PRINTMAKING glossary of printmaking terms



albumen: constituent of egg white used in glair also, with the addition of potassium dichromate as a light sensitive solution suitable for plates or paper.

artist's proof: this is usually indicated by A/P written beneath the image in addition to the artist's name and title of the print and is in place of the number of the edition. These proofs are usually taken at the time the edition is printed and are for the artist's use or for sale. These prints may fetch a higher price as they are more closely associated with the artist.

aquatint: an intaglio process in which (traditionally) rosin powder was fused to a zinc or copper plate in the form of an aquatint ground. This created an acid resist formed of tiny dots or specks. When etched this gave a variety of fine tones. The sugar lift [qv] is a variation on this process. see INTAGLIO section or search for a keyword on the HOME page


bite: the action of the etch on the plate.

burin: an engraving tool

burnish: This is a process of rubbing the metal on a plate in order to make it smooth. It applies to the removal of a line from a drypoint by scraping and burnishing or to the smoothing out of the surface of a plate prepared for mezzotint. This is also the term used when rubbing the back of a piece of paper in order to obtain a print, usually a relief print, without using a press. When printing with a press it may be that a certain area may not be printing fully and this is a means of correcting that. Normally a smooth metal object may be used such a the back of a spoon. This is a similar process to the Japanese way of printing using a barren rather than a press.

block: usually refers to a wood block used for cutting or engraving but is also a generic term used in relief printing, which may refer to a wood block with the addition of a photoengraved plate mounted on it.


carborundum print: There are variations on this process that produces a rich aquatint-like quality in an intaglio print. Various grades of carborundum powder can be purchased each giving a darker or lighter tone according to the size of the grains. A simple approach is to coat a metal plate with a strong glue and sprinkle the powder onto the wet glue. The excess powder is removed and when the glue is dry the plate can then be inked up in the normal way.

collotype: invented by William Fox Talbot in 1852 and used in industry for many years to print high quality work with fine detail. The process originally employed a glass plate covered in photosensitive gelatine. The beauty of the print lay in the fact that, to the naked eye, there was no grain in the image, magnification would however, reveal a fine grain typical of a collotype.

collograph: This is a very simple and inexpensive form of printing, which is favoured by artists and those teachers of children alike. By using anything from mounting board to any form of flat board a various materials can be applied and glued in the form of a collage. When the glue is dried the "plate" can be treated as either an intaglio or relief print depending on the way the material was applied. It can then be printed through an etching press, relief press or simply printed by using a barren or spoon to rub the back of the paper.

colour separation: When a design in colour is being prepared for the printing process the individual printing colours may have to be separated out and printed separately. In the printing industry the traditional way is to separate the full colour image by means of filters on a camera, resulting in four separate images representing CMYK. C is cyan; M is Magenta; Y is yellow; K is the key colour or black. This formula is still basic to colour separation in PhotoShop.
Colour separation is particularly useful in processes such as screen printing (serigraphy) where a printer may be working from an artist's original colour design.


deckle / deckle edge: the rough edge of mould made paper (possibly two sides) or hand made paper (possibly four sides) caused by the pulp creeping out between the paper mould and the frame during paper making.

digital: often referred to as giclée printing when using a high quality inkjet printer. Digital prints may also be produced by laser printer or any ink jet printer, there are also examples on this site where a Tectronix printer with coloured wax is used rather than ink. The term and the giclée process has caused quite an amount of controversy. Some people think that it is just a means of reproduction while others think that it is just another means of producing a print. There is some substance to the fact that there are some artists, galleries or agents who are passing reproductions off as original prints. However, this practice should not mean that digital prints are not recognised as authentic.

drypoint: This is similar to engraving in that a sharp metal tool is used to make marks on a copper plate. However, there is also a basic difference in that this is not the incised line cut into the metal in the way of engraving, instead this is more in the form of a scratch where a burr is created on either side of the line and it is the burr that holds the ink. The result is a broad richly toned line.


edition: Prints are usually produced in a limited edition and each print is individually numbered so that 3/50 will mean that this is the third print out of an edition of fifty prints. The edition excludes artist's prints (qv) which are marked separately.

etching: an intaglio process where the surface of a metal plate is covered in a "ground" which is resistant to acid. Lines are drawn in the ground in order to reveal the bare metal. When the plate is exposed to acid the lines are etched or bitten into the surface by means of an acid, while the areas covered by the ground remain unaffected. The prepared plate is then covered in ink. When the surface of the metal is wiped with gauze the ink remains in the etched lines. The lines hold the ink and will then print when the plate is passed through a specialist press. [see the INTAGLIO section]. Also see the section on GALV etching, which introduces etching without acid.

engraving: there are two categories of engraving - wood engraving [qv] and engraving onto metal. Copper is most commonly used for the latter and there are variations in technique, such as stipple engraving. [see the INTAGLIO section]


galv etch: see "etching" above.


intaglio: any process that uses a press to force the paper into the lines or other marks that have been engraved, scored, cut, etched etc. into the surface of a plate. Drypoint, etching, stipple engraving, engraving and mezzotint are all intaglio processes.

hand coloured print: Colour may be added to a print once it has been through the press. This may be a means of adding colour to a monochrome print or it may be in addition to printed colour. Water colour is normally used, but there is no reason why other materials cannot be used such as drawing ink or oil pastel.


Lino cut: This is a relief printing process. It has the great advantage that it can be cut easily with a knife or chisel and it has no grain direction like wood. Vinyl floor tiles are a good and readily available substitute but they may have to be glued to a wood block in order that the tile retains its integrity when large sections are cut away.

Lithography: This is a planographic process and relies on the fact that grease and water repel one another. [see the LITHOGRAPHY section]


mezzotint: An intaglio process where a copper plate is covered with a textured pattern of small indentations that will hold the ink. [see INTAGLIO section]. A mezzotint rocker is used to create this texture on a copper plate. It is a long preparatory process where the rocker is used in one direction and then at right angles and then at an angle. This is repeated again and again until the texture is even all over. The image is created by burnishing this surface. The original textured surface will print black and a completely burnished polished surface will print white.

monoprint: A single rather than an editioned print, which can be printed with or without a press. [see MONOPRINT section] It could also be a screenprint made by drawing with pastels on the screen mesh. [see SCREENPRINT section]


offset: This usually refers to "offset lithography" but is also the process whereby an inked image is transferred from one surface to another usually by means of a roller or brayer.


planographic: This is the term used to describe any process, such as lithography, which uses an entirely flat surface unlike relief printing, which relies on different levels in the wood block.

proof: This is a print taken by the artist or printer in order to check the design and the print quality. Changes to the print may then be made (see "state" below) before the final edition is printed.

pochoir: This is a process which is often associated with French illustrated books. It is a process of printing through stencils using a colourant such as gouache. Frequently the black (key) printing takes place first and then colour is added.


reduction print: This is a way of producing a multi-coloured print from one relief block or one piece of lino. Picasso produced some very fine examples. The process is relatively simple. Part of the design is cut in the block so that when the first colour is printed it will underprint all subsequent colours. An edition is printed of this first colour and then the block is cut for the second time and this is printed onto the first. Several colours can be printed one on the other but some experiment needs to be undertaken in order to find out if it is possible to print the inks wet on wet or if it necessary to allow each colour to dry first.

registration: when more than one colour is to be printed it is necessary to align the plates or screens in such a way that the colours print in exactly the right position relative to one another and the paper. There are several ways of doing this. One way is to include two intersecting lines (+) at both ends. When the plates are printed as proofs the registration marks are aligned. There are other methods which avoid printing marks that may have to be trimmed from the print. For example, one of the simpler ways of registering woodcuts is to lower the wood block onto the paper and align the block and print visually.

relief print: A print produced from a raised surface after cutting, engraving or moulding. This could be a woodcut, wood engraving, lino cut or any other material.


screen print: this is a planographic process where ink is squeezed through a stencil attached or integrated with some form of mesh. [see SCREENPRINT section]

serigraph: another name for a screenprint.

soft ground: a particular type of etching; an alternative to a hard ground. The former responds to pressure and a design can be drawn onto the surface through the intermediary of a sheet of tracing paper. [see the INTAGLIO section, page 2]

state: This is a stage in the development of a print when the artist changes the design after taking a proof. There may be several states to a print.

stipple engraving: [see an example in the INTAGLIO section] An engraving tool is used to flick out small marks in the copper as opposed to the line that is incised in a standard engraving.

sugar lift: a variation on the aquatint process where the image is drawn with a brush onto an aquatint with a liquid made from sugar. A ground is rolled onto the prepared surface and when it is soaked in warm water the sugar dissolves and lifts the ground, leaving the exposed image as an aquatint, which is etched in the normal way.


transparent colours: Transparent colours can be used to print on top of other colours (overprinting) in order to create a third colour. This can introduce a wider range of colours without the necessity of printing a large number of plates. For example a transparent red printed over a yellow will create orange and eliminate the need for printing the orange separately.


woodcut: A relief print made from the "plank" or with the grain of the wood, usually fruit wood. [see RELIEF section] The wood is cut with knives, chisels and gouges. The effect is usually quite bold, which compares with wood engraving where the lines are usually of a finer quality.

wood engraving: A relief print made from the end grain of a wood block. In appearance engravings may look finer and more detailed than wood cuts but this is more typical of twentieth century printmaking techniques and it may be somewhat harder to distinguish the two types of print that date from earlier periods. [see RELIEF section]

copyright © Arvon Wellen 2006 / 2010

I am constantly updating this list - last updated October 2010
Picasso lino cut