Printmaking Terms

An original print is a work of art created by hand and printed by hand, either by the artist or by a professional assistant, generally from a plate, block or stone.


AQUATINT: An etching technique that creates areas of tone by applying a fine acrylic spray to the plate before it is bitten in acid. This gives finely textured areas whereby tonal value is dependent on how long the plate has been exposed to the acid.


COLLAGRAPH: The term collagraph is thought to originate in collage. It is the technique of sticking a variety of textural materials to a cardboard or wooden base. This can then inked and printed in intaglio or relief.


DRYPOINT: A type of etching that does not rely on the use of acids to create a line on a metal plate. Instead, lines are scratched into the surface of the plate using a sharp point. This causes a burr on the plate which when printed, creates a "furry" effect around the line.


ENGRAVING: One of the many types of intaglio printing. A clean line or dot is gouged with a steel burin to create minute and detailed work on either wood or metal.


EDITION: A set of identical prints, all of which indicating how many prints have been made bearing the signature of the artist. Usually proof copies will also be made, marked as A/P (artist's proof.)


ETCHING: The process of etching is a traditional technique that uses corrosive effect of acids to make lines in a metal plate. The plate is covered with an acid resistant ground through which the artist draws a design, revealing the bare metal beneath. When the plate is immersed in an acid bath these lines will be etched into the plate. Much safer substances can now be used to etch metal.


GICLEE: A print made by a digital process, typically inkjet. Pronounced "zhee-clay."


INTAGLIO: This word derives from the Italian for cut into or incise. It refers to any print (etching, collograph, drypoint, engraving) that has been printed in intaglio. That is by working inks into the recesses or incised areas of the plate and wiping ink away from the top surface. The image is printed under high pressure by forcing dampened paper into the plate's surface and thus bringing the paper into contact with the ink. An intaglio print can therefore always be recognised by its embossed image surface.


LINO CUT: A relief print carved into linoleum using similar tools as for a woodcut. The smooth even texture of lino allows for a smoother finish than a woodcut which often shows its grain. Lino can be warmed to make it softer to cut into.


MEZZOTINT: Mezzotint is a printmaking process of the intaglio family, technically a drypoint method. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. Mezzotint achieves tonality by roughening the plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth, called a "rocker." In printing, the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved.


MONOPRINT: Monotype is any form of printmaking that results in a unique, one-off print. In a nutshell it is simply the manipulation of inks on a non-porous surface and as such it is the closest that printmaking can get to painting. It offers the printmaker a very direct way to transfer an image from a plate and presents by its very nature a limitless potential to experiment with rich colour and mark making.


PLATE LITHOGRAPH: Plate lithographs are made by drawing onto grained plastic (Truegrain).  Unlike stone lithography, in which drawings are made using greasy materials, plate lithography involves drawing with pencils and inks in order to block out light.  The completed drawing is placed in an exposure unit and a series of test plates (aluminium photographic positive Toray Plates) are exposed to ultra violet light. These test plates are given varying exposures – more light burns through the drawing and creates a more contrasty image; less light leaves subtle greys.  


SCREEN PRINT:  Also known as "silk screen" or "seriography", this method of printing utilises stencils mounted onto a tightly stretched mesh. When ink is pulled across the mesh with a squeegee it is forced through it onto paper or textiles beneath.


STONE LITHOGRAPH: It is based on the antipathy of water and grease. The desired design is drawn with a greasy chalk on to a thick slab of stone. The stone is then wetted, and the water covers only the areas where there is no grease. A greasy ink is then applied to the stone with a roller; the ink is attracted to the already greasy areas, but does not adhere to the wet ones. Paper is then applied to the slab and the design which is now inked is transferred to it.


WOODCUT: A relief print usually carved in the plank grain of a piece of wood. It is inked with a roller and printed, either with the press or by hand burnishing.