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Stamps (Philately)/What is the difference between Typograph and Lithograph



I have a question and I am not getting anywhere.

Ok here is the official information from Scott's catalog.

Printing Processes as by Scott Publishing Co. Copyright© 2008

(Letterpress, Surface Printing, Flexography, Dry Offset, High Etch)

Although the word “Typography” is obsolete as a term describing a printing method, it was the accepted term throughout the first century of postage stamps. Therefore, appropriate Scott listings in this catalogue refer to typographed stamps. The current term for this form of printing, however, is “letterpress.”

As it relates to the production of postage stamps, letterpress printing is the reverse of engraving. Rather than having recessed areas trap the ink and deposit it on paper, only the raised areas of the design are inked. This is comparable to the type of printing seen by inking and using an ordinary rubber stamp. Letterpress includes all printing where the design is above the surface area, whether it is wood, metal or, in some instances, hardened rubber or polymer plastic.

For most letterpress-printed stamps, the engraved master is made in much the same manner as for engraved stamps. In this instance, however, an additional step is needed. The design is transferred to another surface before being transferred to the transfer roll. In this way, the transfer roll has a recessed stamp design, rather than one done in relief. This makes the printing areas on the final plate raised, or relief areas.

For less-detailed stamps of the 19th century, the area on the die not used as a printing surface was cut away, leaving the surface area raised. The original die was then reproduced by stereotyping or electrotyping. The resulting electrotypes were assembled in the required number and format of the desired sheet of stamps. The plate used in printing the stamps was an electroplate of these assembled electrotypes.

Once the final letterpress plates are created, ink is applied to the raised surface and the pressure of the press transfers the ink impression to the paper. In contrast to engraving, the fine lines of letterpress are impressed on the surface of the stamp, leaving a debossed surface. When viewed from the back (as on a typewritten page), the corresponding line work on the stamp will be raised slightly (embossed) above the surface.

(Gravure, Rotogravure, Heliogravure)

In this process, the basic principles of photography are applied to a chemically sensitized metal plate, rather than photographic paper. The design is transferred photographically to the plate through a halftone, or dot-matrix screen, breaking the reproduction into tiny dots. The plate is treated chemically and the dots form depressions, called cells, of varying depths and diameters, depending on the degrees of shade in the design. Then, like engraving, ink is applied to the plate and the surface is wiped clean. This leaves ink in the tiny cells that is lifted out and deposited on the paper when it is pressed against the plate.

Gravure is most often used for multicolored stamps, generally using the three primary colors (red, yellow and blue) and black. By varying the dot matrix pattern and density of these colors, virtually any color can be reproduced. A typical full-color gravure stamp will be created from four printing cylinders (one for each color). The original multicolored image will have been photographically separated into its component colors.

Modern gravure printing may use computer-generated dot-matrix screens, and modern plates may be of various types including metal-coated plastic. The catalogue designation of Photogravure (or “Photo”) covers any of these older and more modern gravure methods of printing.

For examples of the first photogravure stamps printed (1914), see Bavaria Scott 94-114.

(Offset Lithography, Stone Lithography, Dilitho, Planography, Collotype)

The principle that oil and water do not mix is the basis for lithography. The stamp design is drawn by hand or transferred from engraving to the surface of a lithographic stone or metal plate in a greasy (oily) substance. This oily substance holds the ink, which will later be transferred to the paper. The stone (or plate) is wet with an acid fluid, causing it to repel the printing ink in all areas not covered by the greasy substance.

Transfer paper is used to transfer the design from the original stone or plate. A series of duplicate transfers are grouped and, in turn, transferred to the final printing plate.


The application of photographic processes to lithography. This process allows greater flexibility of design, related to use of halftone screens combined with line work. Unlike photogravure or engraving, this process can allow large, solid areas to be printed.

PHOTOGRAVURE (Gravure, Rotogravure, Heliogravure) is the only one with the dots.

So as to my original question which is "What is the easiest way to tell the difference between a lithograph and a typo-graph?"

I was in the Scotts catalog vol 1 page 465 working on my Argentina stamps and was at catalog # 427 which is a typography printing and stamp 427d is a lithograph printing.

How do I tell the difference, I have asked in two different forums and received answers but not one that answers my question. I only found out many more have the same question on this mater.

Any help would be appreciated



My expertise is limited to United States stamps, so I can't help you specifically with your Argentine issues.  As for USA issues, I find the lithographed stamps, specifically from the 20th century, to have a duller, muddier, and sometimes out-of-register appearance.  The 21st century lithographed stamps are much improved, but nothing beats the sharpness of engraved stamps.

-Mark Leon

I deal in United States Stamps
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Mark Leon


I am a collector of United States postage stamps, and also a stamp dealer. I`m a member of the American Philatelic Society (APS). My principle area of interest and expertise is in United States Stamps.


I've been selling stamps on the internet since early 1996. I maintain a stamp web page that concentrates on mint US stamps issued generally between 1890 and 2009. I'm an active seller on since 1996, under the user id "mleon". You can find my web page at

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, 1984.

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