Lithography is the process of producing a printing with a stone or smooth metal plate. The positive part of the image is marked out on the plate with a hydrophobic (water-repelling) substance while the negative image is treated with a hydrophilic (water-attracting) substance. Therefore, when combined with a water-ink mixture, the ink will adhere to the hydrophobic parts of the plate while the water will gather at the hydrophilic regions. Lithography replaced raised-lettering printing presses and was invented in 1796 in Bavaria.
Pro: Speed of Production
Today, almost all high-volume, mass-produced texts are made via lithography, including books, newspapers, maps, magazines and posters. Once the lithography plate is treated properly it can be used over and over again in rapid succession. Furthermore, the plates themselves are easier to produce than traditional raised-letter printing presses as the process is chemical.
Pro: Economies of Scale
Given the speed with which prints can be made, lithography (specifically offset lithography) is the cheapest way to produce large-scale commercial print runs. Moreover, the long-life of lithographic plates and ability to reuse them further reduces the cost associated with this process.
Con: Not Good for Small Print Runs
Though the time and cost associated with producing plates and setting up the printing press are low compared to traditional raised-letter printing presses, they are still significant enough to make small-scale print runs impractical. For this reason, smaller-scale operations are moving toward digital printing.
Con: Cannot Produce High Quality Prints
While the quality of prints produced through lithography are generally high, they cannot compare with prints produced via rotogravure or photogravure printing. Similarly, as lithographic plates degrade over time when not properly maintained (particularly with aluminium plates that slowly oxidise) and this can lead to deteriorating image quality.