Printmaking Basics

A print is an image made from a matrix (be it intaglio plate, relief woodblock, lithographic stone, serigraphic silkscreen, or metal plate for offset press, among others) capable of producing a certain quantity of like images. The print is usually made on paper, but may be on other surfaces such as cloth, metal, or ceramics. A print is produced in a certain quantity referred to as the edition size.

Prints fall into three main categories: intaglio (etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint, photogravure, photoetching); relief (woodblock, linoleum, heliorelief); and planographic (lithography, serigraphy, pochoir, cyanotype).

An edition of prints is any set number of impressions (or prints) printed from the same matrix, signed by the artist and numbered and identical to the bon á tirer. They are usually numbered using Arabic numbers – 1/20, 2/20, etc.

A proof is an impression taken at any stage in the making of a print edition. Proofs are generally produced outside of the numbered edition. These include the bon á tirer or BAT, trial proofs, printer’s proofs, artist’s proofs, presentation proofs, hors de commerce (HC), etc.


Technical Glossary of Terms


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Aquatint

Within the intaglio process, an etching technique in which tone is created by treating the plate with fine particles of acid-resistant material (powdered resin, spray lacquer). The acid bites into the plate between the grains of resin and, when printed, the mass of tiny dots produces a finely textured area. Aquatint is the basis for the photogravure process, and is often used in combination with other intaglio techniques. See Trenton Doyle Hancock’s suite of three prints The Night Foot; We Done All We Could And None Of It’s Good, A Nocturn; and Like A Thief In The Night.

Archival

Acid-free materials that will remain stable for a very long time. Any paper used in printmaking, be it for printing, framing, storing or packing, should be archival.

Artist’s Proofs

Signed impressions of a print separate from the numbered edition, to be retained or distributed at the artist’s discretion. Artist’s proofs are annotated as such or as A.P.

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Bon á tirer (BAT)

Bon á tirer means “good to pull.” This is the first perfect impression of the work and the one that will be used to judge all other impressions in the edition. The BAT indicates the artist’s authorization to proceed with the edition; it is signed or initialed by the artist. All further impressions are compared to the BAT for quality. Any impression deviating from the BAT is destroyed.

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Chine collé

(French, “Chinese paste”) A process used for adhering a thin paper of a different color or texture onto a larger, heavier sheet during the printing process, using glue to dampen and coat the papers. Originally used for adding color and support to the paper, chine collé is now often used for the varied texture it provides or in order to print onto more delicate papers. Iva Gueorguieva’s prints Borne Out, Stained, and Rolling Anvil contain chine collé elements.

Chop

A symbol or logo that is either embossed or stamped on each print of a finished edition, including all proofs, as a way to identify the printer and publisher of the edition. A printer will also have his/her individual chop separate from the publisher’s chop.

Collage

A technique in which cloth, fabric, cut out pieces of paper or other such elements are incorporated into the composition in any of many methods. Introduced into fine art by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in about 1909. James Rosenquist collaged monotypes and lithographs together in his large-scale prints The Kabuki Blushes, Crosshatch and Mutation, Flowers and Females, Shriek, and Sister Shrieks.

Colophon

Brief statement including the printer’s name and other information about production, found at the end of a book or portfolio or on the back of the title page.

Cyanotype

A planographic process employing the cameraless blueprint technique. Paper is treated with special chemicals, then objects, films, or negatives are used to block light from exposing the treated paper. The chemicals will turn the paper the characteristic blue color after being exposed to light. See Neufert Suite by Guillermo Kuitca.

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Digital Inkjet Prints

Large-scale ink jet printers use a sophisticated print head to disperse archival inks in a fine mist on archival paper in order to deliver a consistently toned image. A digital print is only an “original print” if it was created by the artist specifically as a print and not a reproduction of an image in another medium. An example is Jim Campbell’s suite of four prints Dynamism of an Automobile (after Luigi Russolo); Dynamism of a Cyclist 2001 (after Umberto Boccioni); Dynamism of a Cow; Dynamism of an Observer in the Weeds.

Direct Gravure

A photogravure and a direct gravure are made in the same way, except a photogravure uses a photographically generated positive (such as Andrea Modica’s folio of landscape photogravures, Florida) the direct gravure uses a hand-drawn positive (such as Mimosus soli by Janaina Tschäpe.)

Drypoint

An intaglio method in which a plate is directly incised by a needle. A drypoint prints a velvety line owing to the burr raised by the cut. This soft line is suitable only to small editions because the burr breaks down with repeated printing. A drypoint line can appear similar to an etched line, although no acid or ground is used, and is often employed in conjunction with etching. Examples of drypoint are in prints by Markus Lüpertz Abend #1, Abend #2, and Abend #3 and Bernar Venet’s Random Combination of Indeterminate Lines.

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Edition

A print edition is the set of signed and numbered impressions, identical to the bon á tirer. Impressions are numbered using Arabic numerals, for example 1/20, 2/20, etc. As all numbered impressions are identical to the bon á tirer, the sequence of numbers should have no meaning in valuing the print.

Engraving

An intaglio method of cutting into metal with a burin (the basic tool of the engraver). Engraving differs from etching in that the pressure of the tool, not the use of an acid bath, creates the lines in the metal. It differs from drypoint since metal is actually dug out of the lines and any burr is scraped off the plate. Depending on the pressure and angle, the burin’s cut can range form a deep to a tapered stroke. Paradiso by Theo Wujcik is an example of an engraving.

Etching

An intaglio method in which drawn marks are eaten into a metal plate by acid or chemical means rather than cut out with a tool, as in engraving. An acid-resistant ground is thinly coated on a plate. The artist draws through the ground with any of various tools to expose the metal. The plate is immersed in an acid bath that bites (chemically dissolves) the exposed metal, creating depressed lines or areas that can be inked and printed (variations include aquatint, mezzotint, soft ground). Many artists at Graphicstudio have made etchings, including Leonora Carrington, Alfred Leslie, Vito Acconci, Hugh O’Donnell and Kenny Scharf.

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Gampi

A Japanese shrub used in papermaking, characterized by long, fine, tough, glossy fibers. It is a very light but strong paper. Artist Lesley Dill used gampi paper in the Poem Dress of Circulation and the print Gold Word Figure.

Ground

Any surface covering of a plate or stone that the artist removes with various tools or chemical solutions to create an image. For instance, in etching, an acid-resistant coating applied to the face of a metal plate to protect uncut areas from the action of the acid. Can be hard-ground or soft-ground.

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Heliorelief

Graphicstudio invented the technique of heliorelief, which allows photographic images to be transferred to a block of wood. The image is placed into relief by sandblasting instead of traditional hand cutting. The technique amplifies the possibilities of woodcut, freeing the artist of the constraints of the wood grain. See Kiki Smith's artist book The Vitreous Body for an example of heliorelief.

Hors Commerce (HC)

The hors commerce is a signed or unsigned impression, stamped Hors Commerce, equal in quality to the bon á tirer, which is used to show the work for sales.

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Impression

Another word for print, used to refer to the individual prints making up an edition.

Intaglio

(Italian, “carving”) Intaglio printing methods involve either cutting by a sharp object (a knife for example) or biting by acid into a metal plate. Ink is applied to the recessed areas of the printing plate by hand wiping. The press squeezes the paper into the grooves or incised lines in the plate, and the paper receives the ink from the recessed lines. One of the distinguishing characteristics of intaglio is that the dried ink impression stands up from the paper in slight relief perceptible by running one’s finger across the print or by close examination. Another is the presence of a plate mark left on the paper by pressure of the press. Processes that are included within intaglio are etching, aquatint, drypoint, photogravure, direct gravure and photoetching.

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Linoleum or Linocut

A relief printing process in which the image is carved out of linoleum block.

Lithography

A planographic printmaking process that exploits the antipathy between grease and water. On a stone or aluminum plate, the artist draws or paints with a greasy crayon or liquid wash. The stone or plate is treated with gum Arabic and acid, making the drawn areas attract ink and the non-image area reject ink. The printer dampens the stone or plate with water, applying ink with a roller which will only adhere to the area drawn or printed. Paper is placed over the image and it is run through the press. Lithography is a good medium for artists who want a direct drawing or painting effect in their prints. Alex Katz’s Mae and several Graphicstudio prints by James Rosenquist and Los Carpinteros are good examples of lithographs.

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Matrix

The base from which a print is made. This can be anything–a standard metal plate or lithographic stone, a vinyl record, a stencil–anything from which you print.

Monoprint

A monoprint is created by further manipulating a planographic, relief, or intaglio processes. The print may be altered by coloring the paper before printing, adding additional ink to the matrix, or otherwise varying each impression during or after printing. For this reason a monoprint edition is sometimes called edition variée. See Janaina Tschäpe’s Playing Flat series of monoprints.

Monotype

A monotype is a unique image printed from a smooth surface painted with ink. It is sometimes possible to pull a second or “ghost” impression, which is weaker, from a monotype plate. Because the image is transferred through a press, a monotype is regarded as a print, but since it cannot be multiplied (and not produced in an edition), its uniqueness is more like a drawing or painting. See Christian Marclay’s series Cassette Tape Duplication for a series of monotypes made from cassette tape and ink.

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Offset Printing

Commercial printing method in which the inked image is first transferred to an intermediary, such as the rubber cylinder on an offset press, then to paper.

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Photoetching

Intaglio technique in which an image is produced on an etching plate by photographic means. Three Views of an Object by Alyson Shotz are photoetchings.

Photogravure

An intaglio process in which a photographic image is etched into a copper plate and then printed on dampened paper. Photogravures are archival and have an infinite range of tonal values. First, a photographic film positive is made and then exposed onto a sensitized sheet of carbon tissue. The carbon tissue, consisting of a pigmented gelatin layer on paper backing, is then sensitized in a solution of potassium bichromate. The exposed surface of the gelatin is adhered to the copper. The copper with tissue is then immersed in heated water that dissolves the unexposed gelatin. Once the paper backing is removed, the image is developed and can be seen as a negative. The plate is then etched in several baths of ferric chloride. After etching, the plate is cleaned and printed on an etching press, essentially in the same manner as any other etching or engraving. Works by Chuck Close, Robert Mapplethorpe, Graciela Iturbide, Ed Ruscha, Lorna Simpson and Andrea Modica are examples of photogravures created at Graphicstudio.

Photo-Lithograph

A planographic technique in which an image is produced on a lithographic plate by photographic means. See William Wegman’s Souvenir and Shore Liner.

Planographic Printing

Printing from a flat surface, as distinguished from relief and intaglio printing. Lithography, serigraphy, cyanotype and pochoir are examples of planographic printing.

Plate Mark

In intaglio printing, the imprint in the paper resulting from the edge of a metal plate being embossed during the pressure of the printing process.

Pochoir

(French, “stencil”). A planographic printmaking method using stencils, usually employed for hand coloring prints.

Presentation Proofs

Similar to a Printer’s Proof, these are signed impressions separate from the numbered edition which are inscribed and presented by the artist to special collaborators involved in the project whose contributions the artist wishes to recognize.

Printer’s Proofs

A signed impression that is inscribed and presented, at the artist’s discretion, to the printers who worked on the edition in recognition of their artistic collaboration on the project. The Printer’s Proof is a long-standing tradition in the printmaking profession, and provides printers with important samples of their work for their portfolio.

Progressive Proofs

In multicolor printing, a different stone or plate must be made for each color used. Progressive Proofs are single-color impressions from each of the different plates or stones. Combined together, impressions from each stone or plate on the same paper will result in an impression comparable to the bon á tirer (BAT). As each Progressive Proof shows only a portion of the entire image, these proofs are primarily valuable as documentation. The artist does not sign Progressive Proofs.

Publisher

Although some artists have marketed their own prints, most have worked through or for publishers. In the past, publishers have often put their address (name and place of publication) on the plate. In the 20th century the engraved address has normally been replaced by a blind-stamp on each impression of a print. Publishers are an important and often neglected element in the genesis of most prints.

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Registration

The correct alignment of separate plates, blocks, stones, or screens with respect to one another. This is crucial in the making of multicolor prints.

Relief

Printmaking processes in which the image is printed from the raised or uncarved surface of the block or plate that has been inked. The most common form of relief printing is the woodcut, and variations of the relief process include linoleum block printing (linocut) and wood engraving.

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Serigraphy / Screenprint / Silkscreen

Another planographic technique, in the screenprint process (in the United States it is often called silkscreen printing) a print is created from a screen made of silk, other fabric, or metal mesh stretched on a frame. The design is provided by a stencil adhered to the screen, and a squeegee pulled across forces ink through the open areas on to the paper. During the 1930s, when the process was first used as a fine art medium, the term “serigraph” was coined to distinguish screenprints made by an artist from screenprints produced for commercial purposes. Allan McCollum and Pablo Helguera produced Placeholders, a series of 13 screenprinted images. Two of Carlos Garaicoa’s projects involved screenprinting onto self-healing cutting mats.

Soap Ground

A type of aquatint printing which uses a liquid soap mixture painted on the plate instead of varnish to protect parts of the plate from the acid. The soap breaks down in the acid, creating irregular tones. Jia Aili’s Forrest Gump in a Spaceship uses soap ground etching.

Spitbite

A version of aquatint printing where acid is painted directly onto an aquatint ground. Traditionally a clean brush was coated with saliva, dipped into acid and brushed onto the ground, hence the term "spitbite". The technique produces tonal effects similar to a watercolor wash. See Arturo Herrera’s Fetch suite of etchings.

State Proofs

Unsigned impressions that differ significantly from the numbered edition. These impressions are made prior to major alterations in the stone or plate. The primary significance of these prints is their value in documenting the creative process.

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Trial Proofs

Unsigned impressions printed prior to the bon á tirer (BAT) that differ slightly from the numbered edition. Minor corrections must still be made to the plate or stone. Their value and significance is in their use as documentation.

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Waxtype

A screenprinting process in which pigmented beeswax rather than traditional printing ink is pressed through the stencil-covered screen, a steel mesh screen that is heated to prevent the wax from setting. It is possible to achieve printed surfaces of great variety using this method. Printed wax may be left unmodified, revealing the woven texture of the screen, or “burned-in” with a torch, for a smooth surface with a more fluid, encaustic-like appearance, and burnished to a high sheen. Consecutive layers of wax may be forced through the screen to create a multilayered surface of low relief. Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke Figures were the first images to use waxtype.

Woodcut

The most important relief process, in which the image or design is cut out of a woodblock. The woodblock is generally made from the plank side of a fairly soft wood. To create a print in this method, the non-image areas are cut out of a woodblock, which is then inked, paper is laid on the block, and then the back of the paper is rubbed to pick up the inked image. For a traditional approach, see Abraão Batista’s A Brazilian in Florida suite of prints.