GLOSSARY OF PRINTMAKING TERMS AND TECHNIQUES
What is a print?
Technically, a print is any image that is transferred from a matrix. A matrix is a physical surface that can be manipulated to hold ink. Most, though not all, matrices are able to print the same image many times.
How is a color print made?
There are several ways to make a multi-color print, but the most common is to print a different matrix for each color. The matrices are precisely aligned and sequentially printed on a sheet of paper to produce a composite image.
What are the inscriptions on the bottom of the print?
Traditionally, signifying inscriptions are written in pencil at the bottom of a print. Reading from left to right, the inscriptions indicate the edition number, the title of the artwork, and the artist’s name (and sometimes the date).
A term sometimes used to refer to the corrosive solution in which a metal plate is etched for intaglio printing. The concentration of this bath is precisely measured, as is the period of a plate’s submersion.
An etching technique that creates printed tonal areas. Powdered rosin is distributed across a metal plate and adhered through heating. When the plate is submerged in a corrosive bath, tiny areas unprotected by the rosin particles are “eaten away”, creating recesses. Once the rosin is removed, the plate is inked, and ink collects in those areas with uneven surfaces. Finally, damp paper is laid on the plate, and they are run through a press, transferring ink in the shape of these areas. The more an area is eaten away, the more ink will transfer during printing, and the darker the tonal area will be.
Artist’s Proof (A.P.)
A print reserved for the artist and not included in the numbered edition. An artist’s proof can be identified by the inscription “A.P.” found in the lower left-hand margin. Alternatively, printer’s proofs are reserved for the printer and are inscribed “P.P.”
Bon à Tirer (B.A.T.)
A print that is not included in the edition, but which indicates the standard a printer tried to duplicate for the edition. A print which is bon à tirer (translated from French as “ready to pull”) can be identified by the inscription “B.A.T.” found in the lower left-hand margin.
The process of adhering one piece of paper to another by using a liquid adhesive and running them together through the printing press. Chine is French for “China,” which refers to the thin Asian paper originally used with this technique, and collé means “glued.”
A technique of relief printing using any combination of actual elements such as cardboard, fabric, washes, carborundum (an abrasive powder), or found objects, which are adhered to a plate, inked, and printed.
A general term for any technique that involves digital technology. Until the mid-1990s, most computer-made images were transferred photochemically onto traditional printing plates or screens. Since then, many artists have used high-resolution digital printing processes on computer-controlled printers. Sometimes the terms Inkjet (a type of printer), Giclée (the French term for inkjet), or Iris (a brand of printer) are used to refer to the printing process.
An intaglio technique in which marks are cut directly into a metal plate using a tool with a sharp point. The drypoint needle is used like a pencil to incise lines into the plate, displacing ridges of metal called burrs. The plate is wiped with ink, which collects in the incisions as well as under the burrs. Damp paper is laid on the plate, and they are run through a press together, transferring ink from both the incision and the burr, resulting in the drypoint’s characteristic fuzzy line.
A set of identical prints made from the same matrix (or set of matrices). Often a number of other prints – artist’s proofs, printer’s proofs, bon à tirer, and hors commerce (“not for trade”) prints – are made at the same time but are not considered to be part of the numbered edition. Each print in a limited edition is usually numbered in the lower left-hand margin. The form of this inscription is as follows: number in the edition/size of the edition (i.e. 15/50). To guarantee a limited edition, the artist or printer can “strike” the plate by incising an X on the printing face after completion.
A technique that creates precise lines which swell in the middle and taper at the ends. Lines are incised into a bare metal plate using a burin, a tool with a V-shaped blade. The plate is wiped with ink, which collects in the incisions. Damp paper is laid on the plate, and they are run through a press together, transferring ink from the incisions to the paper.
An intaglio technique that can create a wide variety of printed marks. A resist is first applied to a clean metal plate. By using any of a variety of tools, the resist is selectively scraped off to reveal the bare plate beneath. When the plate is placed in a corrosive bath, only the exposed metal areas corrode. After the bath, any remaining ground is removed using solvents. The plate is then wiped with ink, which collects in the recesses. Damp paper is laid on the plate, and they are run through a press together, transferring ink from the recesses to the paper.
Any numbered print from a completed edition.
A term for the family of printing techniques which transfer ink from the recesses made in a matrix, rather than from its surface. Techniques using intaglio printing include etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint, and mezzotint. Intaglio comes from the Italian word intaglaire, which means “to incise.”
A relief technique for printing movable type (though blocks with images may also be used). Metal, wood, or polymer forms of a standard height are set in place in the bed of a press. Since ink is transferred from the surface of the blocks by the application of pressure, letterpress prints are recognizable for their embossed printed forms.
A relief technique using a sheet of linoleum from which shapes are gouged away using chisels or knives, leaving the printing image as the raised surface. Ink is transferred from the surface of the block by the application of pressure. Linoleum is softer and therefore easier to carve than wood; however, it exhibits neither wood’s characteristic grain nor its durability.
A planographic technique that can print a variety of drawn and painterly marks. Traditionally, a grease pencil or tusche (greasy watercolor) is applied to a flat slab of limestone, selectively filling the stone’s pores. A chemical mixture securely bonds the stone before water is used to fill the remaining pores. The oil-based ink used is attracted only to those areas that have retained grease. Damp paper is laid on the face of the stone, and they are run through a press together, transferring ink from the surface. Aluminum plates may also be used.
A physical surface that can be manipulated to hold ink, which is then transferred to paper. Most, though not all, matrices are able to print the same image many times. Some matrices used in printmaking include metal plates, blocks of wood, sheets of linoleum, sheets of Plexiglas, and slabs of limestone.
An intaglio technique in which the surface of a metal plate is first uniformly pitted using a rocker. A mezzotint rocker is serrated on the bottom and must be rocked back and forth by hand, a demanding task. A rounded metal tool called a burnisher is then used to gradually and selectively smooth out areas, causing them to retain less ink. Damp paper is laid on the plate, and they are run through a press together. The fully pitted areas transfer more ink than the burnished sections, creating mezzotint’s characteristic gradations of tone.
A technique involving the painting, rolling, or scraping of ink onto a uniform surface, which is transferred to paper by the application of pressure. Because the monotype matrix is unaltered and each unique inking is transferred in a single printing, the print cannot be duplicated, hence its name.
A technique commonly used in commercial printing where an image is transferred first to a rubber cylinder on a mechanized press, from which it is then printed onto paper. An indirect process, offset printing is beneficial because it does not reverse the image from the matrix, nor does the matrix deteriorate quickly. A common use of this technique is offset lithography.
A general term for any metal plate process in which an image has been transferred to a metal surface by photographic means. A corrosive bath is used to incise the image into the plate before inking and printing. Photoetching is a term alternatively used.
The specialist who provides technical aide throughout the printing process. A master printer may have a group of assistants. Historically, printmaking has been characterized by a divided production process, where artist and printer work collaboratively but accomplish different tasks.
A print that is not considered to be part of the numbered edition. Examples include prints made in advance of the edition - known as “trail proofs” - as well as those made at the time of the edition, but which are reserved for the artist or printer.
The entity responsible for funding the development and production of an edition. Commonly, this is in exchange for either a percentage of the edition or of the profits from its sale. Some printshops publish their own editions.
The alignment of matrices as they are printed sequentially onto the same sheet of paper. Though challenging, precise alignment is usually the intent.
A term for the technique which transfers ink from the printing surface to the paper. In the case of the commonly used matrices wood and linoleum, chisels and knives are used to gouge out pieces of the form, leaving the printing image as the raised surface. In the case of Plexiglas, ink is manually removed without altering the uniform surface. Stamps and letterpress use prefabricated forms whose surfaces are unaltered. Ink is applied either using a brush or roller and transferred by the application of pressure.
A technique using stencils made in silk or a synthetic fabric, which has been stretched over a wooden frame. Areas of the screen that are not part of the printing image can be blocked out using a variety of methods. In one common method, the screen is first evenly coated with a water-soluble, light-sensitive liquid. A transparency bearing a printed image prevents projected UV light from hardening parts of the screen. Unhardened areas are then washed out with water before a squeegee is used to press ink evenly through the screen, directly onto paper. This technique is also known as silkscreen or serigraphy.
A relief technique using a plank of wood from which shapes are gouged away using chisels or knives, leaving the printing image as the raised surface. Ink is transferred from the surface of the block by the application of pressure. Woodcuts are characteristic both for the grain that is often evident in the printed image, as well as for their durability.
A relief technique requiring a hard plank of wood, which is incised with fine lines using sharp tools. Unlike the woodcut, a wood engraving requires a harder plank whose face is cut perpendicular to the grain. Ink is transferred from the surface of the block by the application of pressure.