A REVOLUTION MADE OF STONE
The invention of lithography in 1798 unleashed the second great printing revolution after the printing press. Stone printing laid the foundation for our contemporary mass image culture. Moreover, this centuries-old craft is still alive and kicking: offset printing and even the microchip would not have come about without this invention!
Did you know ... ?
The Dutch Museum of Lithography has a real replica of Alois Senefelder’s first printing press on display.
Inventor of lithography
Lithography is a graphic technique: a designer draws on a flat limestone and in addition uses the repulsive effect between ink, water and grease. The literal meaning of litho is ‘stone’. Lithography is also called stone printing and is a form of planographic printing.
The lithographic printing technique was invented in 1798 by Alois Senefelder. This Bavarian graphic artist and actor was looking for a way to print his own plays faster, cheaper and on a larger scale. He discovered that printing from a flat stone was quite possible, using the repulsive effect that water or grease has: ink apparently adhered only to what was drawn on the limestone.
A few decades later, in 1837, the second revolution in stone printing took place with the discovery of colour printing technology. With this, the possibilities of lithography increased enormously.
The printing technique made possible very precise drawings and illustrations, such as detailed atlases, graphic art and cigar bands (many beautiful examples of which can be admired in the Dutch Museum of Lithography). This laid the foundation for our contemporary mass visual culture.
The technological era
Offset printing and photolithography
Lithography was replaced in the 1960s by the more cost-effective and faster offset printing technique. In today’s printing industry, offset is still the main printing technique.
The principle of lithography on flat stone evolved into photolithography in the technological age, and was at the forefront of the production of microchips (like those in your computer and smartphone).
Lithography in the microchip
Microchips are made by building up layers of interconnected patterns on a wafer: a silicon disk up to 30 centimetres large and 0.4 millimetres thick.
Lithography machines can draw very small structures on such a disk. These machines are very accurate, fast and very expensive. The latest models cost more than 100 million euros each.
From stone to chip
The origins of ASML
In 1984, electronics giant Philips and chip machine manufacturer Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography (ASML) founded a new company in Eindhoven to develop photolithography systems for the growing semiconductor market. The company was named ASM Lithograph (ASML).
The origins of ASML, the most modern chip factory in the world, can be traced directly back to Senefelder’s invention in 1798. The Dutch Museum of Lithography presents a wonderful overview of 200 years of lithography.
Come and visit our museum and workshop, and discover the amazing world of lithography for yourself!