PRINTMAKING - A GLOSSARY OF TERMS


ARTIST’S PROOFS (annotated ‘AP’) – Several proofs are usually taken in addition, but identical to, the regular edition for the artist. Those works available form the edition remain for general sale whilst the artist (or in some cases publisher) for their own use retains the Artists Proofs or Épreuve d'Artiste (E.A.).

AQUATINT – An intaglio technique in which tone, light and shadow are produce. The process is often used in addition to hard and/or soft ground etching. Technically the aquatint ground can be produced in a number of ways. Traditionally the plate would be placed in a controlled “dust storm”. Rosin would settle upon the plate and would be subsequently melted at high temperatures (in order to bond the rosin ground to the copper). The same effect can also be achieved by the use of hand shakers (similar to a salt or pepper pot), airbrushing (with a liquid ground substitute for the rosin) or with car spray paints. Upon the aquatint ground various etching techniques can be worked, from a simple stopping out to spit-bite. Aquatints are also employed in sugar-lift etching. 

BON A  TIRER (annotated ‘BAT’) – A French abbreviation that stands for Bon à Tirer, translated literally as “ready to pull”.  This is the final proof made by the artist with the printer during proofing. Each pull from the regular edition is made to match or is modelled on the BAT. There is only ever one of these proofs made for any one edition. 

CHINE-COLLÉ – Developed in the 19th the process allows artists to “collage” additional papers onto the finished print, during the printing process. 

CHOP – A symbol, logo, monogram or other similar object that is stamped or blind embossed on each print & proof of a published edition. It serves as a form of identity for the printer, publisher and sometimes artist. Often the printer will have his or her own chop, which is independent of that of the publisher.

DRY POINT – The artist draws directly into a copper plate, scratching a line into the surface with a dry point needle. Receptive to the faintest line or the deepest gouge dry point allows the artist most freedom of line within the intaglio techniques. The technique causes the copper to burr, producing delicate ridges either side of the drawn line. When inked and printed these ridges cause the line to appear velvety in appearance. This burr wears more quickly than etched or engraved intaglio plates, as such there can be greater difference apparent in the first and last pulls of a single edition. Naturally this also means that drypoints by their very nature have fewer impressions. 

EDITION – The total number of identical impressions published, excluding all proofs. This can vary from as few as one to as many as hundreds, or thousands. Editions of Fine Art Original Prints are usually comprised of lower editions as a skilled craftsman(s) does much of the production, by hand. Many processes also involve a physical matrix (plate, screen or stone) that can wear down during printing. Each factor can have an impact on the quantity of prints made for the regular edition., both for financial and practical reasons. 

ENGRAVING – An intaglio technique that involves incising lines into a metal plate, traditionally this would have been copper (copper is a soft and workable metal) using hand tools know as burins. These tools vary in size, which in turn varies the marks that can be achieved. It is these incised lines that will hold ink when the copper plate is pressed. 

ETCHING – A metal plate (usually copper, Zinc or Steel) is coated in an acid resistant wax ground. Using a sharp needle, the artists draws directly through the apply ground revealing the metal underneath. The plate is then placed in an acid bath and bitten to the correct depth. Once bitten the plate is cleaned of all acid and grounds and inked in it’s entirety. The ink is then wiped back from the surface of the plate by hand leaving only that which is retained in the bitten line. The plate is then printed on an etching press on damp paper. This process can be repeated any number of times so that the artist can build a more complex image through multiple bites in the acid. 

HARD GROUND ETCHING – The process of etching using a very hard ground. See Etching. 

HORS COMMERCE (annotated ‘H.C.’) – A French term, often abbreviated to H.C. this print is the copy that is intended for display purposes. The intention is that with the use of H.C. prints the publisher may preserve those in limited number from overexposure of rough handling, a practice that has been common since the 1960s. The H.C. proofs are not for sale. 

INTAGLIO – A term of Italian origin, stemming from the word “intagliare”, meaning “to incise” see chine-collé, dry point, etching, hard ground etching, photo etching, mezzotint, polymer/photopolymer gravure, soft ground etching, spit-bite etching, sugar-lift etching

LITHOGRAPHY – Literally meaning “stone drawing” is a print that is made by drawing, painting or transferring directly onto a limestone. The process relies on the antipathy of grease and water. The drawing or image is created in a greasy medium which is then dampened with water. When ink is rolled over the surface of the stone the grease attracts the ink whilst the water repels allowing the image to adhere to the stones surface, or rather those greasy marks drawn upon it. The image is printed and the process repeated for each subsequent colour to complete the edition.  

LINOCUT – A variation of relief printing. The artist directly cuts their image into the surface of a piece of linoleum (often mounted on wood) using a variety of engraving tools, and knives. The surface of the linoleum is then inked using a roller and printed. Prints can be taken by hand using a Baren or on a direct or roller driven press. Separate blocks are often carved for each colour to be printed. However artists can use one block to print many colours using a reductive technique. Using this technique the artist carves the first colour and prints the full edition before returning to the linoleum to carve additional marks, which will be subsequently, printed upon the first colour. The process is repeated on the same piece of linoleum until the print is complete. 

MATRIX – The matrix is the plate, stone, stencil, screen, software or woodblock on which the artist creates his or her image prior to printing. It is with this matrix that a master printer can achieve consistent impressions throughout the desired edition. 

MEZZOTINT – Working from dark to light the artist burnishes thousands of copper burrs that have been engraved into the plate by the printer. These burrs hold the ink when printed and it is by the process of scraping and burnishing that the artist reveals lighter tones within their image. The process is characterised by its rich velvety blacks, subtle lighter tones and soft painterly marks. 

MONOPRINT – A monoprint uses a matrix created by the artist but in each pull he or she alters the inking technique, colour or substrate to singular effect. By manipulating the process in this way each impression differs from the last allowing the artist to create a series of unique impressions.

MONOTYPE – The artist draws or paints directly on to a sheet of metal, glass or Perspex, which is then pressed in order to transfer a direct impression. The initial transfer or printing process can remove up to 90% of the ink meaning only one true print can be taken. In rare instances a subsequent prints is achievable. These are by their vary nature weaker in tone and are often referred to as “Ghosts”. Using modern hydraulic presses it has been known for printers to take unto five “ghost” prints from one monotype plate, each fading more then last. This is extremely rare. 

PHOTO ETCHING – An intaglio plate, usually copper, zinc or steel is coated in a light sensitive emulsion or resist. It is further processed in a two-part exposure to film grain and a negative image film. The resulting transfer is then etched or bitten to produce the printable plate. 

PIGMENT PRINT (DIGITAL PRINT / INKJET PRINT) - An archival pigment print is a digitally produced image, printed with sophisticated computer software, (known as a RIP or raster image processors) on fine art papers using the latest digital inkjet printers. The process is common in many reprographic editions and only considered an “original print” if the work created was conceived and executed in the process with intent. 

POLYMER/PHOTOPOLYMER GRAVURE – An autographic or photographic image is transferred onto an aluminium plate coated in a photosensitive polymer emulsion. The resulting plate is later printed in the usual intaglio method. Multiple plates can be printed together to build a full colour print if the artist desires. 

POSTHUMOUS EDITION OR IMPRESSION – An artists heir or estate give permission for the printing of an edition or second edition. Also limited in number posthumous editions are not necessarily numbered. On occasion for posthumous second editions, stamped signatures are authorised. 

PRINTER'S PROOF (annotated ‘PP’) – Gifted or complimentary proofs, given to the printer(s). 

PROOF – A generic term referring to any pull outside of the regular numbered edition. 

RELIEF PRINTING – Relief prints are taken from a direct impression from the surface of a carved or engraved, inked block of wood, linoleum or other suitable material. Characteristically they are bold in contrast of light and dark.

RESTIRKE – These prints are impressions that have not been authorised by artist, heirs or publisher. Some restrikes may appear good in form, but excessive printing leads to a deterioration of the matrix and poor impressions. It has been known for Masters plates, such as those by Rembrandt, to be reworked by contemporaries in order to forge a successful restrike.

SCREEN PRINT (SERIGRAPH, SILK SCREEN) – The artist creates a stencil, which is transferred directly to a screen using a light sensitive resist. The stencil can take the form of a cut out, a painted effect or a photograph. Once transferred, ink is forced through the stencil using a squeegee (a rubber blade) to transfer or print the image. The artist may require more than one stencil to create an image. These additional stencils can be subsequently printed to build a more complex and multi-coloured work. The process is also known as silkscreen or serigraph.

SECOND EDITION – A second edition is a later printing.  Second editions are usually authorized by the artist or heirs and printed from the original matrix after a regular edition has been published. Common practice has it hat second editions are annotated as a subsequent, edition. It is important to note that a photographically produced reproduction of an original print, (limited or otherwise) is not a second edition; it is a reproduction. 

SIGNATURES – Many early prints are not signed at all. By the late 15th century artists were incorporating a signature or monogram upon the plate, referred to as  “signed in the plate” or a “plate signature.” It is possible to find prints signed in pencil as early as the late eighteenth century, although the practice was uncommon until the late 1880’s. For contemporary printmakers it is customary to sign prints. A publisher or dealer should always be clear to distinguish between a signed print (in pencil, ink or crayon) and those that bare a plate signature or stamped signature.

SOFT GROUND ETCHING – A form of etching that uses a malleable “soft” ground. The artist can draw or imprint into the ground to create their work which is etched in the usual way (see Etching).

SPIT-BITE ETCHING – An intaglio plate is prepared with a powdered rosin to create a halftone-like receptive surface. The artist then painted directly on the surface of the plate using acids of varying strengths. The plate is then printed using way.

TRIAL OR STATE PROOF (French: epreuve d'essai , German: Probedruck) – During the course of making a print the artist may want to view the progress of the image on the matrix. This process is known as proofing and each print taken during the proofing is subsequently known as a trial, or state proof. More specifically a trial proof is taken to test registration, colour and paper, whilst in a state proof work is either added or subtracted from the matrix so that the progress of the work can be proven.

SUGAR-LIFT ETCHING - An intaglio plate is prepared with a powdered rosin to create a halftone-like receptive surface. The artist then painted directly on the surface of the plate using a water based sugar solution which is dissolvable in warm water. This painted area forms the image area. The plate is then coated in a varnish resist and the sugar solution removed. The ground is then etched and printed in the way. 

WATERMARK – The name, logo, symbol or monogram that is embedded into the sheet of paper on which the print appears that identifies the mill where the paper was made. It also helps to identify which variation of paper has been chosen from the specified mill. These watermarks are more usually only visible when the paper is held in front of a light, although some printing techniques can emphasise the watermarks presence.  Typically these can be found on the lower right hand corner of the sheet.

WOODCUT – Woodcuts prints form many of the earliest examples of printing found in China in the ninth Century. The artist carves their image directly into a wooden block. Those areas of the wooden block that remain form the coloured image area. Once carved, there can be many blocks each relating to a separate colour, the blocks are inked with a roller, leaving ink on the surface of the block. An impression is then taken by placing paper directly over the carved and inked surface, then applying pressure either by hand or on a direct or roller driven press. It is common in woodblock printing that Key Block (usually printed in black and resembling line art) will be created and printed first and the impression offset onto subsequent blocks that are to form the coloured layers.

REDUCTION WOODCUT (LINOCUT) – The artist creates the entire print from a single block of wood or matrix. Without a key block as described in Woodcuts, the artist prints from this single plane. After working up the background colours and then cutting the matrix, the middle ground is printed. The artist further carves the matrix and prints again, repeating the process until the image is complete. The entire edition is printed at each stage, without the process of proofing. Once the artist commits to carving each layer, the previous printed layer is finalised. This process requires preliminary plans and a concept of a final image prior to printing.