Oleograph Meaning

What Is an Oleograph? (Meaning)

An oleograph, also called chromolithograph or chromo, is often defined as a lithograph textured to resemble an oil painting.



What the heck is a lithograph?


Lithograph is a term that originates from the Greek words for “stone” and “to write”.

This particular printing technique works on the fact that water and grease repel each other.

A lithograph is a printing technique that requires an artist to first draw their artwork on a prepared surface like a bavarian limestone (or a special kind of textured aluminum) with a greasy crayon, pencil, or another similar tool.

The drawing is then covered with a thin layer of water and then quickly applied with ink. When ink is applied to the stone, it sticks to the grease and but is repelled by areas where there’s only water present.

After some chemical processing, the drawing is placed in a press and the image is transferred onto a piece of paper (or another material), creating a mirrored picture.

The artist can create as many hand-printed copies of the same original artwork as he or she wants.

For a more detailed look at how lithographs are made and what a lithograph looks like, check out the video below.

How Lithographs Are Made

What Is an Oleograph Painting?

An oleograph is a colorful lithograph produced by preparing a separate stone by hand for each color to be used and printing one color over the other.

Sometimes as many as 30 stones are used for a single print!

Usually, the print is placed onto canvas and then varnish is added to mimic the look of an oil painting.

How Can You Tell It’s an Oleograph?

Oleographs are often mistaken for oil paintings because of their texture and being attached to a canvas. But, it looks even more like an oil painting as it ages and the varnish starts to yellow.

Listed below are a few things you can do to try to figure out if you’ve got an original oil painting or an oleograph.

It’s a painting if:

  • it has raised brush strokes or areas with thick layers of paint.
  • it has flaking paint.

It’s an oleograph if:

  • the print is peeling back along the edges of the artwork.
  • shows random marks and a dot pattern created by the surface the artwork was drawn on.

If the oleograph is very well done, you’ll often need to find a professional, like a conservator-restorer, to see if the artwork is an oil painting or an oleograph.

* A conservator-restorer is a person who’s responsible for the preservation of artistic artifacts

Are Oleographs Valuable?

An oleograph print is usually much more affordable than an original painting created by a well-known artist, but still has an air of exclusivity as the artwork is not mass-produced.

Factors that have the potential to increase the value of an oleograph prints are:

  • Has a limited quantity (limited edition)
  • Is numbered (another sign that it’s from a limited edition)
  • Is signed by the artist
  • Was hand-printed by the creator of the original artwork

So now that you know what oleographs are, go ahead and buy art (my favorite spot for finding affordable oleographs is Etsy), support independent artists, and HAVE FUN shopping!