Lithography was once the choice of many great artists as a method of reproducing quality images or copies of their work. The lithos were and are still considered to be works of fine art in their own right. There are some artists who still use lithography for its high quality, but most avoid it because of the many disadvantages.
Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Germany in 1796 (See Additional Resources Below). From its early days, it was plagued with imprecision in lining up images and the bleeding or smearing of ink.
Lithography started out using a limestone tablet that was drawn and then 'etched' by using a mixture of water, oils and gum arabic. The supplies are complex and highly specialized; even with the use of modern machines, the process is expensive.
The length of time is another disadvantage: it can be up to 40 hours just for the drawing time, the etches take at least an hour each, and, in using colors, each one is added separately.
The amounts of lithographic prints are limited, with most artists choosing to print from five to 100 copies. Compared with reproductions, it isn't a medium well suited for high production (See Additional Resources Below).
The original term 'oil and water' came from the method used in etching lithography, and any printing mistakes are called 'hickies.'