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Printmaking Basic Terminology

Acid: Having a low pH (below 6.5), therefore harmful to works of art or documents on paper.
Acid-free: This is paper free from the damaging level of low pH. Most papers used in printmaking are usually acid-free.
À la poupée: A print is coloured à la poupée when ink is applied directly to a plate's surface and worked into the appropriate area of the design using cotton daubs called dollies, or in French, poupée.
After: When a printmaker uses the design, often a painting or drawing, of another artist as a basis for a print.
Alkaline: Non acidic, on the high end of the ph spectrum.
Antique print: All prints created prior to 1900 are considered antique.
Aquatint: Fine particles of acid-resistant resin are deposited on the plate and heated so they adhere to the surface. The plate is immersed in acid which bites into the plate in tiny pools around each particle. The tiny depressions retain the ink and when printed give the effect of a soft grain similar to watercolor.
Artist proof: The first set of prints pulled for the artist's own use, are marked as A.P. and may or may not be numbered and are considered by many to be higher in value than the subsequent numbered edition prints. Sometimes marked E.A. (French, epreuve d' artiste) or PA (Italian, Prova d'Autore) instead of A.P.
Blind stamp: A blind stamp is a colourless impression embossed without ink. It is a distinguishing mark by the artist, the publisher, an institution, or a collector.
Block: A woodblock is a piece of wood used as a relief matrix for a print. Wood blocks are carved with knives or chisels before being inked and printed.
Bon a tirer: A press proof of a print that is approved by the artist and serves as the standard for the edition.
Catalogue raisonné: It is a comprehensive catalogue of artworks by an artist, known at the time of compilation. It should be an exhaustive list of works for a defined subject matter and which includes all essential documentary information.

Chine collé: A chine collé is a print in which the image is transferred onto a thin sheet of paper bonded to a heavier, support in the printing process. Japanese rice paper pulls finer details so chine collé prints generally show a richer impression than standard prints. Another purpose is to provide a background colour behind the image that is different from the surrounding backing sheet.
Drypoint: Drawing directly on the copper plate with a sharp point creates a rough ridge of metal--a burr--along the furrow. When the plate is inked, the burr catches the ink, producing dark, velvety accents.
E.A.: (French, epreuve d' artiste) Artist's proof.
Edition: A number of art prints of a certain image, all the same size and as close to identical as possible. In the days when all prints were made by hand, one of the challenges of producing an edition was to make the copies as consistent as possible; that is, as much alike as possible. Of course, small variations will inevitably happen in any hand-pulled edition. One indicator of the level of the printmaker's art was the consistency of the editions. When editions are produced by commercial photographic or printing techniques, the problem of consistency is eliminated; automated processes are capable of producing literally millions of identical images. This makes edition numbering of limited editions very important. It also makes it possible to produce potentially many thousands of equally high-quality images if it is an open edition.
Edition numbering: In limited editions, which are limited to a certain number of prints, the practice of numbering prints has developed. An edition number on a fine art print looks like a fraction, with the larger number on the "bottom," or to the right of the /. Usually it is put in the lower left-hand corner at the bottom of the image, balanced by the artist's signature in the lower right, but there are some variations to this. The practice began in the days when there were only hand-pulled prints. Consistent though an edition might be in the hands of a master printmaker, the plates used to print these editions were relatively fragile. They would begin to break down or subtly deteriorate as the edition was made. Prints made at the beginning of the print run would be clearer, sharper and of better overall quality than prints made near the end of the print run. Printmakers developed the system of numbering each print that was made, in the sequence in which it was made. This is the "top" number, or the number to the left of the /. Thus if a print is numbered 11/230, you know that it was the eleventh print pulled in an edition numbering 230 prints in all. The number was an indicator of the probable quality of the image. When artists started using commercial reproduction methods to create larger editions of virtually identical prints, the tradition of numbering still was carried over. It no longer is an indication of the relative value and quality of an individual print in the edition, but it now serves a new purpose--that of helping ensure an honest edition. Back when there was no other way to pull a print except by hand, you just couldn't get more than a few hundred prints (often, far fewer than that) out of a plate before the prints started looking pretty bad. With today's commercial methods, however, you could print millions if you wanted to. The number of prints in a limited edition is quantified and finite; therefore, these prints are more collectable (read that: worth more on the art market) than prints in open editions, which are not limited. The sequential numbering gives a certain measure of assurance that the edition is limited as claimed. If two or more "print number fives" of a certain limited edition were found to exist, for instance, it would be a great blow to that artist's reputation and resale values. Artist's proofs also are usually numbered, and for the same reason. An AP number looks like a regular edition number, except it is smaller than the edition from which it derives and it includes the letters AP. And example (from an edition of 300, with 20 APs) might be AP 14/20.
Embossing: Any process used to create a raised or depressed surface, sometimes without ink.
Engraving : An engraving is a print that was made using an engraved printing plate (engrave means to carve a pattern in a printing plate).
Etching : A metal plate is coated with a varnish-like substance (known as the "ground") that is impervious to acid. The artist creates an image by drawing through the ground with an etching needle, thus exposing areas of metal. The whole plate is then immersed in acid until the exposed lines are sufficiently bitten, producing grooves in the metal that will hold the ink. The ground is then removed, and the plate is ready to be inked and printed.
Giclee : (pronounced Jee Clay), from the French for little squirt.
A “giclee” print is a piece of printed artwork or photograph produced by using a high quality digital inkjet printer. The technology behind this revolution is based on the power of computers combining with advances in printing techniques. Extremely fine droplets of ink can be spurted onto heavy water-color paper. These droplets can be controlled by computer so that the resolution of the printed image is much finer than conventional printing. The image and printer commands are recorded as a digital file and can be accessed on demand. This means that an edition can be proofed and then tested for popularity. Then when the artist, gallery or publisher wishes to print more copies of the image they can be produced as and whenever needed.
Hickey : In graphics, an undesirable mark or imperfection in printing, caused by dirt in the ink or on the press.
Impression: An impression is a single print of a matrix on a piece of paper.
Intaglio: The image in an intaglio print is incised or etched into the surface of a plate. The ink lays below the surface of the plate and is transferred to the paper under pressure. The printed lines of an intaglio print will be in relief on the paper. Intaglio prints have platemarks.
Lettering: The lettering of a print refers to the information, usually given below the image, concerning the title, artist, publisher, engraver and other such data.
Limited Edition:

A limited edition print is one in which a limit is placed on the number of impressions pulled in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are numbered and signed by the artist. Limited editions are a recent development, dating from the late nineteenth century; earlier prints were limited in the number of their impressions solely by market demand or by the maximum number that could be printed by the medium used.

In Anleitung Zur Kupferstichkunde, German printmaker Adam von Bartsch estimated a maximum number of quality prints it was possible to obtain in different print media:

  • Engraving: 500 (and about the same number of weaker images)
  • Stipple: 500 (and about the same number of weaker images)
  • Mezzotint: 300 to 400, though the quality suffers after the first 150
  • Aquatint: Less than 200
  • Wood block: Up to 10,000

With the development of lithography and steel-facing of metal plates in the nineteenth century, tens of thousands of impressions were pulled without loss of quality. These technological developments led to the idea of limiting the number of prints to create scarcity.

Linoleum cut or linocut: A relief technique like woodcut but using linoleum rather than wood.
Lithograph: The design is drawn on a stone (or certain types of plates) with a greasy crayon or ink. Water adheres to the bare stone and not the greasy areas, while the printing ink does the opposite--it sticks to the greasy areas and not the wet stone--reproducing the design when printed.
Matrix: A matrix is a surface upon which a design is formed and which is then used to make an impression on a piece of paper, thus creating a print. For etching and engraving a matrix is a metal plate, for lithography a flat stone is used and for woodblocks a wooden flat block. In modern printmaking also sheets of mylar or cardboard can be used.
Mezzotint: The copper plate is systematically worked over with a spiked tool called a rocker until it is thoroughly roughened. If inked in this state it will print a solid black. The engraver then works from dark to light smoothing out graduated highlights with a scraper. The smoother the area is the less ink it will hold, creating an image in a range of tones.
Mixed Method: A mixed method print is one whose design is created on a single matrix using a variety of printmaking techniques, e.g: etching, engraving and drypoint.
Monoprint: Ink or paint applied onto an already worked plate. Although a matrix is present, real editions are really impossible to carry out.
Monotype: Ink or paint is applied to a smooth plate. Because there is no fixed matrix, only one strong impression can be printed.
Numbered Print: A numbered print is part of a limited edition and which has been numbered by the artist in pencil (usually on the left hand side). The numbering is usually in the form of x/y, where y stands for the total number of impressions in the edition and x is the specific number of the print. The number of a print always indicates the order in which the prints were numbered, not the order in which the impressions were pulled.
Offset Lithography: The image is transferred from the stone or plate to a roller on the press which then prints the inked image onto the paper.
Original Print: An original print is one printed from a matrix on which the design was created by hand and issued as part of the original publishing venture or as part of a connected, subsequent publishing venture. For fine art prints the criteria used is more strict. A fine art print is original only if the artist both conceived and had a direct hand in the production of the print. An original print should be distinguished from a reproduction, which is produced photomechanically, and from a restrike, which is produced as part of a later, unconnected publishing venture.
Paper: Prior to 1800 there was only laid paper, made by hand in a mold, where the wires used to support the paper pulp would emboss their pattern into the paper. This pattern of crossing lines can be seen when the paper is held up to light. Today paper is made by machine (wove paper) on a belt and lacks the laid lines. However, false laid lines can be added to machine-made paper. Japanese paper is a very thin paper, which is used for chine collé prints.
Photomechanical reproduction: Any of a variety of printmaking processes in which the imagery is established photographically.
Planographic: A planographic print is one whose image is printed off a flat surface from a design drawn on a stone or plate using a grease crayon or with a greasy ink. In this type of print the printing ink is absorbed by the greasy design on the stone and is transferred to the paper under light pressure.
Plate: It is usually made of metal, usually copper, steel or zinc, used as a matrix for a print.
Platemark: A platemark is the embossed ridge created in the paper of a print by the edge of an intaglio plate. Unlike a relief or planographic print, an intaglio print is printed under considerable pressure, thus creating a mark when the paper is forced together with the plate. Some reproductions have a false platemark.
Plate tone: Tone created in intaglio prints by leaving a film of ink on the plate when it is wiped before printing.
Print: A print is a work of art made up of ink on paper existing in multiple copies which was created by transfer and not by direct drawing of the artist.
Proof: A proof is an impression of a print pulled prior to the regular, published edition of the print. A working proof is one taken before the design on the matrix is finished. These proofs are pulled so that the artist can see what the image looks like when printed and what work still needs to be done to the matrix. Once the artist is satisfied with the result, this becomes a bon à tirer ("good to pull") proof. An artist's proof is an impression issued extra to the regular numbered edition and reserved for the artist's own use. Artist's proofs are usually signed and are sometimes marked "A.P.", "E.A.".
Commercial publishers found that there was a financial advantage to offering new types of "proofs" for sale and so developed other types of proofs to offer to collectors, generally at higher prices.
Printer's proof: See bon a tirer
Reduction printing: In printmaking, for registration purposes, the largest color areas are printed first, then the next sizes in sequence, and finally the smallest areas.
Relief: A relief print is one whose image is printed from a design raised on the surface of a block. In this type of print the ink lies on the top of the block and is transferred to the paper under light pressure.

Remarque: A remarque is a small vignette image in the margin of a print, often related thematically to the main image. Originally remarques were scribbled sketches made in the margins of etchings so that the artist could test the plate, his needles, or the strength of the etching acid prior to working on the main image. These remarques were usually removed prior to the first publication of the print. During the etching revival, in the late nineteenth century, remarques became popular as an additional design element in prints and were also used in the creation of remarque proofs.
Reproduction: A reproduction is a copy of an original print or other art work by using a photomechanical process. It is a reproduction done to the same scale and appearance as the original.
Restrike: A restrike is a print produced from the matrix of an original print, but which was not printed as part of the original publishing venture and is a later impression from an unrelated publishing project.
Roulette: A tool with a spiked wheel used to create lines of even dots on intaglio plates.
Screenprint: (also called Serigraph or Silkscreen)
Silk or synthetic mesh is stretched tightly over a frame. A stencil is adhered to the fabric blocking the nonprinting areas. The image areas are open fabric through which ink is forced with a squeegee.
Serigraph: See screenprint
Signed: A signed print is one signed, in pencil or ink, by the artist and/or engraver of the print. A print is said to be signed in the plate if the artist's signature is incorporated into the matrix and so appears as part of the printed image. In the late nineteenth century, in response to the development of photomechanical reproduction techniques, fine arts prints were signed in pencil by the artists in order to distinguish between original prints and reproductions.
Softground Etching: A piece of paper is placed over a special soft etching ground. The design is drawn with a pencil on the paper. The pressure of the pencil causes the ground to adhere to the back of the paper, recording the pressure of the artist's hand. When the paper is peeled from the plate, it takes with it the ground which adhered to it. The plate is then bitten with acid, the remaining ground is removed, and the plate is inked and printed.
State : A state of a print or edition of prints, are pulled without any change being made to the matrix. A first state print is one of the first group of impressions pulled. Different states of a print can be obtained by changing the matrix, which can occur intentionally or accidentally. States of a print are distinguished from editions of a print; there can be several editions of a print which are the same state, and there can be several states of a print in the same edition. In this case, on the lower left margin you would have state I, II, III, IV, etc.
Steelfacing: The process of coating a copper plate with a thin layer of steel by electrolysis, thus strengthening its surface for further printing.
Stencil: Prints are hand-colored through specially cut stencils.
Stone: A lithographic stone is a slab of stone, usually limestone, used as a matrix for a print. Lithographic stones are used to make lithographs and chromolithographs.
Stipple: In etching and engraving, a method of rendering tone by means of dots and short strokes.
Sugarlift: The artist uses a mixture of sugar syrup and ink to draw on the copper plate. When dry, the entire plate is covered with a varnish that is impervious to acid and put in warm water. As the sugar melts, it lifts the varnish off and exposes the copper plate where the artist had drawn. These areas are now aquatinted.
Watermark: A watermark is a design embossed into a piece of paper during its production and used for identification of the paper and papermaker. The watermark can be seen when the paper is held up to light.
Woodcut: The areas around each line are cut out of the block of wood so that the lines to be printed stand out in relief.
Wood Engraving: A sharply pointed instrument called a burin cuts into the end grain of a hard wood to create the design. The surface of the block is inked and printed, producing white lines on a black background.


Here is a list of art terminology which might be useful

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