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About Prints


An original print is a work of art.

Original prints are created by artists in their own hand or according to their personal direction.


What is an original print (or original graphic)?

An Original Print is not a reproduction. It is a multiplied original work of art conceived and developed by the artist for the purpose of making an edition.  The artist creates an image with his own hand on suitable material for the process to be used (a lithographic stone for litho, a copper plate for etching, etc.). The complicated graphic techniques make it necessary for the artist to study and acquire special abilities and knowledge for each chosen medium.

Traditionally, in collaboration with a master printer, proofs are created as the artwork develops until the artist is satisfied with the result. The artist approves the final proof and the edition can be printed in a quantity predetermined by the artist, using the artists' proof as a standard. After printing, the edition is signed, numbered, and usually dated.

Each created print is an "Original Print". It does not matter whether 1 or 10,000 prints have been made. But the artist usually limits the edition and approves it with his signature. (This can influence the price, but not the originality).

Original prints are most often discussed with reference to the printing technique that was used to produce them; for instance, you will find lithographs, etchings, aquatints, screenprints, and more.

What is a limited reproduction print?

Limited-edition fine art prints are not to be confused with reproductions of existing works that are reproduced photo mechanically, usually through an offset printing process. Generally such prints are unsigned and not numbered, and must be considered cheaper than collectible items. Most posters and museum reproductions fall into this category of commercially mass-produced prints. In recent years a new type of Reproduction Prints has appeared, so called "Limited Edition" Prints. These still are only normal Reproductions and not Original Prints.


The Intaglio Process

Intaglio comes from Italian, meaning "cut in". A general category of printing techniques which fall into several distinct disciplines, all of which involve the artist incising a plate, usually copper or zinc, to make a groove or indentation that will hold ink. After the artist is satisfied with the image the entire plate is then inked and wiped. The grooves or indentations retain the ink while the flat areas of plate are wiped clean.  

To transfer the image, a sheet of dampened paper is placed onto the plate and passed through an etching press under great pressure. The dampened paper is forced into the grooves or indentations on the plate which pick up the ink to produce an image. Thin films of ink are sometimes left on the surface of the plate to achieve tonal effects.

A distinguishing feature of an intaglio print is the indentation left by the plate on the paper after it has been passed through the press. In printmaking terms this is called the platemark.


The most common forms of intaglio printing are Etchings, Engravings, Drypoints, Mezzotints and Aquatints.


Engraving techniques were used by the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans for decorating objects but were not used for printmaking until the mid 15th century in Germany. Engraved images are comprised of a multitude of crisp, fine lines. Shading is traditionally rendered by cross-hatching or similar marks.  

For this technique, a metal plate is incised with a tool called a burin. Great skill is required to manipulate the burin as it is pushed at different angles and degrees of pressure to produce a variety of marks and lines. The action of pushing the tool into the plate makes a v-shaped groove which holds the ink. The burr that is thrown up by the tool is usually removed before inking. The plate is not immersed in acid to deepen the incision; rather, the plate is inked and then printed.

Under close inspection an engraving line is clean and sharp and shows none of the effects of acid on metal as in an etching.


An intaglio process introduced in the early 1500's that uses acid to make marks in a metal plate. With this new technique available, engraving suffered a rapid decline. The artist does not have to cut directly into the plate - the acid does it for him.  The metal plate, normally copper, is covered in an acid-resistant coating called a 'ground' and the plate is incised with an etching needle.


Using the etching needle, the artist draws freely (almost like pencil on paper) into the ground, exposing the bright metal below.  The plate is then washed in an acid bath and the exposed metal is slowly etched by the acid. The parts of the plate that are still covered by the acid-resistant ground remain unaffected by the acid bath.


The characteristics of the marks produced depend on the tool used to draw the image, the type of ground used to coat the surface of the plate (hard or soft ground), and the length of time the plate is left in the acid bath. This, along with the amount of pressure from the press determines the amount of ink that will be trapped in the grooves in the plate and therefore the darkness of line after printing.


Colour Etching is achieved in two ways, either by using a separate plate for each colour or by carefully applying several colours on the same plate. Therefore the artist has to decide at the beginning which technique he wants to use. Original Colour Etchings should not be confused with handcoloured Etchings, which are black and white etchings, hand coloured after printing.

Soft-ground etching

The soft-ground etching process attempts to simulate a crayon or chalk drawing by softening the appearance of the etched line.


A plate is covered with a soft ground (acid resistant) and covered with thin paper which is then drawn onto by the artist. The pressure from the drawing implement forces the soft ground to adhere to the underside of the paper and when the paper is removed the soft ground comes with it, exposing the metal.


The plate is then washed in an acid bath, with the acid etching the exposed metal producing a more subtle line than the traditional etching process.


As with engraving, this is a process in which marks are made on a plate using a sharp, pointed instrument. Unlike engraving, in which small amounts of metal are completely removed as the lines are incised. Drypoint is characterized by the curl of displaced metal, called the burr, which forms as the line is cut. When inked, the burr creates a distinctive velvety appearance. This technique is usually done on soft copper plates. As the edition is printed, the burr becomes flattened and less distinct. Therefore it is generally preferable to have a print with a low impression number from a drypoint edition.


An etching method introduced in the mid-17th century to create a more subtle tonal range than could be achieved with straight etching technique. The aquatint process produces levels of tone, rather than incised lines. The plate is covered with a ground of powdered resin, in various concentrations according to the image preferred by the artist, and attached to the plate using heat. When dipped in an acid bath, the acid bites tonal pattern into the plate around the resin creating a graduated, grainy, textured surface. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the deeper the texture will be bitten and the darker it will print. A plate may be bitten several times for a range of tonal areas. An acid-resistant "stop-out" can be painted onto the plate to protect certain areas from being bitten in subsequent acid baths. 


This is very beautiful but time-consuming technique which was most popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. A metal plate is finely pitted all over using a roulette or a rocker so that the surface becomes rough and capable of holding ink. If the plate was inked and printed in this condition, it would print completely black. To create an image before inking, the plate is flattened in parts using a scraper or burnishing tool to produce a smoother surface. These smoother surfaces hold less ink than the pitted parts of the plate and therefore print lighter, producing the image on paper. Tones are created by burnishing or scraping into the plate, working from black back to middle values and highlights.

Relief Printing Processes

Relief printing is a generic term used to describe methods in which the raised areas of the printing element are inked and printed. Rather than rolling the printing element through a press, the print is produced by applying vertical pressure directly on top of the paper. The most common relief printing processes are Woodcuts, Wood Engravings and Linocuts.


Woodcut prints and illustrations were first popularized in China in the 9th century and spread to Europe in the 14th century where they became a popular medium for the mass distribution of religious and instructive imagery. The woodcut was developed to an exceptional level of artistic achievement in Japan during the 17th-18th century, the ukiyo-e period.


Woodcuts can be produced on any kind of flat wood. Artists have been known to produce beautiful images using even discarded wood from drink crates or tea chests. The image is usually drawn on the wood, and the areas not to be printed are cut away. When the wood is inked with a roller, only the remaining raised areas catch the ink and these will print on the paper.



The linocut technique is the same as for the woodcut with the size of the image being limited only to the size of the piece of linoleum used. Once again, the image is drawn onto the lino with the parts not to be printed then cut away. The lino is inked and printed to produce the image.

Lithographic Process

A process invented in the late 18th century, based on the natural antipathy of grease and water. The image is drawn on a smooth stone or plate using pencils, crayons, tusche, grease, lacquer, or synthetic materials, or sometimes by means of a photochemical or transfer process. The drawing is then bonded with a chemical (gum Arabic) to the surface of the stone to make it fully water resistant.


After the image is drawn, the stone or plate is dampened and ink is applied with a roller. The greasy image repels the water and holds the oily ink while the rest of the stone's surface does the opposite. The entire surface is treated with a solution of gum Arabic and nitric acid before inking in order to enhance this effect. The printing paper is placed onto the stone and a protective plastic sheet is placed on top of the paper. The stone, paper and protective sheet are run through a press to produce the image.

Because of the skilled craftsmanship and handwork involved with each separate print, each completed print is an original work of art, no matter how large the edition is. Original Lithography should never be confused with "Offset Lithographic Reproductions" which are simply copies of existing artworks. You don't need to be a professional to see the difference. Most Offset Lithographs are made up of thousands of tiny dots, easily seen by looking through a magnifying glass, and only 4 colours are used: red, blue, yellow and black. Original Lithographs are made of solid colours.

Silkscreen/Screenprint/Serigraph Process

These techniques are all part of the stencil process. Screenprinting is the only major new printmaking development in the 20th century. Its origin, the stencil process, has been known to artists for centuries. A squeegee or sponge is used to squeeze ink through a gauze screen attached to a frame. Parts of the screen are masked off using a stencil or with a blocking solution painted directly onto the screen. Ink will print on the paper surface only where allowed to pass through the screen, producing the desired pattern.

Industrial screenprinting uses mainly photochemically transferred images onto the screen. In Fine Art the technique is also called Serigraphy. The artist paints directly onto the screen, for every colour a new screen. Inks can be opaque or transparent. An artwork can be built up by as many as 50 or more different coloured screens. Most suitable are bold, bright and strong images.

This was ideal for the pop artists in the 1960s, such as Warhol, Lichtenstein etc. who discovered screenprinting as a popular new art form. Many contemporary artists use screenprinting as the most suitable medium for their individual type of artwork. Some rare screenprints can have a price tag of $100,000 and more. Lichtenstein was still working in screenprinting shortly before he died. One of his latest "Interior Series" fresh from the press had a release price of US $ 25,000 each print. This shows that serigraphs are definitely a recognized modern art form with potential for investment value.


A direct method for hand coloring through a stencil. The stencil itself is usually knife-cut from thin-coated paper, paperboard, plastic, or metal. A stencil and stencil-brush may be used to make multicolor prints or for tinting black and white prints.

The Monotype


The key characteristic of a monoprint or monotype is that no two prints are identical, though many of the same elements may be present. All or part of a monoprint is created from printed elements whereas a monotype image is painted directly onto a smooth plate and then transferred to paper in a press. These prints are often hand-colored after they are printed.


Paper is one of the most important elements in printmaking. The choice of paper for an artist's image is crucial to the final effect. To be archival, it is imperative that the paper be pH neutral, or “acid-free”.

 Paper was invented in China in the first century. It spread westward, arriving in Spain through Arab influence, and eastward to Japan and Korea. The basic raw materials are cotton, linen rags, and barks beaten into fibers. The fibers are mixed with water and poured into a vat. A special mould is dipped into the vat and pulled out. The newly formed sheet of paper is pressed and dried. Somewhat different methods evolved in the East and West which accounts for the wide variety of Western and Japanese papers.

Commercial methods have been developed to process wood fiber into paper by cooking wood chips with steam and chemicals under high temperature and pressure to remove impurities, which deteriorate rapidly on exposure to light and air. Wood fiber papers are not archival, though methods have been developed to make them more appropriate for artists’ use.

In addition to the materials used in its manufacture, there are several other characteristics distinguishing different types of paper. Papers come in a variety of weights, or thicknesses. The surface of the paper can be either smooth or rough, depending on how it is pressed. Hot-pressed paper has a much smoother surface than cold-pressed paper; the smoother the surface, the less a paper will “grip” the media applied to it and the less the marks will bleed. Some papers are sized; that is, they are treated with a moisture-resistant substance to keep the paper from absorbing too much water and pigment and keep the colors vibrant and true.

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