Holger Lübbe and Wolfgang Blauert have a dream: they want to revive collotype printing. To this day, no printing process can match the accuracy of detail and durability of the technology invented 150 years ago.
“Collotype printing was developed to replicate photos,” says Lübbe, and continues: “This queen of reproduction technology offers the highest level of sharpness and enormous contrast. In addition, collotype is the most durable process when it comes to light and color fastness.” In its heyday around 1900, when primarily postcards, certificates and art reproductions were produced with collotype printing, there were around 2,000 workshops worldwide. Today there are still two traditional companies in Kyoto and Beijing, a museum workshop in Leipzig – and Offizin Darmstadt, the workshop that Lübbe and Blauert founded in 2015. Their pride and joy at Offizin in Darmstadt: an old collotype printing machine from 1880, which was loaned to the enthusiasts. “We financed the move of the five-ton “iron lady” by crowd funding,” says Lübbe.
Holger Lübbe (right) and Wolfgang Blauert want to give collotype printing a new future.
An important component of collotype printing: GELITA® LICHTDRUCK gelatines
Light printing works with oil-based printing ink on uncoated paper. A warm mixture of gelatine and potassium dichromate is poured onto a glass plate as a printing template. After drying, a half-tone negative is applied and exposed. The light tanning process changes the structure of the gelatine where light is exposed. Afterwards, the light-sensitive mixture is washed out at the other places and so-called reticulation forms, resulting in a relief-like, fine surface structure. Their resolution is five to ten times higher than that of the most modern printing machine. Before printing, a water-glycerine mixture is applied, which causes the gelatine to swell. The harder parts of the gelatine absorb less moisture than the softer parts. This results in differently thick layers of ink, which are transferred to paper at high pressure. “It used to be a problem to get hold of suitable gelatine, let alone consistent quality. There wasn’t always electricity either, so the plates were placed in the sun for the exposure,” says Lübbe. Today, just one phone call to GELITA suffices and the company supplies the correct LICHTDRUCK gelatine with the desired properties. But the cooperation goes one step further. “With GELITA, we want to find an alternative to hardening the gelatine with potassium dichromate and try out new techniques.”
Perfect collotype prints from the Hochzeitsturm in Darmstadt
“How would you go about collotype printing today? ” is the question that drives Lübbe. With the “Lichtdruck 2.0” project, Offizin Darmstadt is trying to set new standards for the collotype printing technique and thus create the basis for the future of the process. Many old cultural treasures have already been digitized. This data can be used to produce negatives for collotype printing and thus faithfully reproduce the cultural treasures. “In the long term, we want to establish new workshops, train others, and revive the process for facsimile production, long-term archiving, and the production of art prints.” In order to preserve collotype printing as a cultural heritage, Offizin Darmstadt, together with other collotype printing enthusiasts, plans to submit an application to UNESCO for recognition as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”. Their hope is that at some point collotype printing will be so widespread that it can once again be removed from the UNESCO list.