Lith film

December 22, 2010

This photo is my first attempt at lith film. Lith film, also called litho film, was widely used in the printing industry in the days of paste-up and hard copy art. These days it’s all computer to plate so lith film is becoming obscure. It’s main characteristic is high contrast. It wasn’t intended for pictorial use, but rather for text and graphics that would be pure black and white. It’s also orthochromatic which means it’s not sensitive to red light. Therefore it can be processed in a standard darkroom using red lights. It can be developed in an open tray and you can watch the image develop, just like printing on paper. That’s how I did this film; in Kodalith for several minutes.

The film is also quite slow, approx ISO 6. That might make for slow exposures but also means the film keeps well. The film I used was Arista, the house brand of Freestyle supplies in Los Angeles. It was exposed in my Crown Graphic using the Optar 135mm lens. I like the grungy 1970s look to this shot. I’m going to try a lot more to find out what works or not. Quite excited about the idea of using it for portraiture. I’m also testing using it for copying existing negs to high contrast as well as trying diluted Dektol for lower contrast.

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3 Responses to “Lith film”

  1. sally thorp Says:

    really like look and composition of the car shot

  2. Philip Ross Says:

    Gosh, this is reviving memories for me. Many years ago I was involved in the graphic arts and pre-press trades for printing. While today, artwork for printing is electronically generated the old way of doing things was to paste everything up on cardboard layout sheets. Photographs (if black and white) were screened to produce half tone images then the completed paste ups were photographed to lith film to make negatives for platemaking.

    Lith film was extremely high contrast and provided a decent repro camera was used, the fine detail (ie: the dots in a half tone image) would reproduce well. The resulting images were transferred to a plate using ultraviolet light.

    Lith film produced very dense blacks and there were no grey tones. However, as an experiment I recall developing some lith film once in Kodak D76 and it was possible to produce a much lower contrast negative. Lith film chemistry needs constant replenishment and has very limited life once mixed up.

    Panchromatic lith film does exist. It has to be handled under a dark green safelight. In the graphics trade it was used for colour separations before electronic scanners appeared, and it was useful for line exposures where red and black had to be separated (or green and yellow).

    The graphics industry moved forwards to rapid access films which had simpler chemistries and reduced silver content. These had poorer reproduction of half tone dots but the industry was starting the rapid move to digital in any event.

    To be quite honest I am surprised you can even buy lith film today.

    • whystoptime Says:

      Hi Philip, I worked in the instant printing industry in the 1980s where we mostly used paper plates for short runs. For long runs we dealt with a graphic arts company that made metal plates, which would certainly have used lith film. I remember well dealing with typesetters and hand pasted art. Sometimes pasting Letraset lines if someone had forgotten to include it in the original art. I did stay in touch with the industry in the ’90s and saw it go digital. The lith film I used here I bought in 2010 and is no longer available. I think there might be another product available from the USA, haven’t tried it yet.


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