We've compiled a short glossary of terms often used in the printmaking world. Please contact us for more information.
The term "after" describes a work on paper, such as a lithograph or etching, that was inspired by and created in the style of another work. For a detailed description of afters, with examples, please click here.
Abbreviation for "artist's proof," which is a print traditionally reserved for the artist but pulled at the same time as the numbered edition and therefore identical to those prints. See also Proof.
An intaglio technique used to create tonal areas (as opposed to incised or etched lines). The term derives from its similarities to watercolor. Powder of an acid-resistant material is sprinkled and fixed (often by heat) to a metal plate. When the plate is submerged in an acid bath, only the small areas left unprotected by the powder are attacked by the acid. The particles are then removed and the surface of the plate is linked, filling the areas of this now granular surface that are that are acid bitten. Depending upon the size of the acid-resistant particles and their distribution, the tonal field can range from smooth to coarse and from pale to dark.
Abbreviation for bon à tirer, meaning “good for printing.” This is the proof designated by the artist, often inscribed “BAT,” as the example for the edition. All impressions in the edition are matched to this proof.
A substance used in painting and printmaking that takes soot as a pigment, resulting typically in a yellow-brown color.
An engraving tool with a lozenge-shaped tip that makes a fine V-shaped groove when gouging the surface of a plate or block.
The minute, jagged edge of displaced metal that lines the edges of any groove incised in a metal plate.
A technique in which an extremely thin piece of paper is glued atop a standard piece of paper before being run through a press. Ink is absorbed by the thinner layer, creating a finer impression than is possible on the more substantial paper beneath. Chine is French for China, and refers to the thin Asian paper originally used for the process; collé is French for glued.
A symbol indicating the printer, publisher, or artist of a print that is embossed of blind-stamped onto the paper. See also Watermark.
A technique in which textured elements (paper, fabric, found objects) are glued onto a plate or board and then inked and printed. The resulting print relays the three-dimensional texture of the object run through the press.
An oil-based stick of pigment used to draw directly onto a lithography stone or plate.
Cul de Lamp
A French term for an ornate triangular at the bottom of a page in a book. These are placed in books for decorative purposes.
An intaglio technique that does not use acid or an engraving burin. Instead, the image is scratched directly into a bare metal plate with a metal needle (sometimes diamond-plated for strength). As the scratches are made, rough burrs of displaced metal form along the edges. These burrs hold large amounts of ink and present a characteristically fuzzy line after being run through the press. Drypoint marks are shallow and typically break down under repeated passes through a press (although in contemporary practice the marks are preserved through electroplating of the plate), so editions are often small.
A group of identical prints made from the same printing surface or matrix. They can be limited or unlimited in number. Artist’s proofs, BATs, and printer’s proofs are excluded from the final number even though they are identical to the numbered edition. Each print in a numbered edition is marked by a fraction, such as 2/10, in which the upper number indicates the impression in the series and the lower number indicates the total of the numbered edition.
A form of relief printing wherein an un-inked design is pressed into paper, creating a low-relief textural result.
The oldest intaglio technique, in which lines are cut into a metal plate with a burin. The plate is inked, then wiped so that ink remains only in the incised lines. The inked plate is then run through a press, forcing the paper into the lines to pick up the ink. Because the burrs are removed before the inking, the result is a smooth and sinuous line. See also Drypoint.
Using an etching needle, an artist scratches an image onto a metal plate covered with wax. This plate is then submerged in acid, which eats into the metal exposed by the scratched lines. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the deeper and darker the line will be. The plate is cleaned, inked, and cleaned again, leaving only the incised lines filled with ink. Dampened paper and a protective cloth are placed over the plate, which is squeezed through an etching press — the pressure forcing the paper into the etched lines to pick up the ink. The image is printed in reverse, and an indentation, known as the ‘plate mark’, is left by the plate’s edges. For more information, click here.
A French term meaning ‘watermarked,’ typically referring to watermarked paper.
The acid-resistant coating used to cover an etching plate to protect it from acid. A ground provides a smooth, thin surface that is easily drawn through with an etching needle. There are several kinds of ground, each producing particular effects. Hard ground is dry, brittle, and provides a controlled drawing surface. Soft ground is a moist, usually greasy coating used to make soft lines and refined textures. Fabrics and paper, for example, can be impressed in a soft ground, whose subtle textural variations are left to be etched once the material is removed. White ground is an oily liquid soap mixture that can be brushed or painted onto a plate to produce an unevenly acid-resistant, painterly effect. See also White-Ground Aquatint.
Abbreviation for Hors Commerce or Hors de Commerce, a French term meaning ‘non-commercial.’ The term is used to describe prints of an edition that are typically available only through the artist. The number of HCs from an edition range from 20 to 25. See also Artist Proof.
A general term referring to any metal-plate printing technique in which an incised line or area occurs below the surface of the plate. Aquatint, drypoint, engraving, and etching are all intaglio techniques. The term is based on the Italian word intagliare, to incise.
A large, ornate initial at the beginning of a text. These are placed in books for decorative purposes, and printmakers would often design lettrines together with a text’s illustrations. Also known as a ‘drop cap.’
A technique in which lines are cut or gouged into a sheet of linoleum, usually fixed to a wooden block. Because linoleum has no grain, the raised areas print as completely flat fields of color, and because it is soft and easy to incise, very fluid lines can be achieved.
The artist draws onto stone using a grease-based medium — normally special lithographic crayons, or greasy ink known as tusche. The stone is then treated with a chemical solution that ensures the image will attract printing ink, and that blank areas repel ink and attract water. A solvent ‘fixes’ the image, and the surface is dampened with water. Oil-based ink is then applied to the stone with a roller, adhering only to the image. Finally, the stone is placed on a lithographic press and covered with damp paper and board — a pressure bar ensuring force is evenly applied across the image. The image is printed in reverse, with separate stones used for complex images of multiple colours. For more information, click here.
A French term meaning artist’s book that usually indicates a limited-edition volume in which an artist has created imagery to accompany poetic or literary text. Also called an illustrated book or livre de peintre, painter’s book.
A general term used to describe any physical surface from which an image is printed. A lithography stone, an etching plate, and a wood block are all matrices.
An intaglio technique in which the entire plate is roughened using a serrated tool, called a rocker or roulette, to create a uniform field to accept ink. The artist then works from dark to light by scraping and burnishing the rough area back to varying degrees of smoothness. The technique creates velvety gradations of tone and very deep blacks and was a popular way to reproduce paintings in the eighteenth century. The term comes from the Italian mezzotinto, half-tint.
A unique print made by painting or drawing on a metal or glass plate which is then run through a press or manually rubbed to transfer the image to paper. Monotypes cannot be produced as multiples, as the passage through the press alters the image inside the plate.
A general term used to refer to an editorial work that exists in more than one identical copy. A multiple may be in any medium in which work can be reproduced identically: a print, cast sculpture, photograph, or tapestry, for example.
A mechanized lithographic process, usually reserved for commercial purposes, in which the image is transferred from an inked plate to a rubber cylinder, which then transfers (“offsets”) the inked image onto paper. The technique allows for the printing of images in the same orientation in which they are drawn, instead of appearing reversed, as in traditional lithography, etching, or relief printing. Mechanization allows for extraordinarily fast printing in comparison to hand-pulling a work through a press and can produce a large, uniform print run.
An intaglio technique in which a bare area of a metal plate is exposed to acid to produce a light overall tone. While the area of the surface is attacked by the acid and thus remains lower than an area protected by a ground, it is smooth and without the grainy texture of aquatint. Ink is therefore only attached to the edges, where there is a more dramatic shift in depth. The technique can also be used over an area of aquatint to lower the textured surface and thus produce a lighter tone.
A French term meaning painter-engraver, used to describe an artist who makes prints, as opposed to an artisan printmaker who transfers compositions made by other artists to prints for reproduction.
A general term for any intaglio process in which an image is made with a photosensitive ground or resist, or by using a photographic-transfer process.
A lithographic technique in which an aluminum plate (or, less typically, a stone) is treated with a photosensitive material and exposed image.
The indentation made on paper from a metal plate, or more specifically its contour, resulting from the pressure of a press.
A printmaking process in which a series of stencils are used to apply areas of color to the print surface by hand.
A print is any work of art made in multiple iterations, created through a transfer process. There are many different types of prints, and the process is constantly evolving, but the four best-known techniques are etching, lithography, screenprint and woodcut. For more information, click here.
The person or workshop responsible for the expert execution of a print. The printer can be the artist or a technician who collaborates closely with the artist to create the edition.
Any print that is not part of the final, numbered edition. These may include trial proofs, pulled to assess progress of the image; working proofs, prints that the artist or printer has altered by hand to indicate changes; and artist’s, printer’s or BAT proofs, which are identical to, but not part of, the numbered edition.
The individual or establishment responsible for funding the development and printing of an edition in exchange for a certain number of prints from the edition or a percentage of the profits from its sale. Some publishers simply provide the funding for a project; others may combine the roles of funder and printer. A publisher may also double as a workshop, providing creative support for a project as well as collaboration with the printer.
A general term for any printmaking technique in which the matrix is cut away and the remaining raised areas comprise the final image. The elevated areas are inked during that printing process, and the recessed areas are not. Woodcut and linocut are examples of relief printing.
Ink that has a reddish-brown color, so-called due to its resemblance to dried blood.
An image is cut into a sheet of paper or plastic film, creating a stencil. This stencil is then placed in a frame, which has a layer of fine mesh stretched across it, forming a ‘screen’. A sheet of paper is placed below the screen, and ink is pushed through the stencil from above, using a rubber blade or squeegee. Only cut-out portions of the stencil print. In addition to stencils, a photographic image can be reproduced on the screen using light-sensitive gelatins. This was a hugely important innovation for Andy Warhol and other members of the Pop generation, who would appropriate commercial photographs and popular images in tandem with the technique. For more information, click here.
An intaglio technique in which the artist paints high-strength acid selectively onto a plate prepared with an aquatint ground. The painted acid is modulated with saliva, water, or another mild solution, hence the term. The process allows for painterly, gestural marks, from strong and thick to thin and translucent.
A step in the development of a print made by alterations to the printing surface. All of the impressions of a print before a change is made to the matrix belong to the same state. It is common for more than one edition to be printed from the same printing surface in a different state, and these changes reflect the development of the artist’s creative process.
Teint(é) pur Chiffon
A French term meaning ‘stained rag,’ often used to describe a type of paper.
A lithographic technique in which the artist draws an image on specially coated paper, which is then transferred to the stone or plate before printing. Because the process flips the image twice, it maintains its original orientation. The technique also allows for the image to be produced away from the workshop or studio.
A print made in advance of the final numbered edition, before the final version of the matrix is complete. It is used to test how the image will print. See also Proof.
A greasy liquid applied with a pen or brush to a lithography stone to make an image. Tusche is German for ink.
An image or logo traditionally indicating the manufacturer of paper that is visible only when the sheet is held up to light. It is created using different thicknesses of paper pulp, and in handmade sheets can take the form of an artist’s signature or other design. See also Chop, Chopmark.
An intaglio technique in which the artist paints a liquid soap mixture onto a plate instead of using a consistent acid resistant ground to protect the plate. Because the mixture is only moderately acid resistant and ultimately breaks down in an acid bath, it creates areas of white, uneven tones when printed. See also Ground.
An image is sketched on a block of wood before the surface is carved into with gouging tools. The resulting raised portions of the block are then coated in ink using a roller. A sheet of paper is placed on top and pressure is applied, leaving an impression of the block’s raised areas in reverse. Woodcut is the oldest printmaking process. It was of particular interest to the German Expressionists including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and it continues to be relevant today — artists such as Donald Judd, Damien Hirst and Helen Frankenthaler have all used it. For more information, click here.
A technique in which a wood block is cut on the hard endgrain rather than on the plank side of a block, as in a woodcut. This produces comparatively much finer lines and refined tonal modulations, but it extremely labor-intensive. The process was used for most commercial newspaper and magazine illustrations throughout the nineteenth century.
A print that an artist or printer has altered by hand to indicate changes for the final image. See also Proof.