Glossary of Printmaking Terms

Acid-free

This term refers to paper which is free from the damaging level of low pH. Most papers used in printmaking are normally acid-free.

A la poupée

This is an intaglio method for inking many colour directly onto a single plate, using small cotton dabblers called dollies. (Poupée is French for ‘doll’).

Aquatint

An etching method that creates toned areas by sprinkling fine particles of resin on the plate before contact with an acid. This can be done by hand, or in an aquatint box. The result gives the effect of a grain, which is similar to watercolour.

Artist’s Proof

Originally used to check the progress of prints during their production, artist’s proofs (or APs) are produced especially for the artist. These prints are not included in the count of the edition, but are otherwise identical to the editioned prints. Typically, they are kept for the artist’s archives and used for exhibition purposes. Although they are not generally sold straight away, if ever, some collectors prefer to purchase APs, due to their rarity and to the fact that they belonged to the artist’s own archive and collection originally.
Artist proofs are marked with the initials AP and a number, when applicable.

Block

A block is a piece of wood used as a matrix for a print. These blocks are mainly used for wood engravings or wood cuts.

Brayer

A hand-held roller used to apply ink on a block or plate. This is made up of gelatin compound or a hard rubber.

Cancellation

The term is used to assure that a plate, or any other matrix from which a limited edition is printed, can no longer be used. Sometimes the image is defaced, or the plate is cut up and recycled.

Chine collé

Chine collé is a method of printing an image on a thin sheet of paper mounted on a backing sheet (the printing paper) during a single pass through the press. The image manifests on top of the chine collé paper.

Collagraph 
Derived from two words – ‘Collé’ meaning ‘to stick’ and ‘Graphos’ meaning ‘to write’
In a collograph, the plate is built up and manipulated by the artist, using a collage-like process which combines materials as diverse as cardboard, fabric, gesso, PVA glue, string, sandpaper, tissue and found objects. Lines can also be drawn into the gesso before it hardens. As a result, the plate may print as both relief and intaglio. Collograph prints are usually pulled on a press. 

Cyanotype

A photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print.  The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Objects or film negatives can be exposed under artificial UV light or sunlight.

Drypoint

Drawing or engraving with an etching needle or other tool, directly onto the plate. This creates a rough burr along the furrow. The plate is not etched in acid, but rather inked directly into the marks made.

Edition

An edition is the total number of prints produced from one plate, stone etc. – numbered and signed by the artist. This may be a limited edition, or an open edition.

Emboss

Raised pattern impressed into a sheet of paper.

End Grain

Timber which has been sawn across the log, with a uniform grain structure for wood engraving.

Engraving

Engraving is a method of drawing with sharp engraving tools in an intaglio plate, without creating burr or using acids to influence the line.

Etching

An intaglio process resulting from the action of an etchant, formerly an acid, upon a metal plate, where an image has been drawn through an etchant-resistant ground on the surface of the plate. The term also refers to the print pulled from such a plate. Safer etchants are used in the present day, for example, copper sulphate solution or Ferric Chloride.

Felt

In papermaking, the felt blankets laid between fresh couched sheets of paper to pressing out of the excess water. In intaglio, the blankets, used on the etching press.

Ferric Chloride

Also known as perchloride of iron. Used as an etchant for copper, the resulting line is similar to that achieved with Dutch mordant. The plate can be etched face down to prevent sediment forming in the bitten lines. Relative Toxicity rating: Skin, moderate: ingestion, moderate: inhalation, moderate.

Flat Bed Press

A printing press having a flat bed upon which the inked plate and paper are placed.

Foul Bite

In intaglio, small pit marks on the plate where etchant has inadvertently bitten through a faulty ground.

Frottage

A direct print taken from a surface by rubbing.

Ghost Print

A print taken from the plate as a second print without re-inking, re’tirage.

Giclée

An Iris print, the name derives from the French for “spurt.”

G.S.M

The weight of one square metre of a given paper expressed in grams. Although a heavier paper is usually thicker than a lighter one, the weight is not directly related to the thickness of the paper, but to the density of the paper.

Gouge

A cutting tool with a broad curved edge, used to clear large areas of unwanted material from relief blocks.

Ground

In traditional etching, an acid resistant coating of beeswax, rosin and asphaltum, rolled or dabbed onto the plate. In new lower toxic forms of etching the ground may also be composed of any material which will block the etchant from the metal such as One Go/Future floor polish, wax crayon. The drawing is scratched through the ground.

Hard Ground
Used in etching (see ground).

Impression  
A print made directly from an inked stone, plate or woodblock.

Impression Number
The number delegated to a print in an edition.

Inkless Intaglio
Embossing, an intaglio plate, printed without inking.

Inks
Pigment, binder, and a vehicle.

Intaglio
An image cut or etched into a plate. Intaglio comes from the Italian word intagliare, meaning, “to incise.”

In intaglio printing, an image is incised with a pointed tool or “bitten” with acid into a metal plate, usually copper or zinc.

The plate is covered with ink and then wiped so that only the incised grooves contain ink. The plate and a dampened sheet of paper are then run through a press which applies pressure to create the print.

Intaglio Relief 
An intaglio plate, inked and printed as a relief print.

Lift-ground aquatint
A form of intaglio printing in which the artists draws with a specially formulated ink on a metal plate. The plate is then covered with an acid resistant ground and immersed in water. The characteristics of the drawing medium (which may be applied with a pen or brush) allow it to dissolve and work through the acid resistant ground. When bitten in acid, the final result resembles pen or brush work.

Lino
Linoleum, a flooring material made of linseed oil and cork dust on a hessian support.

Linocut
A relief print taken from a linoleum block.

Lithographic Crayons
Greasy black crayons and pencils available in grades of hardness, numbered from 00 to 5. With American crayons the higher numbers represent the harder, (i.e. less greasy) grades. European crayons are numbered in the reverse order.

Lithography

A planographic printing process, based upon the antipathy of oil and water.

Litho Stone

Heavy limestone blocks used for printing in lithography.

Matrix
In printmaking the surface of – the plate, stone, block, stencil on which the image is formed for printing.

Mezzotint
An intaglio technique where a plate, has been previously prepared to print as rich uniform black, is gradually scrapped and burnished back to form the desired image. The plate is prepared using a mezzotint rocker-a fine-toothed tool which is rocked repeatedly over the plate to produce a dense evenly burred surface.

Moire’ Pattern
An optical effect caused by the interference of two strongly patterned surfaces in misalignment.

Monoprint
Any form of print utilising any printmaking technique, or combination of techniques – where there exists only a single proof.

Monotype
A form of printmaking in which the artist draws or paints on some material, such as glass, and then prints the image onto paper, usually with a press. The remaining pigment can then be reworked, but the subsequent print will not be an exact version of the previous print. Monotypes may be unique prints or variations on a theme.

Mordant
Intaglio, any of the etchant solutions that are used in biting a plate.

Mouldmade Paper
Paper produced by a machine as distinct from handmade.

Mount
A flat sheet of card, or board, with an aperture through which the image is visible when a print is framed, serves as a protective device for unframed prints.

Offset
To transfer wet ink from one surface to another. The term offset printing generally refers to commercial lithographic processes. The printed image reads the same as the drawing on the plate.

Open Bite
In intaglio, the biting that occurs when large flat, or “open” areas of the plate are bitten. The resulting print exhibits a characteristic dark inky halo around the edge of the bitten area.

Paper Fingers
Tongs of folded paper or card, used to protect paper and blankets when working with inky hands.

Photopolymer Plate
Is composed of thin steel backing with a surface coating of light sensitive photopolymer and 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. The plate is particularly durable and it is possible to make large editions from a photopolymer plate.

pH Scale
A scale of volumes from 0 to 14 used to indicate the acidity or alkalinity of a substance pH value of 7 is neutral, less than 7 indicates increasing acidity, greater than 7, increasing alkalinity.

Photogravure
A means of printing a photographic image by the intaglio process. The photographic negative (which may be of an artist’s drawing) is projected onto a sensitized gelatin emulsion or carbon tissue that is transferred to a copper plate. After washing, the plate areas that correspond to the image on the negative are dissolved, and the plate can be bitten by acid as in routine etching. In hand photogravure, which is most commonly used in printmaking, the copper plate is first prepared for aquatint etching. The end result can closely resemble a traditional linear etching or soft ground etching.

Photopolymer or Solar Plate
The plate is comprised of thin steel backing with a surface coating of light sensitive photopolymer and 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. The plate is particularly durable and it is possible to make large editions from this plate.

Picking
The lifting-off of fibres from the surface of paper during printing – occurs particularly in large flat areas of ink.

Pigment
Colouring used in inks.

Planographic
The print is taken from a flat surface, as opposed to a raised or sunken one.

Plate
Metal upon which a printing process is carried out.

Plate Mark
The imprint of the edges of the plate in a print.

Platen
The iron or steel plate that pushes the paper against the inked image in a printing press.

Plate Oil
Thickened linseed oil used in mixing etching ink to a desired consistency.

Plate Tone
In intaglio, a faint tone produced by the thin film or ink remaining on a plate after wiping,

Plucking
Lifting away of a portion of the papers surface during printing. It occurs particularly in large flat areas of ink.

Printer’s Proof
A proof reserved for the printer.

Process Colours
Yellow (lemon), magenta (cold blue-red) and cyan (blue-green

Proof
An inked impression pulled from an inked plate, block, stone, or screen.

Pull
To take an impression from an inked plate, block etc.

Pulp
The basic papermaking ingredient – consisting of a rag or vegetable fibres chopped and beaten within water.

Rag Paper
Paper made from 100% cotton or linen.

Register
Multiple printed images in correct alignment upon the surface of the paper

Registration
Correct placement of an image on a previously printed image on the same print.

Relief Printing
Printing from an ink raised surface.

Resin
A hard substance exuded from the trunks of pines, used in the distillation of turpentine – the resulting residue is rosin.

Resist
Any substance when dry becomes resistant to the action of either an acid, alkali, or solvent.

Rocker
A rounded steel tool with numerous fine teeth, used in intaglio printmaking to pit the surface of the plate, as a preparation for mezzotint.

Roller
A tool used for applying ink. Made from rubber or neoprene, it is shaped like a rolling pin, with handles at its extremities, as distinct from a brayer. Lithographic rollers are often made of leather.

Rosin
A by-product in the process where by turpentine is distilled from pine trees, a fine dust it is used in aquatints. Melts when heated. (Relative toxicity rating. Skin, slight: ingestion, moderate: inhalation, high). Not used in safer printmaking techniques.

Rubbing
A print produced by rubbing ink or pencil across a thin sheet of paper placed over a raised surface. Frottage.

Roulette
A tool with raised lines or dots in a wheel, used to make an irregular texture on an intaglio plate. Can be used directly upon the surface of the plate, or through a hard ground.

Screen
The frame and stretched mesh used in screen-printing. In photomechanical work, the glass sheet or acetate film used to create half tones and mechanical tints.

Screen-printing
A stencil printing technique, where the stencil is supported by a tightly stretched fine woven silk or synthetic mesh.

Serigraphy
A term originated by Carl Zigrosser to indicate the use of screen-printing as a fine arts process, as distinct from commercial printing.

Silk-screen
The frame and stretched mesh used in screen printing. Silk has been replaced with synthetic meshes.

Soft ground etching
An etching technique in which the plate is covered with malleable ground through which a variety textures can be pressed, allowing them to be etched into the plate. For example, a piece of paper laid on top of a soft grounded plate can be drawn upon with a pencil, and the resulting etched image will resemble a pencil line drawn on paper. To be distinguished from “hard ground” used for simple line etching.

Solar Plate
Is composed of thin steel backing with a surface coating of light sensitive photopolymer and 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. The plate is particularly durable and it is possible to make large editions from a photopolymer plate.

Solvent
A substance, usually liquid, which is capable of dissolving others.

Spit Biting
An etching technique where concentrated acid is brushed directly onto the plate. The acid is confined to a particular area by first painting a wetting area over the area to be bitten. Saliva was traditionally agent, hence the name.

Spray Ground Aquatint
Aquatint ground applied by spraying the plate with a pressure can of enamel.

State
A term for a proof that shows a work in a particular stage of development.

Stencil
A sheet of thin paper, metal, or plastic with open areas through which ink is brushed , rolled or squeegeed, to print an image.

Steel Facing
In intaglio, an electronic process which deposits a very thin layer of steel over the face of a completed copper plate. Steel facing provides are harder surface, allowing a larger print run before the plate wears down.

Stipple
In etching and engraving, the massing of line closely spaced dots to form tonal effect.

Stop Out
In intaglio, an etchant resistant substance applied to a plate to prevent further biting in a given area.

Stochastic Screen
Also known as Dot Screen. It is a random dot screen which has space between each dot and it gives the appearance of a rich continuous tone to artwork when used to create photopolymer plates.

Sugar aquatint
A method of making an aquatint that has qualities similar to a brush drawing. The design is painted on the plate with a dissolved sugar solution. The plate is then brushed over with stopping-out varnish, and left to soak in warm water. During this time the water somehow penetrates the varnish, causes the sugar mixture to swell and lift the varnish exposing the metal. Picasso used this manner a number of times; it provides the artist with great freedom.

Sugarlift
In etching, a resist drawing method, where by a positive drawing is converted to a positive printing image on a plate. Also referred to as a lift ground.

Surface Rolled
Ink applied to the surface of a plate, block, or stone, using a roller or brayer.

Tack

A term used in describing the stickiness of an ink film to separate cleanly from one surface to another during printing.
Tarlatan:  A thin stiff cotton fabric used for wiping intaglio plates. Also known as muslin.
Tonal Gradation:  A range of values from light to dark.
Tooth:  In screen-printing the term refers to the roughened surface of the mesh necessary for the adherence of stencils. In lithography it is the roughness of the stone as prepared by graining.
Tooth:  In paper, a description of the surface, and the degree of texture it exhibits.

Viscosity

The ease with which a liquid is seen to flow. The opposite of fluidity.

Whiting
Calcium carbonate. Used as an abrasive with ammonia in the degreasing of etching plates. No significant health hazards.

Wiping

In intaglio, the removal of ink from the surface of the plate after inking up, leaving the ink only in the detail.

Woodcut
A relief printing process where the image is cut on the plank side of the wood.

Wood Engraving
A relief printing process where the image is cut on the end grain of the wood.

Working Proof
A trial proof with additions and corrections.

Xylography
Wood Engraving.