Original Prints and Printmaking Terms
Like every creative discipline, techniques can be straightforward yet can get complicated..Here are some terms that will help you navigate through the world of printmaking. This A-Z will be added to continually..
To start…Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing, normally on paper.
Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting.
Having a low pH (below 6.5), therefore harmful to works of art or documents on paper.
Free from the damaging level of low pH. Most papers used in printmaking are usually acid-free.
A la poupée
A kind of print where colour is directly applied to a single plate and worked into the appropriate area of the design using cotton daubs called dollies, (poupée is French) is selectively inked in different colors, using stumps of rag.
When a printmaker uses the design (often a painting or drawing) of another artist as a basis for a print.
Non acidic, on the high end of the ph spectrum.
Those prints which have been printed and published prior to 1900 are considered antique prints. However, this date is not firmly fixed, and in many circumstances original prints made before World War II are also considered to be antiques.
Fine particles of acid-resistant resin are deposited on the plate and heated so they adhere to the surface. The plate is immersed in acid which bites into the plate in tiny pools around each particle. The tiny depressions retain the ink and when printed give the effect of a soft grain similar to watercolor.
The first set of prints pulled for the artist’s own use, are marked as A.P. and may or may not be numbered and are considered by many to be higher in value than the subsequent numbered edition prints. Sometimes marked E.A. (French, epreuve d’ artiste) or PA (Italian, Prova d’Autore) instead of A.P.
A blind stamp is an embossed seal impressed onto a print as a distinguishing mark by the artist, the publisher, an institution, or a collector.
A wood block is a piece of wood used as a matrix for a print. Wood blocks are used primarily for woodcuts or wood engravings.
Bon a tirer (French, good to pull)
A press proof of a print that is approved by the artist and serves as the standard for the edition.
A book listing all of the prints by a certain artist known at the time of compilation. It also includes all essential documentary information.
Chine Collé is a print in which the image is impressed onto a thin sheet of Oriental paper which is backed by a stronger, thicker sheet. Because China paper takes an intaglio impression more easily than regular paper, chine collé prints generally show a richer impression than standard prints.
Drawing directly on the copper plate with a sharp point creates a rough ridge of metal–a burr–along the furrow. When the plate is inked, the burr catches the ink, producing dark, velvety accents.
E.A. (French, epreuve d’ artiste) Artist’s proof.
A number of art prints of a certain image, all the same size and as close to identical as possible. In the days when all prints were made by hand, one of the challenges of producing an edition was to make the copies as consistent as possible; that is, as much alike as possible. Of course, small variations will inevitably happen in any hand-pulled edition. One indicator of the level of the printmaker’s art was the consistency of the editions. When editions are produced by commercial photographic or printing techniques, the problem of consistency is eliminated; automated processes are capable of producing literally millions of identical images. This makes edition numbering of limited editions very important. It also makes it possible to produce potentially many thousands of equally high-quality images if it is an open edition.
In limited editions, which are limited to a certain number of prints, the practice of numbering prints has developed.
An edition number on a fine art print looks like a fraction, with the larger number on the “bottom,” or to the right of the /. Usually it is put in the lower left-hand corner at the bottom of the image, balanced by the artist’s signature in the lower right, but there are some variations to this.
The practice began in the days when there were only hand-pulled prints. Consistent though an edition might be in the hands of a master printmaker, the plates used to print these editions were relatively fragile. They would begin to break down or subtly deteriorate as the edition was made. Prints made at the beginning of the print run would be clearer, sharper and of better overall quality than prints made near the end of the print run. Printmakers developed the system of numbering each print that was made, in the sequence in which it was made. This is the “top” number, or the number to the left of the /. Thus if a print is numbered 11/230, you know that it was the eleventh print pulled in an edition numbering 230 prints in all. The number was an indicator of the probable quality of the image. When artists started using commercial reproduction methods to create larger editions of virtually identical prints, the tradition of numbering still was carried over. It no longer is an indication of the relative value and quality of an individual print in the edition, but it now serves a new purpose–that of helping ensure an honest edition.
Back when there was no other way to pull a print except by hand, you just couldn’t get more than a few hundred prints (often, far fewer than that) out of a plate before the prints started looking pretty bad. With today’s commercial methods, however, you could print millions if you wanted to. The number of prints in a limited edition is quantified and finite; therefore, these prints are more collectable (read that: worth more on the art market) than prints in open editions, which are not limited. The sequential numbering gives a certain measure of assurance that the edition is limited as claimed. If two or more “print number fives” of a certain limited edition were found to exist, for instance, it would be a great blow to that artist’s reputation and resale values. Artist’s proofs also are usually numbered, and for the same reason. An AP number looks like a regular edition number, except it is smaller than the edition from which it derives and it includes the letters AP. And example (from an edition of 300, with 20 APs) might be AP 14/20.
Any process used to create a raised or depressed surface, sometimes without ink.
Lines are incised into a copper plate with a burin. The curls of copper thrown up at the sides of the furrow are cleaned away with a scraper.
A metal plate is coated with a varnish-like substance (known as the “ground”) that is impervious to acid. The artist creates an image by drawing through the ground with an etching needle, thus exposing areas of metal. The whole plate is then immersed in acid until the exposed lines are sufficiently bitten, producing grooves in the metal that will hold the ink. The ground is then removed, and the plate is ready to be inked and printed.
(pronounced Jee Clay), from the French for little squirt.
A “giclee” print is a piece of printed artwork or photograph produced by using a high quality digital inkjet printer. The technology behind this revolution is based on the power of computers combining with advances in printing techniques. Extremely fine droplets of ink can be spurted onto heavy water-color paper. These droplets can be controlled by computer so that the resolution of the printed image is much finer than conventional printing. The image and printer commands are recorded as a digital file and can be accessed on demand. This means that an edition can be proofed and then tested for popularity. Then when the artist, gallery or publisher wishes to print more copies of the image they can be produced as and whenever needed.
– Print identical to the edition print intended to be used as samples to show to dealers and galleries. Hors d’Commerce (abbreviated to H.C.) proofs may or may not be signed by the artist.
In graphics, an undesirable mark or imperfection in printing, caused by dirt in the ink or on the press.
A single piece of paper with an image printed on it from a matrix is an impression. The term as applied to prints is used in a manner similar to the term “copy” as applied to a book.
An intaglio print is one whose image is printed from a recessed design incised or etched into the surface of a plate. The ink lies below the surface of the plate and is transferred to the paper under pressure. The printed lines of an intaglio print stand in relief on the paper. A characteristic of an intaglio print is its platemark.
The lettering of a print refers to the information, usually given below the image, concerning the title, artist, publisher, engraver and other such data. (check the Glossary of Abbreviations used in Printmaking)
A limited edition is just what the name says: an edition that has been limited to a certain, specific number of prints. The certain, specific number of prints to which a specific edition has been limited may vary greatly, from less than a hundred (especially with a hand-pulled edition; see above in the section on edition numbering!) to more than ten thousand (yes, if the edition is limited to 11,000 prints, it still is limited, technically). Most artists producing limited editions of lithoprints today fall into an edition size-range between 300 and 1000 copies, plus artist proofs.
Linoleum Cut (or Linocut)
A relief technique like woodcut but using linoleum rather than wood.
The design is drawn on a stone (or certain types of plates) with a greasy crayon or ink. Water adheres to the bare stone and not the greasy areas, while the printing ink does the opposite–it sticks to the greasy areas and not the wet stone–reproducing the design when printed.
A matrix is an object upon which a design has been formed, used to make an impression on a piece of paper, thus creating a print. A wood block, metal plate, or lithographic stone can be used as a matrix.
The copper plate is systematically worked over with a spiked tool called a rocker until it is thoroughly roughened. If inked in this state it will print a solid black. The engraver then works from dark to light smoothing out graduated highlights with a scraper. The smoother the area is the less ink it will hold, creating an image in a range of tones.
A mixed method print is one whose design is created on a single matrix using a variety of printmaking techniques, for example: line engraving, stipple, and etching.
Ink or paint applied onto an already worked plate. Although a matrix is present, real editions are really impossible to carry out.
Ink or paint is applied to a smooth plate. Because there is no fixed matrix, only one strong impression can be printed.
The image is transferred (offset) from the stone or plate to a roller on the press which then prints the inked image onto the paper.
An original print is one printed from a matrix on which the design was created by hand and issued as part of the original publishing venture or as part of a connected, subsequent publishing venture. For fine art prints the criteria used is stricter. A fine art print is original only if the artist both conceived and had a direct hand in the production of the print. An original print must be distinguished from a reproduction, which is produced photomechanically, and from a restrike, which is produced as part of a later, unconnected publishing venture.
Any of a variety of printmaking processes in which the imagery is established photographically.
The design is created on a flat surface which has no perceptible variation in depth. The image is created on the surface of a stone or plate which is altered chemically (as in lithography) rather than by dimensional (i.e. by carving out or incising into).
A metal plate is a flat sheet of metal, usually copper, steel or zinc, used as a matrix for a print. Metal plates are used for intaglio prints and for some lithographs.
A platemark is the rectangular ridge created in the paper of a print by the edge of a plate. Unlike a relief or planographic print, an intaglio print is printed under considerable pressure, thus creating the platemark when the paper is forced together with the plate. Some reproductions have a false platemark, while many originals don’t even have one: early printmakers used plates which were bigger than their image, and once printed, the paper was often trimmed and the platemark would not appear.
Tone created in intaglio prints by leaving a film of ink on the plate when it is wiped before printing.
A reproduction of an original artwork. A widely used but vague term which can include $10 posters as well as limited edition prints worth thousands of dollars. By its nature, a print can have multiple impressions.
A proof is an impression of a print pulled prior to the regular, published edition of the print. A trial or working proof is one taken before the design on the matrix is finished. These proofs are pulled so that the artist can see what work still needs to be done to the matrix. Once a printed image meets the artist’s expectations, this becomes a bon à tirer. This proof is often signed by the artist to indicate his approval and is used for comparison purposes by the printer. An artist’s proof is an impression issued extra to the regular numbered edition and reserved for the artist’s own use. Artist’s proofs are usually signed and are sometimes marked “A.P.”, “E.A.” or “H.C.” Commercial publishers found that there was a financial advantage to offering so-called “proofs” for sale and so developed other types of proofs to offer to collectors, generally at higher prices.
Printer’s Proof (See bon à tirer)
In printmaking, for registration purposes, the largest color areas are printed first, then the next sizes in sequence, and finally the smallest areas.
The image is printed from the raised portions of a carved, etched, or cast block or other rigid material. The printing surface stands in relief above the rest of the block and the ink lies on the top of the block and is transferred to the paper under light pressure.
A Remarque is small vignette image found in the margin of a print, often related thematically to the main image, which used to be scribbled sketches made by the artist for testing purposes and usually removed prior to the first publication of the print. During the etching revival, in the late nineteenth century, remarques became popular as an additional design element in prints and were also used in the creation of remarque proofs.
A restrike is a print produced from the matrix of an original print which was not printed as part of the original publishing venture. A restrike is a later impression from an unrelated publishing project.
A tool with a spiked wheel used to create lines of even dots on intaglio plates.
Screenprint (also called Serigraph or Silkscreen)
Silk or synthetic mesh is stretched tightly over a frame. A stencil is adhered to the fabric blocking the nonprinting areas. The image areas are open fabric through which ink is forced with a squeegee.
In fine art printing, hand screen printing; a stencil printing process where paint is forced with the squeegee throughout the silk organdy or other screen on to the paper or textile below, the area not to be painted being previously stopped out.
A signed print is one signed, in pencil or ink, by the artist or engraver.
A print is said to be signed in the plate if the artist’s signature is incorporated into the matrix and so appears as part of the printed image.
In the late nineteenth century, in response to the development of photomechanical reproduction techniques, fine arts prints were signed by the artists in order to distinguish between original prints and reproductions. Seymour Haden and James McNeil Whistler are usually credited for introducing this practice in the 1880s.
A piece of paper is placed over a special soft etching ground. The design is drawn with a pencil on the paper. The pressure of the pencil causes the ground to adhere to the back of the paper, recording the pressure of the artist’s hand. When the paper is peeled from the plate, it takes with it the ground which adhered to it. The plate is then bitten with acid, the remaining ground is removed, and the plate is inked and printed.
Any stage in the development of a print at which impressions are taken is a state of that particular print. This includes all the impressions pulled without any change made to the matrix. Different states of a print should be distinguished from editions. There can be several editions of a print which are the same state, and there can be several states of a print in the same edition. A change of state occurs only with the addition or removal of lines on a plate which can reflect intentional or accidental changes.
The process of coating a copper plate with a thin layer of steel by electrolysis, thus strengthening its surface for further printing.
Stencil (or Pochoir)
Prints are hand-colored through specially cut stencils.
A lithographic stone is a slab of stone, usually limestone, used as a matrix for a print.
In etching and engraving, a method of rendering tone by means of dots and short strokes.
The artist uses a mixture of sugar syrup and ink to draw on the copper plate. When dry, the entire plate is covered with a varnish that is impervious to acid and put in warm water. As the sugar melts, it lifts the varnish off and exposes the copper plate where the artist had drawn. These areas are now aquatinted.
Occasionally known as xylography, is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print.
A watermark is a design embossed into a piece of paper during its production and used for identification of the paper and papermaker. The watermark can be seen when the paper is held up to light.