The Museum of Modern Art in New York gives an excellent introduction to printing techniques.Click here to see the short slide show. (opens in a new window)
Three Major Print-Making Processes
Intaglio – The process of incising a design beneath the surface of hard metal or stone. Plates are inked only in the etched depressions on the plates and then the plate surface is wiped clean. The ink is then transferred onto the paper through an etching press. The printing is done with a plate bearing an image in intaglio and includes all metal-plate etching and engraving processes. The reverse of this process is known as relief printing.
Planographic – The process to print impressions from a smooth surface rather than from creating incised or relief areas on the plate. The term was devised to describe lithography.
Relief – All printing processes in which the non-printing areas of the block or plate are carved, engraved, or etched away. Inks are applied onto the protected surface and transferred onto the paper. The reverse process is known as intaglio printing.
Common Print-Making Technologies
Aquatint – Printing technique capable of producing unlimited tonal gradations to re-create the broad flat tints of ink wash or watercolor drawings by etching microscopic crackles and pits into the image on a master plate, typically made of copper or zinc. The majority of Spanish artist Goya’s (1746-1828) graphic works were done using this technique.
Blind – Printing using an un-inked plate to produce the subtle embossed texture of a white-on-white image, highlighted by the shadow of the relief image on the un-inked paper. This technique is used in many Japanese prints.
Collagraph – Printing technique in which proofs are pulled from a block on which the artwork or design is built up like a collage, creating a relief.
Drypoint – Printing technique of intaglio, engraving in which a hard, steel needle incises lines on a metal plate, creating a burr that yields a characteristically soft and velvety line in the final print.
Engraving – Printing technique in which an intaglio image is produced by cutting a metal plate or box directly with a sharp engraving tool. The incised lines are inked and printed with heavy pressure.
Etching – Printing technique in which a metal plate is first covered with an acid-resistant material, then worked with an etching needle to create an intaglio image. The exposed met-al is eaten away in an acid bath, creating depressed lines that are later inked for printing. This technique was thought re-, have been developed by Daniel Hopfer (1493-1536). Etching surpassed engraving as the most popular graphic art during the active years of Rembrandt and Hercules Segher in the 17th century, and it remains one of the most versatile and subtle printing techniques today.
Iris or Giclée – A computerized reproduction technique in which the image and topology are generated from a digital file and printed by a special ink let printer, using ink, acrylic or oil paints. Giclée printing offers one of the highest degree of accuracy and richness of color available in any reproduction techniques.
Linocut is printed from linoleum, usually backed with wood for reinforcement. The printed surface has less texture than in a woodcut because of the supple nature of linoleum. The material takes all types of lines, but is most suited to large designs with contrasting tints.
Lithography – Printing technique using a planographic process in which prints are pulled on a special press from a flat stone or metal surface that has been chemically sensitized so that- ink sticks only to the design areas, and is repelled by the non-image areas. Lithography was invented in 1798 in Solnhofen, Germany by Alois Senefelder. The early history of lithography is dominated by great French artists such as Daumier and Delacroix, and later by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Braque and Miró.
Mezzotint – (mezzo= half ; tinta= tone), a reverse engraving process used on a copper or steel plate to produce illustrations in relief with effects of light and shadow. The surface of a master plate is roughened with a tool called a rocker so that if inked, it will print solid black. The areas to be white or gray in the print are rubbed down so as nor to take ink. It was widely used in the 18th and 19th centuries to reproduce portraits and other paintings, but became obsolete with the introduction of photo-engraving.
Monotype – One-of-a-kind print made by painting on a sheet of metal or glass and transferring the still-wet painting to a sheet of paper by hand or with an etching press. If enough paint remains on the master plate, additional prints can be made, however, the reprint will have substantial variations from the original Image. Monotype printing is not a multiple-replica process since each print is unique.
Offset Lithography – A special photo-mechanical technique in which the image to be printed is transferred to the negative plates and printed onto papers. Offset lithography is very well adapted to color printing.
Serigraphy (Silkscreen) – A printing technique that makes use of a squeegee to force ink directly on to a piece of paper or canvas through a stencil creating an image on a screen of silk or other fine fabric with an impermeable substance. Serigraphy differs from most other printing in that its color areas are paint films rather than printing-ink stains.
Woodcut – Printing technique in which the printing surface has been carved from a block of wood. The traditional wood block is seasoned hardwood such as apple, beech, or sycamore. A modern trend, however, is to use more inexpensive and easily attainable soft woods such as pine. Woodcut is one of the oldest forms of printing. It was first used by the Chinese in the 12th century and later in Europe toward the end of the 14th century.
In the picture you can see a wood block, belonging to a private collection in Switzerland. It is a drawing by Daumier entitled “Au buffet de l’Exposition des Beaux-Arts: Amour de l’Art et de la Côtelette” of June 20, 1868, for « Le Monde Illustré ».
Wood Engraving is made from the end-grain surface of blocks. This surface has no grain and can afford great precision and detail.
Common Art Print Terms
Acid-free Paper or Canvas – Paper or canvas treated to neutralize its natural acidity in order to protect fine are: and photographic prints from discoloration and deterioration.
Canvas Transfer – Art reproduction on canvas which is created by a process such as serigraphy, photomechanical, or giclee printing. Some processes can even recreate the texture, brush strokes, and aged appearance of the original work of art.
Color-variant Suite – A set of identical prints in different color schemes.
Impression – Fine art made by any printing or stamping process.
Limited Edition – Set of identical prints numbered in succession and signed by the artist. The total number of prints is fixed or “limited” by the artist who supervises the printing him(her)self. All additional prints have been destroyed.
Monoprint – One-of-a-kind print conceived by the artist and printed by or under the artist’s supervision.
Montage (Collage) – An artwork comprising of portions of various existing images such as from photographs or prints, and arranged so that they join, overlap, or blend to create a new image.
Multiple Originals – A set of identical fine prints in which the artist personally conceived the image, created the master plates, and executed or supervised the entire printing process. Example: etching.
Multiple Reproductions – A set of identical fine prints reproducing the image of an original artwork created by a non-printing process. Example: serigraph of an oil on canvas.
Open Edition – A series of prints or objects in an art edition that has an unlimited number of copies. Original print – One-of-a-kind print in which the artist personally conceived the image, created the master plates, and executed the entire printing process.
Provenance – Record of ownership for a work of art, ideally from the time it- left the artist’s studio to its present location, thus creating an unbroken ownership history.
Remarque – Small sketch in the margin of an art print or additional enhancements by the artist on some or all of the final prints within an edition.
Restrike – Additional prints made from a master plate, block, lithographic stone, etc. after the original edition has been exhausted.
Proofs are prints authorized by the artist in addition to the limited signed and numbered edition. The total size of an art edition consists of the signed and numbered prints plus all outstanding proofs. If a set of proofs consists of more than one print, numbers are inscribed to indicate the number of the prints within the total number of the particular type of proof, (e,g., AP 5/20 means the fifth print in a set of 20 identical. prints authorized as artist’s proofs). Proofs are generally signed by the artist as validation of the prints.
Artist’s proof – Print intended for the artist’s personal use. It is a common practice to reserve approximately ten percent of an edition as artist’s proofs, although this figure can be higher. The artist’s proof is sometimes referred to by its French name, épreuve d’artiste (abbreviated E.A.). Artist’s proofs can be distinguished by the abbreviation AP or E.A., commonly on the lower left corner of the work.
Cancellation proof – Final print made once an edition series has been finished to show that the plate has been marred/mutilated by the artist, and will never be used again to make more prints of the edition.
Hors Commerce Proof – Print identical to the edition print intended to be used as samples to show to dealers and galleries. Hors Commerce (abbreviated H.C.) proofs may or may not be signed by the artist.
Printer’s proof – Print retained by the printer as a reference. Artists often sign these prints as a gesture of appreciation.
Trial proof – Pre-cursor to a limited edition series, these initial prints are pulled so that the artist may examine, refine, and perfect the prints to the desired final state. Trial proofs are generally not signed.
Common Abbreviations used in Art
2nd ed – Second edition: prints of the same image as the original edition but altered in some way (as in change of color, paper, or printing process).
2nd st. – Second state. prints of proofs which contain significant changes from the original print.
AP – Artist’s proof.
Del – (Latin, deleavit) He (she) drew it. Generally inscribed next to the artist’s signature.
E.A. – (French, épreuve d’artiste) An artist’s proof.
Exe or Imp – (Latin, excudit) He (she) executed it. The meaning is synonymous with (Latin, impressit) he(she) printed it.
H.C. – (French, hors commerce) Prints from an edition intended to be used as samples to show to dealers and galleries.
Inc. or Sculp – (Latin, incidit) He(she) cut it. The meaning is synonymous with (Latin, impressit) he(she) carved it. These abbreviations refer to the individuals who engraved the master plate.
Inv, or Invent – (Latin, invenit) He(she) designed it. Generally inscribed next to the artist’s signature.
Lith. or Lithe – “Lithographed By”. Usually follows the name of the printer of the lithograph.
Pinx. – (Latin, pinxit) He(she) painted it. Generally inscribed next to the artist’s signature.
PP – Printer’s proof .
TP – Trial proof.
Albumen – The most popular photographic print f~rom 1855 to 1890. Albumen positive prints are made on paper coated with frothy egg white and salt solution and sensitized with silver nitrate solution. The print is then finalized by exposure to sunlight through a negative.
Carbon Print – The first permanent photographic printing process used between 1866 to 1890. Made in three different tones: black, purple-brown, sepia. It is made by using 3 layers of stable pigment in registration on top of each other and requires a minimum of 12 hours to create a single print. Carbon prints are highly sought after and rare.
Cibachrome – A positive print process known for its sharpness, rich color saturation, and permanence. Unless interpositives are made, these prints are made from slides and transparencies, never from color negatives.
Daguerreotype – The first practical photo process invented in 1838 in which an image was formed on a copper plate coated with highly polished silver. Following exposure, the image is developed in mercury vapor, resulting in a unique image on metal that cannot be used as a negative for replication.
Dye Transfer – A high-quality color photographic printing technique involving the transfer of dyes from three separately prepared images onto a single sheet of paper in exact registration. Though costly, this process produces prints with sharp registration, rich color saturation and great longevity.
Evercolor Pigment Transfer – developed by Evercolor using four layers of separate color transfer, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, in registration to create prints. This very costly process creates very realistic and sharp images which attain three dimensional quality when displayed. Prints done in this process are highly sought after and rare.
Fujicolor Print – Developed by Fuji Film of Japan, Fujicolor prints have the best color gamut and extreme longevity. It was developed originally for 1 hour processing. When used with the light jet printer, this process achieves amazing color saturation, contrast control and extreme sharpness.
Photogravure (Gravure) – Started around 1879, a print process using copper plates. The plate is sometimes chrome plated to insure sharpness and continuous tones throughout the edition. This is a very complex and exacting photo process which produces great longevity.
Photomontage – A composite image made by joining together portions (or all) of more than one photograph to synthesize a unique image.
Plate – Usually a glass or metal sheer coated with light-sensitive emulsion that: is intended to receive the image through the aperture of the lens of a camera when inserted into the camera.
Platinum Print (Platinotype) – A print formed by exposing a negative in contact with payer that has been sensitised with iron salts and a platinum compound. This process is highly prized for its unique cones, high color saturation, exceptional details and beautiful papers. It is a highly permanent and costly process.
Silver Gelatine – A high-quality, black-and-white photographic printing technique in which a natural protein is used as a transparent medium to hold light-sensitive silver halide crystals in suspension, binding them to the printing paper or film, yet allowing for penetration of processing solutions. Made famous by photographers like Weston and Adams, these prints require incredible skill to achieve the rich black and white contrasts while maintaining the subtle grey tones and amazing details throughout the image. Popular from 1920s to present.
Holograph – Holograph comes from the Greek words “holo”, meaning whole and “graph”, meaning message. The combination means “the whole message” which is exactly what the holograph gives the viewer. A Holograph is a “reflective holograph” requiring only an ordinary uncoated light bulb on one side of the film plate to become a magical window displaying three dimensional visions of objects. These objects shift position and perspective exactly as they would if they were really there, where they only appear to be.
(Glossary of fine art terminology: With kind permission of HERNDON FINE ART, Albuquerque, New Mexico)
For more information on “printing technology” go to WIKIPEDIA