Printmaking Terms


Below is a list of terms that you might find beneficial in learning about Printmaking.  Without the proper vocabulary, an artist can feel “lost” in a printshop.  


There are basically three types of printmaking processes:  Intaglio, Planographic and Relief.  Each process refers to the state of the plate, or the surface.  In intaglio, the marks are achieved by scratching into the surface, in relief by creating a raised surface.  Planographic printmaking uses a flat surface with pigment applied to it.  More detailed descriptions follow, as well as the specific processes under these three main headings that you may be more familiar with such as etchings, woodcuts or screenprints. The collagraph process, which can be printed using both relief and intaglio methods, is included under both headings.

A Goya aquating etching.

INTAGLIO PRINTMAKING:  Process in which paper is pressed into depressed lines made by acid etching or by scratching with a sharp tool.  The depressed lines are filled with ink via wiping and transferred onto paper via a press.

  • Aquatint Etching:  A type of Intaglio print that utilizes rosin in order to create its signature dark tones.  Various sizes of rosin chips are sprinkled onto the plate and then melted onto it via a hotplate in order to achieve texture.  The texture is transferred onto the plate when the plate is submerged in acid.  The acid eats away at everything not covered by the rosin, which results in a textured plate.  The result of this process creates layer upon layer of dark, fuzzy tones.
  • Collagraph:  Print made from a plate built up of cardboard, chipboard or masonite and other materials. Collagraphs are generally known for the texture achieved by the built-up elements.  Generally they are more abstract or expressive than representational.  Collagraphs can be inked either in Intaglio or Relief form to achieve various effects and textures.  A relatively new type of printmaking.

    "The Map" a drypoint by Mary Cassatt

  • Dry point:  Intaglio technique where the artist scratches the surface of the plate directly with a burin/graver.  Due to the pressure of scratching the plate, a burr, which surrounds the scratched line, is created.   The burr then catches the ink wiped onto the plate by the artist.  This burr is characterized by a dark and fuzzy line on the print.  Because the burr is actually in relief, the line may break down quickly if printed too many times. The result is an intense line drawing with a dark, fuzzy quality.
  • Line Etching:  Intaglio technique that utilizes acid and a waxy hard or soft-ground resist.  First, the ground is brushed onto a zinc or copper plate and allowed to dry.  The artist then etches into the waxy surface with any type of pointed tool.  Because the artist is only drawing into the ground and not scratching the plate, lines can be curvy and light as opposed to the heavy, intense line of the drypoint.

    A copper plate for etching

     Once the drawing is scratched upon the surface, the metal plate is immersed in an acid bath.  The ground acts as a resist to the covered areas, while the scratched, exposed areas are eaten away or etched out of the plate.  Once the ground is wiped off, the etched areas are filled with ink via wiping and run through the press. The result of this process are very linear drawings often using crosshatching, increased line shading or stippling processes to achieve a variety of tone.

Examples of Intaglio artists:  Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, Kiki Smith, Sandow Birk.

PLANOGRAPHIC PRINTMAKING: Process where the surface of the plate is flat. Serigraphy, or screenprinting, is a type of planographic printmaking that uses paper or photochemical stencils to create an image. Lithography, the other planographic method, utilizes chemical reactions on the flat surface of a limestone to create an image.  Monotype uses a pane of glass with ink applied to create an image.

  • Lithograph: Literally meaning “stone writing” lithography is a process predicated upon the fact that oil and water don’t mix.  The artist uses a greasy pencil to draw an image onto a slab of limestone.  The stone is then “etched” with a mixture of acid and gum arabic, then brushed with rosin and powder.  Depending on the intensity of line desired by the artist, the stone can sit for minutes or hours.  Once the acid and pigment are wiped off of the stone, the artist prints the image by intermittently sponging the stone with water and rolling the stone with ink.  The greasy areas (made by the pencil) attract ink while the areas not drawn upon (and absorbing the water) resist the ink. Once the image is completely inked, the artist runs the stone through a press, where the image is transferred onto a piece of rag paper.  Lithographs are exact replicas of the drawing, making it an attractive process to artists who love to draw.  The resulting image is that of a high-quality photocopy with a subtle grayscale.

    Lithographic tools: the stone and oil-based pigments

  • Monotype:  A print that belongs in an edition of one, due to it being one-of-a-kind.  Usually created by painting or drawing on a pane of glass.  A repeatable matrix may be used and many monotype artists also incorporate drawing or collage into the finished print.  The result is a one-of-a-kind print that is often colorful and painterly.
  • Serigraph:  Planographic process using stencils in order to create an image.  A screen, made of nylon, is covered with either a paper stencil or a photochemical stencil.  When utilizing a photochemical stencil, the photochemical liquid must be carefully spread onto the screen, allowed to dry and then “exposed” using a light exposure unit.  Once the image (that has been blocked via the exposure) is washed out, the liquid dries into a hard stencil embedded into the screen.  A squeegee is then used to push ink through the stencil and screen and onto a piece of paper.  Only one layer of color can be put on the paper at a time, resulting in layer upon layer (one stencil after the other).  When using paper stencils the results are very flat and graphic.  Photochemical stencils allow for photo-quality type prints.

Examples of Planographic artists:  Honore Daumier, Robert Blackburn, Rupert Garcia, Ben Shahn, Cynthia Osborne, Favianna Rodriguez. 

RELIEF PRINTMAKING:  process from which the image is printed from a raised surface that is produced by cutting away the non-image from the block usually made of wood or linoleum.  The artist first transfers an image onto the wood or linoleum block, then carves away the “negative space” or background.  The ink is then applied to the surface using a roller, which only allows ink to touch the raised area, leaving the “negative space” free of ink.  Relief prints can be printed by hand or with the aid of press.  The results are very graphic, strong images.

  • Collagraph:  Print made from a plate built up of cardboard, chipboard or masonite and other materials. Collagraphs are generally known for the texture achieved by the built-up elements.  Generally they are more abstract or expressive than representational.  Collagraphs can be inked either in Intaglio or Relief form to achieve various effects and textures.  A relatively new type of printmaking.
  • Linocut:  A relief print made by carving into a slab of linoleum. Linoleum varies in thickness and hardness.  Soft linoleum is easy to cut into, but may crumble if lines are too fine or close together.  Hard linoleum is more resistant, but creates sharp, fine lines that lend themselves to detail.
  • Reduction Cut or Suicide Print:  Multi-color relief process made by printing one color after the other using the same block.  The complete block is used to make the background color (usually a light color) then the block is carved away successively, with a different color printed after each layer is cut away.  The results are an empty block, devoid of any image and a beautiful, multi-color print.
  • Woodcut:  A relief print made by carving into a piece of wood.  Different types of wood create different types of results.  Like linoleum, the harder the wood, the more detail can be achieved.  Woodcuts become difficult if the wood had too many knots, but the beauty of wood is that the grain can be raised to produce beautiful woodgrain textures.

Examples of Relief Artists:  Katsuchika Hokusai, Lucas Kranach, Kathe Kollwitz, Leonard Baskin, Elizabeth Catlett, Leopoldo Mendez, Artemio Rodriguez, Tom Huck.

TOOLS:  Because printmaking is so process-oriented, a number of tools are necessary each step of the way.  Below is a list of the most common tools used specifically by printmakers.

Baren:  Traditional Japanese circular burnishing tool used to apply pressure by hand with which to transfer the image from the plate to the paper.  Barens are traditionally made of either bamboo fibers or wood, though contemporary Barens are often made of plastic. A wooden spoon may also be used in place of a Baren.

Blanket:  Wool Felt used with etching presses in order to provide a cushion between the plate and the roller.  Individually known as:  Pusher, Cushion and Catcher. The Pusher is used primarily to push the bed of the press under the roller.  The Cushion acts as a cushion between the roller and the plate, while the Catcher is used to “catch” sizing from the paper when the paper is dampened.  Different techniques utilize different blankets, though usually at least a Catcher and Pusher are used.

Blotting Paper:  Thick, heavy and absorbent paper usually used to take excess moisture from paper that has been dampened before printing.  Paper is usually dampened for intaglio and monoprint processes.

Brayer:  A roller (usually made of rubber) with which ink is applied to the surface of the plate.

Burin/Graver:  Metal tool with a diamond-shaped shaft used to scratch into the plate for intaglio processes.

Gouges:  Knives used to clear ‘non-image’ areas from a wood or linoleum block.  The most common are the V-Gouge, U-Gouge and C-Gouge, named after the letters that the tips most resemble.

Ground:  Soft or hard grounds are a waxy liquid used as a resist in line etchings. 

Ink:  Usually tacky and thick, this coloring matter is composed of pigment, a binder and a vehicle.

Plate:  The surface on which an image is created, to be transferred to paper via printing.  Plates can be made of linoleum, wood, chipboard, zinc, copper, or Plexiglas, depending on the process.  A plate generally refers to the surface the image is initially transferred to, after preliminary sketches.

Press:  The press is the machine that creates the pressure that transfers the image from the plate to the paper.  Simply put, most presses are a combination of a press bed (flat metal bed) and a heavy metal roller that pushes down upon the press bed.  Different presses utilize different means of transferring ink. In traditional etching presses, the bed moves back and forth, running horizontally under the metal roller.  In a letterpress, the press bed remains static while the roller moves back and forth over the press bed, pushing the paper down and it moves over the plate.  In any case, most traditional presses require that the person operating the press use a crank in order to move the bed or roller.  In lithography, the roller is replaced by a greased scraper bar.  The stone has paper placed upon it, and then is covered by a piece of plexiglas.  The scraper bar has grease applied to it, and the artist cranks the bed through the scraper bar.  The grease enables the bed to pass through regardless of the pressure.  The bar then “scrapes” the image from the stone to the paper.  

Rag Paper:  Paper made from 100% cotton or linen.

Registration Plate:  Can be made of wood, plexiglas or mylar.  The registration plate is the surface onto which marks are made to measure where the plate will sit in relation to the paper.  The artist usually measure the size of the plate, draws the borders or lines where the plate will sit and then, depending on what size border the artist wants, will draw where the paper should sit.  Registration plates ensure consistency in printing.

Screen:  Made of nylon fibers and stretched onto a frame, the screen is the “plate” used for serigraph prints.  It can be framed either by wood or aluminum, though wood is more likely to warp.  Ancient screens were made of woven hair.  Silkscreen got its name by older screens made of silk fiber.  

Squeegee:  Similar to the squeegees used to wipe windshields, this tool is made of rubber.  The squeegee is used to push the ink through a stencil placed on the screen, in order to create an image.

Tarlatan:   Stiff cotton fabric, sized and textured.  Used to wipe Intaglio plates.

PRINTING TERMS: Terms related to producing prints.

Artist’s Proof:  Print(s) (not more than 10% of the edition) set aside for the artist.  Marked by the letters AP in the editioning of prints.  Lies outside the normal edition.

Bleed print:  print in which the edge of the image extends to the edges of the paper.  No border remains.

Bon A Tirer:  Literally, “Good to Draw”, the name of the proof that is used as the standard from which to produce an edition.  When utilizing contract printers, the BAT is used to measure the quality that the artists wishes to reproduce throughout the entire edition.

Edition:  Set of prints that are identical, signed and numbered.  A “Limited Edition” has a set number of prints decided upon before printing.  Once that edition is printed, all other prints that come after the last number are worthless.  An “Open Edition” has a limitless number of prints.

Embossed print:  when an image is raised to produce a three-dimensional effect.   When printed without ink, it is called a blind embossment.

Printer’s Proof:  Similar to the BAT, the printer’s proof is the standard by which all other prints must comply.  It usually lies outside of the edition, and becomes the property of the master printer once the edition is completed.

Proof:  Trial print that tests the progression of the plate.

Pull:  Printing an image (the image is “pulled” from the plate).

Registration:  Alignment of plate on the paper in order to print accurately.

Roll up:  Inking the plate with a roller/brayer (relief and lithography).

Wiping: Applying ink via wiping it onto the plate using rags, tarlatan or newsprint (intaglio).

Suite:  A related group of prints.

RELATED TERMS:  For you curious folks.

A la poupee:  In intaglio, the process using little scraps of pads or felts attached to the artist’s fingers to apply several colors to one plate.  Literally meaning “Little doll” or fingerpuppet.  

Bevel:  Rounding off of edges of metal plates by filing.  Edges are sloped to a 45 degree angle so that they do not tear the paper or blankets when the plate is run through the press.

Burr:  the ridges of the plate cast up on both sides of the line drawn by graver in the dry point process.  The burr catches the ink and produces a “fuzzy” look to the line.

Chatter:  In Relief, the textural, active effect in the background made by shallow carving.  Referred to as “chatter” because it distracts from the main image.

Deckle:  The ragged edge of a handmade sheet of paper, created by the edge of a wooden screen in the paper-making process.  When paper is “cut” for printing, it is always torn, in order to create a faux deckle edge.

Hickey:  an unwanted spot of ink, surrounded by a white ring, created by debris in the ink.

Stencil:  A way of blocking the ink from passing in certain areas using paper.

Tack:  stickiness or stiffness of the ink.

White Line:  print in which the lines are cut out, exposing the paper with a black background.

Black Line:  print in which the lines are in black with the paper color as background.

The artist carves a relief print on a linoleum block.  The linoleum is hard and thin, which allows for fine detail.  In order to carve the black-line print, the artists carves out the negative space and removes chatter using a size 1 V-gouge.

Close-up of the plate.  The text is backwards, because the plate prints in reverse, exactly like a stamp.  You can see the individual marks made by the different size carving tools.  The light green is what has been carved away already, while the darker green is what needs to be carved away.  The black is sharpie that I use to see what I am doing.


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