Printmaking terms

Here is an explanation of some of the terms used on this website with which you may not be familiar
AQUATINT – A printing technique which imitates a watercolour wash and was very popular in the late 18th century. Minute particles of resin are most frequently used, scattered over the surface of the copper printing-plate which is then heated so as to fix the particles to the plate in a random pattern, at this stage printing as tiny islands of black on the white paper after the plate is immersed in acid. Through frequent immersions, certain parts of the plate can be protected so as to produce variations of tone from black through greys to the pure white of the paper where the acid has bitten away all the resin particles on that part of the plate Goya was a master of the technique.

ARTIST – The person who made the original drawing.The abbreviation ‘del’ or ‘delin’ (for the Latin ‘delineavit’) means that the original drawing was made by the artist whose name precedes it. The Latin word ‘fecit’ (sometimes abbreviated to ‘fec.’ or ‘f’ and meaning ‘made it’) after a name identifies the person who did the drawing and may imply that this artist also did the engraving.

CONDITION – The condition of a print depends on such factors as whether it is clean, whether the colour is bright or faded, whether there is any damage or repairs, etc. (See ‘Descriptions’).

DRYPOINT – A printing technique which resembles the standard engraving technique described below. The sharp-pointed tool used, the burin, makes a line which pushes up the metal on either side; with standard engraving, this pushed-up metal is polished off, leaving a smooth surface on either side of the line. In drypoint, this metal is left and when printed leaves a warm blur around the lines as the jagged metal retains the ink. Rembrandt was one of the artists who exploited this technique (along with many others) in his prints.

ENGRAVING – An artist’s drawing is transferred to a flat metal or wooden surface by scratching or carving into that surface with a sharp tool called a burin.

ENGRAVER – A specialist craftsman who transfers the artist’s drawing onto the metal (or other base) plate for printing. His or her name sometimes appears at the bottom of the print followed by the Latin words ‘sculpsit‘ (or ‘sculp’ or ‘sc’, meaning “engraved it”).

ETCHING –first used in the early 16th century is similar to engraving but instead of making the plate by gouging grooves in it, the grooves are produced by etching with acid.

IMPRESSION – The result of the printing process. A good impression is clear, even and clean. A less skilled printer or a worn printing plate will result in a less good impression..

INSET – A smaller vignette or table set into the main print.

LITHOGRAPH – As explained in How prints are made, this printing technique differs from engraving or etching .Instead of a plate with grooves to concentrate the ink, it uses a plate on which the image has been drawn in a greasy medium to which the ink adheres.  Toulouse-Lautrec used lithography to print his famous posters. A CHROMLITHOGRAPH/COLOUR LITHOGRAPH is a lithograph printed in two or more colours, using a separate stone for each colour.

MEZZOTINT – As in engraving, a metal plate is used  but instead of cutting grooves in it, the engraver works by rubbing and carving away  parts of the surface. To do this, the entire surface of the plate is worked over with a “rocker”, a tool like a serrated-edged chisel which scores a series of minute dotted lines into the copper plate until the surface will print black only. The engraver then starts to polish and scrape back the surface so as to produce an image where the unscraped areas still print black but the worked areas reveal themselves on the print as different shades of grey and eventually as white where the rocked areas have been entirely removed.

OFFSETTING – occurs on double pages where the ink lines on the opposite page have made a ghostly imprint on the facing page.

POCHOIR (STENCIL) PRINTS – Pochoir (French for stencil) prints are those coloured by hand with the help of stencils to mask out the areas where a colour used elsewhere in the print is not required.

PHOTOGRAVURE – A technique which prints an image on a light-sensitive coating on a copper plate which is then etched or engraved., and later printed in the usual way. Early Photogravure produced some very fine engravings.

PLATE – The wood, copper, steel or stone base on which the image is engraved or drawn before printing. “Signed (or dated) in the plate” means that the signature or date was engraved in the plate.

PLATE MARK – The indentation left around the edge of the map or print from the pressure of the metal plate on the damp paper as the image was printed. There is no plate mark on lithographs or wood engravings.

RE-ISSUE – A print from an old plate, taken some years after its first use, sometimes by another publisher in his or her own name. The plate may have been re-engraved.

REPRODUCTION – A copy, usually modern and usually made by a different process from that used to make the original. With practice you will see that reproductions have a very different and less attractive texture and appearance from genuinely antique prints and maps. Most reproductions are very cheap and have no resale value. There do exist high quality reproductions of some antique prints; but we do not stock them.

STATE – The first state of a print is the one originally issued. Subsequent states (second, third etc) are prints made from plates where the original image has been altered by the artist. Rembrandt is perhaps the most notable example of an artist whose prints were issued in several states.

VERSO – The back of a piece of paper.

WATERMARK – A trade-mark and/or date incorporated into the paper when it was made. The watermark is normally visible when the paper is held up to the light. Not all early paper was made with a watermark.

WOODCUT – A technique  using  as plate the plank side of a piece of wood from which the parts not to be inked are cut away. A favourite method of printing for the German artist, Dürer.

WOOD ENGRAVING – An engraving, for which the plate was not a sheet of metal but the end grain of a block of wood.