How to Restore Lithographs

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A lithograph is a printed copy of an original piece of artwork. However, lithographs can be extremely valuable due to the process used in printing them. To create a lithograph, the original artist uses oily pencils and crayons to draw an exact replica of the actual piece of art onto a smooth stone tablet. Now, the printing process can begin using oil and water to rub the print onto a sheet of cotton paper. Essentially, a lithograph is still hand-created by the original artist, yet lithography allows the artwork to be mass-produced and become somewhat more affordable. Older lithographs can cost quite a pretty penny, but maintenance is the key. A lithograph’s condition greatly affects its monetary value. Use only acid-free products to frame and matte your lithographs. This will promote the longevity of the print. Store unframed lithographs in a cool, dry place that is safe from both sunlight and potentially damaging rodents and critters. However, if you have a lithograph that is showing its age with stains and discoloration, these tips will help you restore it back to its original beauty.

Things You'll Need

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Gum eraser
  • De-ionized water
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Japan paper
  • Rice starch glue

Brush the lithograph to remove surface dirt. Use a brush with very soft bristles to gently sweep the front and back of the print. Sweep the brush in one direction using moderately sized strokes. This will begin the cleaning process by eliminating the dirt on the surface of the lithograph.

Use a gum eraser to remove stains. Gently rub the gum eraser across the stains in one direction. This will help to remove set-in stains. Do not use the eraser on the actual printed part of the lithograph though as it may remove the ink.

Bleach the print. Mix a solution of one part water, one part hydrogen peroxide, and three drops ammonia. Use de-ionized water to carefully wet the lithograph. Add the bleach solution to the water. Let stand for no more than five minutes. Rinse the print thoroughly with de-ionized water. If stains persist, bleach and rinse again. When done bleaching the lithograph, rinse for approximately one full hour. Be careful when employing the bleaching technique. Paper that is too fragile may not withstand the bleaching process. Also, certain colors of ink may be compromised by bleaching. You will probably want to try the bleaching process on a very small corner of the lithograph first to test the print’s durability to bleaching.

Glue the tears back together. If the lithograph has any small holes or tears, you can use glue to fix the print. For a small tear, use a piece of Japan paper and rice starch glue to solve the problem. Use the rice starch glue to adhere a piece of Japan paper to the back of the print eliminating the appearance of a tear.

Remove creases with weight. To smooth out any creases or fold lines in the print, lightly spray the back side of the lithograph with water. Do not saturate the print. Just lightly dampen the lithograph. Once damp, place the print between two sheets of blotter paper and put it underneath a very heavy object such as a board to smooth it.

Tips & Warnings

  • Restoring lithographs on your own can be a very dangerous project. The lithograph may be destroyed if the process is not done cautiously and correctly. It may be wise to consult a professional before restoring any valuable old prints.
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