Printmaking Glossary | What Aquatint, Intaglio, Monotype and More Mean
Entranced by a print but not sure what a lithograph is? Curious about chop marks, fine art digital printing or A la Poupee? If so, this is the place for you. In alphabetical order, here is our complete glossary of printmaking terms. You’ll be an expert in no time.
To find out what print edition numbers means, click here and to explore our wide world of prints, click here.
A la Poupee
French for “with a dolly”
A la Poupee involves the inking of an intaglio (meaning inscribed) plate with several different colours. Separate brushes, cotton buds, pads or a rolled felt dolly is used to apply each colour.
An intaglio process used to create areas of tone. Fine rosin (a type of resin) dust is sprinkled over a plate and fused to it with heat prior to biting with acid. For a less toxic method of achieving tone, artists can spray their plate with enamel paint.
A term used to denote printmaking materials, such as paper that have a high degree of permanence.
Also known as etching, biting is when acid is used to incise an image on a metal plate.
A bleed print is when an image is printed up to the edges of the paper. No margins here.
A blind emboss is an image, such as a logo, that has been marked on paper without ink.
This process sees an artist heavily polish their intaglio plate with a steel or agate burnisher, thus reducing the depth of detail.
French for “received catalogue”
A Catalogue Raisonne is an artist’s complete list of prints with each work’s title, date, edition size and condition. It is typically published posthumously.
French for “China sticks”
The Chine colle process can be achieved by planographic or intaglio printing. It involves adhering a thin sheet of Oriental paper to a thicker backing sheet via the pressure of the printing process.
The chop cark is a small, embossed indentation made in the margin of a print. Typically, it identifies the printer or publisher. Think of the chop mark as a kind of stamp of authenticity.
A printing process by which textured materials are used to create a printable plate. The plate is usually built up by gluing a variety of low relief textural materials – essentially anything that would hold ink to a plate.
Collagraph plates are typically constructed of wood, cardboard or fabric, although in some cases a base material is not necessary. The plate may be composed of collaged materials, or a single texture. The plate is then inked and printed in relief or intaglio on an etching press.
As its name suggests, a composite print describes any print that combines multiple techniques in a single work. An example may be a part lithograph, part collage.
The cyanotype print is named after the colour it produces - cyan. Also known as a blueprint, the cyanotype was discovered alongside the advent of photography. It is made by exposing an object or negative on prepared paper to an ultraviolet light source, such as the sun. The paper is then washed and dried.
Fun fact: Cyanotypes were first published by Anna Atkins, an 18th century biologist. She is considered by some the first female photographer, as well as the first person to publish a book illustrated by photographs.
Digital prints describe any print made with current computer technology. Despite their different materials, digital printmaking follows the same principles of analogue printing. The image file for example, can be understood as the printing matrix, equivalent to a woodblock, stone or plate. Editions are then printed onto paper of a similar surface.
The term ‘Giclée’ or ‘pigment print’ is often used to denote digital reproduction prints.
An intaglio method similar to etching, but the lines are scratched directly onto the plate without the use of a ground (a kind of coating applied to the plate) or acid. The drypoint needle sends up rough burrs of metal on either side of the line. These burrs hold large amounts of ink and provide drypoint lines with their characteristically fuzzy appearance when printed.
These burrs are very delicate and unless the plate is steel faced, will disintegrate quickly under the pressure of the printing press, so drypoints editions tend to be fairly small.
The total number of prints pulled from the plate or stone, numbered and signed by the artist. They do not include artist’s proofs (AP), colour proofs (CP), trial proofs (TP) and other working proofs (WP) outside the edition.
Edition Variable or Variée
Refers to an edition that uses a common plate throughout, but introduces additional elements (such as a hand-painted background) that are unique to each individual print in the edition.
Engraving sees lines cut directly into a plate using a V shaped tool called a burin. It’s similar to drypoint, but minus the burr. Engraving is used by gold and silversmiths to decorate metals.
Raised pattern impressed into a sheet of paper.
An intaglio technique in which an artist uses an etching needle to draw though a waxy, acid resistant ground that has been applied to a metal plate. The plate is then placed in an acid bath and the acid ‘bites’, or etches the image into the metal. The ground is removed and the plate is inked and then wiped so that only the etched lines hold colour. When paper is placed on the plate and run through a printing press, the pressure forces the paper into the etched lines and it picks up the ink.
Etching is essentially a linear (meaning line-centric) medium, in which a network of fine lines constructs a composition. Since the Renaissance, etching has been a popular medium, in large because of the ease with which a composition can be rendered.
Foxing occurs when chemicals act upon iron salts in a print’s paper. This then causes brown stains, which are generally undesirable.
A ghost print is when an artist takes a second print from a plate without re-inking. Because of the lacking ink, the print’s quality is faded or ghostly.
Like a ‘pigment print’, a Giclée is a print made from a digital file using an inkjet printer. In both pigment prints and Giclée, the digital file can be understood as the plate from which editions are generated. Ink is laid with pinpoint precision by an archival-grade inkjet printer onto fine art paper.
While ‘Giclée printing’ and ‘pigment printing’ are largely interchangeable, the former term emerged at the advent of digital printmaking. Because of this, it can refer specifically to the kind of printer used then - an IRIS printer. These days however, Giclée has expanded to denote any digital print made with an archival grade printer.
G.S.M - Grams per Square Meter
G.S.M refers to the weight of one square metre of a paper in grams. Although a heavier paper is usually thicker than a lighter one, its weight is not directly related to the thickness of the paper, but to the density of the paper.
The ground describes a substance laid on an etching plate through which the artist draws their image. It is made up of asphaltum, beeswax and rosin.
Stems from the Italian term ‘intagliare’, meaning “to incise”
Intaglio is the umbrella term for all printing processes that inscribe a metal-plate. In this process, ink lodges in the indentations, leaving the rest of the plate blank. Intaglio techniques include etching, drypoint, aquatint and mezzotint.
Laser printing is printing with a computer. The pigment depositing process is similar to that of dry photocopiers.
Linoleum (lino) cut
A relief technique, similar to woodcut, in which the design is cut or gouged from a sheet of linoleum instead of wood. In this case, ink disperses on the flat (or untouched) parts of the plate, leaving the indentations inkless.
The lithograph was invented in 1798 by the German actor and writer Aloys Senefelder. It is underpinned by the fact oil and water do not mix. An image is drawn with lithographic crayons or liquid tusche onto a polished slab of limestone (or a specially prepared metal plate – usually aluminium). The stone is then treated with chemicals and dampened with water so that the oil-based printing ink, when rolled on, will adhere only to the drawing.
Lithography is considered among the most direct printmaking techniques because images are drawn like crayon drawings or watercolours. It can be used to produce a variety of lines and painterly effects.
A surface that is used as the physical base from which images are printed. Etching plates, lithography stones, stencilled silkscreen and woodblocks are examples.
An intaglio technique whereby a plate that has been previously prepared to print as rich uniform black is gradually scraped and burnished back to form the desired image. The plate is prepared using a mezzotint rocker – a fine-toothed tool that is rocked repeatedly over the plate to produce a dense evenly burred surface.
A monotype is a print that exists only as a single proof. It can refer to any printmaking technique, so long as only one image can be produced from the plate.
Like a monotype, the monoprint refers to a plate prepared in a painterly fashion using any printmaking technique. Unlike monotypes however, monoprint plates possess some form of basic matrix that means they can be reproduced. Due to the nature of the plate however, each monoprint edition varies.
Think of the monotype as flickers of film - each edition different, but intrinsically aesthetically and thematically connected.
To offset is simply to transfer wet ink from one surface to another. The term generally refers to commercial lithographic processes and sees the printed image read the same as the drawing on the plate.
An original print is any image produced from a stone, plate, block or similar that has been directly worked on by an artist. While unlike a painting, this image may not be unique (since prints can be identically reproduced) each edition remains an original work of art.
Like any artistic medium, original prints are the visual embodiment of an idea that the artist believes is best expressed via the medium of printmaking. Rather than elect oil paint over watercolour, an artist may employ lithography.
The term ‘pigment print’ - which refers to digital printmaking - is basically interchangeable with Giclée. In both processes the file assumes the role of the printing plate, from which editioned prints are generated.
When digital printmaking first emerged, Giclée was the dominant term. Because of this, it remains suggestive of techniques popularised in the 1980s, while pigment print bears more contemporary connotations.
French for “stencil”
While ‘pochoir’ is French for stencil, the term refers specifically to a practice popularised in late nineteenth-century Paris by artists including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. It sees an artist layer and hand colour each component of their image. Unmechanised, this process gives each edition its own ‘aura’ while also requiring great time and skill.
By the 1930s pochoirs had all but died under the rise of more efficient, mechanised printing techniques. These days, select artists continue the tradition.
Relief printing is the umbrella term for any form of printing, such as woodcut or linoleum cut in which raised areas are inked and printed while recessed areas are not. The rubber stamp is an example.
A stencil printing technique where a stencil is supported by a tightly stretched fine woven silk or synthetic mesh. Ink is forced through the prepared screen to create a printed image of an individual stencil. Often screen-prints are created by layering a number of different stencils.
Screen printing may also utilise chemical processes and finishing techniques to alter the screen and produce a wide variety of gradients and effects.
Serigraphy is a term coined by Carl Zigrosser to indicate the use of screen-printing as a fine arts process, as distinct from commercial printing.
The frame and stretched mesh used in screen printing. In contemporary screen printing silk is often substituted with synthetic meshes.
A solar plate is a sheet of thin steel with a surface coating of light sensitive photopolymer that can be used for relief and intaglio printmaking. UV light hardens the areas not blocked out by carbon (the artwork) and these unexposed areas wash out with tap water to reveal the etched surface.
A sheet made of paper, film, plastic or thin metal, in which lettering or a design has been cut so that ink applied to the sheets will transfer to the surface beneath. Stencils are often used to add colour to black and white prints. They can be printed independently using dabbers, rollers, brushes, spray guns or other means, or they can be applied to screens for screenprinting.
A relief printing process where the image is inscribed on wood. Unlike wood engraving, woodcut are inscribed on the plank end of the wood.
A relief printing process where the image is cut into the end grain of the wood.