely divided form, and further possibilities are in toning the ‘lithed’ image, which is very receptive to further chemical toning.
But lith prints are colourful even before toning and may contain warm coloured mid and light tones of unusual delicacy and beauty, sitting alongside shadow tones with the opposite proper- ties of high contrast and cold colour. The process is very flexible and prints may be made with quite different properties, from extremely warm to very cold toned. They may be soft and subtle or gritty and graphic. The actual colours vary with the materials and techniques used. Lith is an extremely expressive medium and can take your photographic creativity onto a new plane.
The greatest problem in recent years has been the gradual withdrawal of many of the papers with the best ‘lith’ potential. At present the best range to look at is FOMA, and many papers in the range have lith capability, as well as offering a wide range of surfaces to suit all tastes. We would suggest not testing ‘Variant’ for lith, but any of the warmer papers under the ‘Fomatone’ banner should prove interesting.