|An original print is a work of
created by hand and printed by hand, either by the artist or by a
assistant (often called an artisan), from a plate, block, stone, or
that has been hand created by the artist for the sole purpose of
the desired image. The plates or stencils it is printed from bear no
to the finished work of art, which means it is not a copy or a
of anything. In fact, in all print media but two, the image on the matrix
(what the print is produced from) is mirror image or backwards from
the finished work will be. The image reverses in the printing process
the artist has to think and draw backwards. Each print produced is
a unique work although produced as a signed and numbered multiple.
for this is monoprint. The original
is usually produced as a limited number of impressions,
word for print. The term for this group of prints is the edition.
many of the same image in an edition, each print is
an individual part of the whole, the whole being the edition. An
print is actually one piece of a multiple original work of art.
Original prints are traditionally signed in pencil by the artist. They are numbered to indicate how many prints there are in the edition and to identify the individual print. This number appears written as a fraction, for example: 34 / 75. This is called the edition number. The number to the right of the slash (in this example, 75) indicates the size of the edition: 75 prints have been produced. The number to the left is the actual number of the print. This number is read: "print number thirty four of seventy five". There are other types of identifying marks as well. The artist traditionally keeps a separate group of prints aside from the edition marked as artist's proofs, normally about ten or less. These are marked A / P, sometimes with an edition number after (such as: A / P 2 / 5) to indicate how many A / P's there are. During the course of developing the image an artist may pull many experimental images before modifying the plates to achieve the finished product. These are referred to as state proofs, trial proofs, or color proofs. When the image is finally perfected the printer's proof or bon-a'-tirer (signed B.A.T.) is pulled. This is the image that the rest of the edition is matched to and there is only one of these. The artisan printer traditionally gets to keep the printer's proof.
What Is A Limited Edition Print?
Many print collectors are confused by the terms "original print" and "limited edition print". The two are not synonymous. The term "original print" is a specific term; "limited edition" is a general term. An original print is almost always a limited edition print simply because the edition is limited to the actual number of prints that can be safely "pulled" or printed from the plates before the plates begin to wear out and break down from the physical wear and tear of the printing process. But a limited edition print may or may not be an original work of art. It might be just a photo-mechanical reproduction of a painting, photograph, drawing, etc., in other words no more than a poster. The edition may be limited to an arbitrary number of 500, 1000, often more, and is sometimes even signed in pencil by the artist. It is not, however, actually printed by the artist.
The term "limited edition" is vague. When purchasing a work of art it's a good idea to know whether or not you're buying the real thing, if you truly want the "real thing". There is a reason for reproductions and posters in the print collectors' market; a reproduction sells for hundreds or even thousands of dollars less than an original work by the same artist.
What's the Difference Between Them?
There are new technologies in printmaking that are blurring the differences between Original Prints and reproductions, the Mylar Transfer process in lithography for one, and Giclee's for another. Technically speaking, Mylar prints are drawn by hand by the artist, which in one sense classifies them as original prints, but then they are photographically copied onto the plate or screen and at that point can potentially be mass produced on mechanical presses. Some artists are producing hand drawn offset lithographs in small, limited editions and other artists are experimenting with hand manipulated and modified color copies as original prints. Giclee's are digital ink jet prints of a digital image file on a computer or CD. Technically, they are copies, though some artists use this process to produce beautiful one-of-a-kind images on paper.
In this ongoing debate one school of thought contends that an Original Print must be entirely produced by hand by the artist, which combines a considerable degree of skill, artistic ability, and technical knowledge. Another group states that the choice of whatever type of press, process, or medium is used is just an artistic tool. Some purists don't always agree that the above techniques are acceptable for producing original prints since there is far less physical work and, sometimes, no technical knowledge involved in producing an edition. The image my be hand drawn, but it may not be hand printed.
There are just as many printmaker purists out there as there are experimenters and the element of the artist's direct control and manipulation of the medium is probably the key as to whether a print is an Original Print or not. So the debate goes on.
The Difference Between Monoprints and Monotypes:
These two terms are often
with each other. A monoprint is the term for any
original print that is part of a limited edition as opposed to a reproduction
which is a copy of something else, such as a poster print of a
A monoprint can also be any of a number of prints pulled from a single
plate, but with no attempt to print any two the same way. A monotype
however is a unique work of art usually printed from a smooth flat
such as a sheet of plastic. The artist paints by hand the image to be
directly on this smooth surface and then places a sheet of paper over
freshly painted surface, cranks it through a press, and so creates a
work of art. Monotypes, by their nature, cannot be produced as an
If they are numbered at all they are numbered as 1/1 (read as "one of
an edition of one, in other words).
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This, the oldest and most
of making a print, evolved in China sometime around 800 A.D. It is
on the principle of cutting away part of the surface of a block of
so that the image area to be printed stands out in relief to form a
surface. The ink can be rolled on to the surface to be printed (called
a block in this form of printing) with a rubber or
roller (also called a brayer) or can be applied to the
with a short bristled brush. Paper is placed over the freshly inked
and pressure is applied to transfer the ink from the block to the
The pressure may come from cranking the block through a printing press
or the pressure may be applied by hand by rubbing the back of the paper
with a wooden or bamboo tool called a baren. Some
prefer to substitute the back of a wooden spoon for the baren.
This technique involves the
a plank of wood or plywood on which the artist draws a design and then
carves away the wood in the parts of the picture that are not to be
The raised surface retains some of the pattern of the wood grain which
shows up in the finished prints. Only one or two colors can be applied
to the plate at one time. For prints with many colors a separate block
must be carved for each color, and must line up exactly with all the
blocks or the print will be out of register like a badly
printed color newspaper photograph.
In this type of printing a
of boxwood is cut perpendicular to the grain of the wood. Since the
grain offers a smoother and more uniform surface than in
woodcuts, little or none of the wood texture is seen in the print. Wood
engravings are almost always small, usually under 5 x 6 inches because
boxwood does not grow very large. Larger blocks can be made by
small pieces of wood together. This technique is seldom used today. In
the past it was used mostly for book illustrations in hand printed
mainly because the block can last for hundreds or even thousands of
and this process produces an image of very fine detail. There was a
revival of this technique in the 1930's among many American WPA artists.
Linoleum cuts, or lino
almost identical to woodcuts. The only principle differences are the
and the ease of cutting the plates. The artist works on battleship
which is not the kind that is used in kitchens today. It is a very
and pliable material that cuts with a knife or other cutting tool quite
easily. Inking and printing are exactly the same as in woodcuts.
artists use linoleum for their color plates behind a final run of a
because this medium is so easy and quick to work in.
The process of intaglio,
or copperplate printing uses a principle opposite to that of relief
The image to be printed is sunk into the printing surface (which in
process is called a plate) and filled with a greasy
ink. Then the surface is carefully wiped clean so that the ink remains
only in the incised design. The great pressure required to pick up the
ink in the intaglio printing leaves a visible plate mark within the
of the uncompressed paper.
This is the oldest of the
processes. Albrecht Durer was the first artist to popularize this
although there are some examples of prints made from the engraved
on suits of armor from almost one hundred years earlier. In this
the design is cut into a metal plate, usually copper or zinc, with a
tool called a burin. The plate is wiped clean with a
of starched cheesecloth called tarlatan. The ink
only in the furrows left by the burin. Dampened paper (to make it soft)
is placed on top of the plate and then they are cushioned by blankets
top and run through a flatbed press, between two rollers at several
pounds of pressure per square inch. This forces the ink that is down
the lines of the plate onto the paper, leaving a raised inked line on
surface of the paper with the background printing white where the plate
was wiped clean.
In this process the artist
directly on a copper plate with a sharp needle with great force. This
two burrs of copper, one on either side of the scratched line. It is
the ink caught in the burrs that forms the image on the paper in this
and not so much the ink in the shallow line. Since the burrs wear off
under the pressure of the printing press and the abrasion of the
only a limited number of copies can be made, often as few as only 10 or
so, before the plate wears out. This technique is very rapid and
an image very like a drawing. Dry point lines are often incorporated
etchings and aquatints to add variety of line and texture to the image.
An extremely difficult and
(not to mention physically painful!) process in which the artist begins
by using a special tool called a rocker to create a
even texture similar to sandpaper on the surface of the metal plate. If
this plate were to be printed in this state the result would be a solid
black image. Everything that is required to print lighter than this
has to be scraped away by hand with a metal tool and burnished smooth
another to produce the gray tones and whites of the finished print. The
end result is a beautiful and almost photographic image. Many mezzotint
artists print in color; a separate plate must be produced for each and
every color and printed individually on top of the previous print in a
separate run through the press for each plate, aligning each one in
registration with the previous image. Mezzotints are often very
and this is why.
Instead of cutting directly
the plate the artist covers the plate with acid resistant wax or
and then draws on the plate with a special sharp tool called an engraver's
to remove the ground and expose the metal underneath. The
plate is then immersed in an acid bath which bites into the plate
the protective covering has been removed. By leaving different areas
to the acid for varying lengths of time the depth and quality of the
bitten can be controlled. The finished plate is then printed in the
way as an engraving. Rembrandt van Rijn first popularized this medium.
Some consider him the father of printmaking as a fine art form.
Although this process uses
it should not be confused with the Photo-Mechanical
processes. Exactly as in making a photographic print by hand a
is used, but instead of processing a piece of photo paper, a
which has a photographic emulsion coating on the surface, is exposed to
light. The plate is then developed in an extremely toxic chemical
/ solvent solution which hardens the unexposed areas of the
Then the plate is etched and printed the same way as a traditional
plate. The artist then also has the option of re-coating the
with a traditional etching ground (see above) and drawing back into the
photographic image, or modifying the image by scraping away areas, or
manipulating it by hand.
Instead of lines being
the acid bath, in this process whole areas are exposed to the acid to
a texture to the surface of the plate. The area to be etched is first
dusted with powdered resin and heated to melt it so it will adhere. It
is then placed in the acid bath to etch away the tiny areas not
by the granulated resin. This results in a sandpaper like texture which
prints as shades of gray, or tints of color if colored ink is used.
often aquatint is used in combination with engraving or etching.
there are occasional rare examples of pure aquatint. It is a demanding
and difficult technique that can take years to master but the end
is a print that can have a light and transparent quality like a
Collagraphs are a form of intaglio print related to etching and engraving. They should not be confused with collotypes which are a form of planograph. Sometimes they may be referred to as collage prints or collage intaglio. Collagraphs differ from etchings and engravings in two ways:
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In this type of print the
printed from a completely flat surface. It is a chemical process based
on the principle that oil and water don't mix but resist each other.
seldom used name for this type of process is resist process.
two types of prints in this category: lithographs
and collotypes (not to be confused with collagraphs).
not be confused with photographically
lithography. Original lithos are done
by hand, while most offsets are a common everyday type of reproduction
print. Newspapers and magazines, for example, are printed this
Fine art posters are produced by the offset process as well, but more
is taken in their creation. Sometimes extra color runs are added to
the quality, but they still remain photo-mechanical copies untouched by
the artist's hand.
Lithography was invented by Aloys Senefelder in 1798 and immediately became immensely popular as an artistic medium. In this technique the artist actually draws on a specially prepared flat piece of limestone or a metal plate made of either aluminum or zinc. The artist uses a grease or wax crayon or a greasy drawing ink called tusche to create the image just as if he or she were drawing or painting on a piece of paper. In fact, the way the surface is prepared (it is abraded down to a velvety texture by the use of abrasive carborundum powder) makes the stone or plate feel like you are drawing on a very heavy drawing paper. In the case of stone lithography it is a VERY heavy paper substitute; some stones can weigh as much as 300 or more pounds. Forklifts must be used to move the artist's drawing materials around. Stone lithography has gone out of favor in recent years mainly because of the physical demands involved. Also, a much easier and relatively new process called "mylar transfer" (see below). Metal litho plates are very lightweight and portable, but do not produce as fine an image as stone. A good stone lithograph print is almost indistinguishable from an original drawing.
After the drawing is
the stone or plate it is then treated with a mixture of gum arabic and
dilute phosphoric acid which reacts with the waxy drawing materials to
produce a type of water repellent soap that will accept the oil based
ink. During printing the stone is alternately kept damp with water and
then rolled up with the oil based ink. This is another extremely
process. If the stone isn't kept damp enough, or the water is either
acidic or too basic, the whole image can be lost irretrievably and all
the time spent developing it wasted. The print paper is placed on top
the freshly inked stone or plate. A specially constructed press has to
be used not only to bear the weight of the stones, but to support the
pressures needed to print the image. Instead of a press with a metal
on top and on bottom like an etching press, the litho press uses a
wooden or plastic scraper bar above in contact with a
sheet of metal or plastic over the print paper. Pressure of up to two
pounds per square inch is applied to this stone, paper, and plastic
as it is cranked by hand through the press. As in most other print
if more than one color is used separate plates or stones must be made
each color. Each new color must be printed again on top of the previous
runs through the press.
In this technique the
draws the image on a sheet of transparent mylar plastic. The
is then exposed on a photo chemically coated aluminum plate and then
either by hand or on an offset press. This process is a very
shortcut to getting precise registration of color in multiple plate
and an added benefit is that the artist does not have to draw the image
backwards as in the traditional process. A mylar transfer
has no halftone as a photo mechanically produced poster would, and is
indistinguishable from a lithograph drawn by hand on a plate.
Not to be confused with collagraphs.
In this extremely rare and miserably difficult photographic medium the
prints are printed on either a regular etching press or litho press
glass plates (yes, real glass...) coated with a thick gelatin based
silver salt emulsion. The image is exposed on the plate and developed
as a regular photograph would be using all the same chemicals. But
of printing the image on light sensitive paper, the gelatin plate is
damp in a humidity controlled room (controlled to tropical jungle
of humidity) so the gelatin will absorb moisture from the air where
is no black silver image protecting it. Some of the few artists working
in this medium go ahead and use sponges very gingerly to keep the
damp because the act of printing works up enough of a sweat as it is
resulting to subjecting the printer to drudge away in a sauna. The
is rolled up with an oil based ink which, with luck, sticks to the
areas and, with luck, is repelled by the damp gelatin.
A stencil is simply a hole
opening through another material through which ink or paint is applied
to a surface underneath. It can also be the opposite: a solid shape
which the ink or paint is applied, creating a shadow effect. Each color
must be applied separately through other stencils cut or blocked out to
allow the color to line up where wanted on the design. The stencil
along with offset lithography is one of only two print media in which
image is worked as it will be seen when printed, not backwards mirror
as in all other forms of printing.
Serigraphs, also known as
prints and screen prints, are a form of stencil printing. It is a
that first appeared shortly after 1900 and gained popularity among
by the 1920's. It is one of the most common forms of printmaking today.
The silk screen printer prepares a screen of finely woven fabric
orlon, nylon, or silk) or sometimes very fine steel screen for large
stretched over a wooden frame. The areas not to be printed are painted
out with a glue or varnish that will not be dissolved by the type of
to be used. This protects these areas of the paper that are to remain
by the ink. Photo emulsion films are also used extensively today
the older hand painted process. The ink is squeezed through the screen
onto the paper by a rubber squeegee. Large editions are possible in
because of the speed and ease (compared to other printmaking processes)
with which they can be printed. Many artists can do editions with as
as 100 colors or more because of this. Some multi-color
can resemble paintings more than prints. Unfortunately however
screen process requires the use of many highly toxic solvents during
course of printing an edition, especially when vinyl based inks are
This is an uncommon
appearing shortly before 1900 in France. In one version of this
ink or paint is lightly brushed through an opening cut through a heavy
paper or metal plate creating a kind of feathering effect. In the other
version a screen is used as in serigraphy, but with a much coarser
Paint is then air-brushed through the stencil onto the paper.
In recent years there has
trend toward incorporating multiple print media in the production of
prints. Prints that combine two or more unrelated print processes are
combination prints. Some examples are: an intaglio print with colors
into different areas of the plate through stencils; a lithograph
on top of a colored serigraph background; a woodcut mixed with
a collagraph used as a color plate behind a woodcut. The list goes on.
Artists traditionally test the limits of their preferred media, and
have always been known to experiment, as well. The inherent
of printmaking leads the artist to explore in new directions. Most
have chosen such a demanding form of expression simply because the
effects made possible with the many print processes cannot be achieved
by any other means.
The viscosity technique was
by Stanley William Hayter in France in the 1950's. It is a hybrid
of the intaglio process and the relief process.
multiple colors are applied simultaneously to only one
plate. To start, the artist creates an intaglio plate with several
levels. The plate is inked up with a stiff ink and wiped clean just as
a normal intaglio print would be. But then it's rolled up relief print
style with rollers inked with inks of different viscosities, or
Depending on whether the rollers used are soft or hard, or whether
is applied while rolling-up or not, the ink rolled on to the plate can
be made to adhere to its different levels. Inks of differing
will not readily mix, similar to the way oil and water don't like to
So by experimenting with different combinations of soft roller plus
ink or hard roller with loose ink, or almost endless other combinations
the artist can achieve a very rich and painterly effect with many
in only one run through the press.
In this process the artist
pieces of colored or metallic papers instead of (or in combination
colored inks to create a color print. The papers are cut into the
shapes to fit within the areas that need color, then the backs of the
are lightly painted with glue. While the glue is still wet the colored
papers are placed glue-side-up on top of the appropriate areas of the
plate. The paper to be printed on is placed on top of all this and
is run through the press. The resulting effect is that of a collage.
This interesting cross
between viscosity and offset
printing, though unpredictable, produces some rather nice
In this first example the technique requires a minimum of two rollers,
at least one with a large diameter, and two or more plates. Normally
one of these plates is ever run through the press and printed on paper,
however. To give a basic example: the artist begins with a plate that
little texture and inks it as an intaglio print. The other plate is a
plate and is rolled up with a stiff ink. Instead of printing this
image on a piece of paper, though, the artist takes a clean un-inked
with a circumference larger than the width of the relief plate. This
is rolled over the surface or the inked relief and picks up the image,
offset style, on its surface. The edge of the image on the roller is
aligned with the edge of the inked intaglio plate and the roller is
and rolled across that plate, neatly depositing onto its surface the
that was previously picked up from the other plate. Other looser inks
be rolled over this double image to add more color before it is run
the press and printed. The effect obtained is reminiscent of old
or cave paintings.
The photo-mechanical offset
are the prints that comprise the bulk of the poster market (not to be
with Original Offsets.
to print in large quantities so they can be sold at affordable prices.
Original prints are very labor intensive and therefore often sell for
of dollars each, placing them out of the financial reach of most
art collectors. The process is the same in principle as in an original
lithograph, but offsets are printed on huge, high speed mechanical
often in quantities of thousands of prints at a time. A big technical
between the two media is the concept of offset printing. In a hand
original litho the stone or plate is inked up and then printed directly
on a piece of paper. In the offset process the plate prints, or offsets
the image onto a rubber roller and then the image is printed from that
onto the paper. This causes a double reversal of the image, so the
appears just as the print will appear. The image on the plate is not a
mirror image of the final image as in the other print media (with the
of the stencil processes).
This is a 19th and early
process and is rarely used today. In this process
etched metal plates, usually copper, are wrapped around metal cylinders
on a special rotogravure press and printed in almost the same way as an
Lithograph. They can even be printed as offsets
on a different version of the rotogravure press, or can be used to
special hard paper plates that are then used to print the image instead
of the metal etched plates. Most magazines and newspapers of a
ago were produced by this process, as well as art prints and posters.
Many artists are experimenting with color copy machines as an additional tool for producing an image. Theoretically, original prints cannot be produced in this manner because of the lack of a matrix made by the artist that physically produces the image. The copy machine does just what it says. It makes copies, not originals. However, a copy can be the basic image which the artist then adds to and modifies into a mixed media print. Giclee' prints are another type of color copy produced with the aid of a computer on a large, special ink jet printer. Like other color copies they can be printed in quantity or one at a time. Unlike offset lithographs however, they do not have the half-tone dot pattern, but a smoother and random array of tiny dots of color. Unfortunately, many if not all of these Giclee's are printed with a water based ink, and if any water ever gets on them they will be ruined.