Written by Caryl Beach

On October 23, 2017


What is an original Print?

‘Printmaking’ is a broad term that encapsulates a number of techniques and processes, from etchings to monotype to screen printing, in which the artist makes images from a master or ‘matrix’. Prints can be classified according to the type of surface used to make them. These are divided into four groups; Intaglio, Relief, Stencil and Lithograph. These procedures are complex, frequently used in combination and are in constant state of revision and refinement, but regardless of type, they share common characteristics.

Why buy prints?

Because there is generally more than one ‘impression’ of any one printed image, it is inevitable that it is often easier to find – and afford – an original print than an oil or watercolour by a certain artist. The price will depend on the quality and the date of the printing.

Printmaking Processes


Intaglio printing uses various methods of ‘cutting’ and image onto the surface of a metal plate. Once the plate is inked, the incised lines hold the ink whilst the rest of the plate is wiped clean. The plate, in contact with damp paper, is passed through a roller press under pressure. The paper is forced into the sunken areas to receive the ink.The inked lines on the finished surface are often slightly raised and there is generally a visible line around the image where the plate has been pressed into the paper, called the platemark.

Engraving – Image incised on a metal plate using a tool called a burin. Relies on control and varying pressure to produce a thin to thick line. Shading is traditionally rendered by multiple parallel lines or cross-hatching.

Etching – A metal plate is coated with a waxy ground that is then drawn into, removing areas of the ‘ground’  that will finish in the print as black or coloured areas. This is achieved with a variation of different methods dependant on whether the wax is ‘soft’ or ‘hard’. Soft grounds are extremely delicate and the slightest pressure will remove the wax whilst a hard ground can be removed using a sharp needle or white spirit etc. The plate is then put in an acid bath, the exposed areas are then etched or eaten away producing a sunken line that will receive the ink. The length of time the metal is exposed within the acid bath will effect the darkness and character of the lines.

Drypoint – Very much like engraving where the plate is incised using a sharp tool. However unlike engraving the metal is not completely removed as the line is cut.

Instead drypoint is characterised by the curl of the displaced metal, referred to as a burr. Once inked this burr creates a distinctive velvety appearance that tends to become less distinct as the work is editioned.

Aquatint – The whole plate is covered with grains of resin called an aquatint ground. This allows the acid to bite into the entire area, creating an overall grainy, tonal effect. This technique is often combined with etching.

Spitbite – Strong acid is painted directly onto the aquatint ground of a plate, the application is often controlled in a bath or traditionally using saliva (hence the term ‘spit bite’). The darkness of the tones depend on the amount of time the acid remains on the plate. This technique is most commonly seen    as wispy or cloudy shapes.

Mezzotint – Like aquatint, this technique is used to create a tonal effect over large areas. The whole plate is worked with a rocker, creating a rough surface which will hold ink and produce an overall black velvety effect. A second tool is used to burnish out areas which are intended to be white in the final image. Thus this process works from dark to light.


Relief printing – is where the areas around the image to be printed are cut away, leaving the image on the block in relief. The raised areas are then inked and transferred onto a second surface, usually paper.

Woodcut – Various tools can be used to cut away the areas around the image into a block of wood. Paper is then placed over the inked block and rubbed by hand or passed through a press to transfer the the ink and create the image.

Linocut – Consisting of a layer of linoleum often mounted on a block of wood. This process is just like woodcut but the material is much easier to carve using knives and gouges.

Wood Engraving – Made by engraving a block of hard wood which enables the artist to engrave a much finer line than is possible on the softer material used for woodcut.


A type of stencil technique established in the early 20th century. Preparing a tightly stretched screen, usually of silk, the artist blocks out areas that won’t be printed by blocking out the pores of the fabric with a varnish like substance. Paper is placed under the screen and ink forced through the open fabric pores onto the paper. For colour screenprints different frames are used for different colours.


The artist draws directly on a flat stone or specially prepared metal plate with a greasy substance such as a crayon. The stone is dampened using the principle that water and grease repel each other, then inked.  The ink clings to greasy marks when the paper is pressed against it. Evolving from the Greek lithos, stone and graphe, writing.


The main characteristic of a monoprint 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 a matrix, etched plate, woodblock or such, whereas a monotype image is painted directly onto a smooth unaltered plate and then transferred to paper in a press. These prints are sometimes hand-colored after they are printed.

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