A concise list of key print and printmaking terms

A la poupee: literally “with the doll,” this refers to color prints in which multiple colors are applied directly to a single plate. The difference between this and a print from multiple plates can often be determined by the visible blending of tones and by color differences in different impressions.

Aquatint: a tonal technique in etching in which gradation of tones are created by a network of fine etched lines. These  lines are caused by the separate globules of aquatint ground which has adhered to the plate leaving only small gaps for the acid to etch. This ground can be layed in a number of ways. Goya is famous for his aquatints.

Block: a matrix or printing surface in relief printing, whether of wood, metal or other material.

Burin: the awl-like metal tool used to create lines in engraving.

Burr: the ragged edge of an engraved or dry-point line. Often removed in engraving the burr plays a key role in the appearance of many drypoints.

Chalk lithograph: a lithograph in which a crayon is used to draw upon the stone.

Chiaroscuro woodcut: a woodcut made by using multiple blocks (or one block cut down) printed in register. Traditionally a chiaroscuro woodcut included one line block which was used to produce the linear patterns in the image together with a number of tonal blocks. This technique was very popular in the 16th century.

Color Lithograph: a lithograph produced in multiple colors usually using multiple stones.

Color woodcut: a woodcut in multiple colors, usually involving multiple blocks. Japan had a strong tradition in this technique.

Copper engraving: an engraving on copper. See steel engraving and engraving.

Counterproof: achieved by pressing a sheet of paper against a newly printed print creating a reversed image, but one which is not reversed relative to the block orplate. Useful to the artist during the working process.

Crayon manner engraving: usually a technique in etching rather than engraving, in this technique a roulette is used to create a series of small dots in a etching ground. When etched this creates a print which imitates the appearance of a chalk drawing. Often inked a la poupee such prints were very popular in 18th-century France.

Crosshatching: a tonal techicue in linear media such as engraving or etching. Using crosshatching tone (or the illlusion of tine) is produced by a network of criss-corssing lines. In reproductive engraving a flick might be added in the gaps to produce what is known as the dot-and-lozenge style of crosshatching.

Drypoint: an intaglio print produced by drawing a needle across a copper plate. The drypoint needle produces a fine line and a burr which catches the ink and usually plays a key role in the appearance of the work. Drypoints can often be identified by the scratchy nature of the line, the shaggy look of the ink held by the burr and the “snowdrift” effect caused by the burr itself holding the ink. Due to the shallowness of lines and the fragility of the burr drypoint tends to wear very quickly, limiting the number of impressions produced. Rembrandt made extensive use of this technique.

Engraving: an intaglio techique in which a burin is used to make lines on a plate of copper (or other material). Due to the action of the burin engraved lines are smoother, and often pointed at both ends.

Etching: an intaglio technique in which the action of acid is used to make lines (or other marks) on a plate (traditionally of copper, sometimes zinc, rarely steel). The artist covers the plate with an impermiable ground and then uses an etching needle or other tool to scratch into the ground leaving gaps. These gaps are then bitten by placing the plate in an acid bath. Etching can be used in combination with other intaglio techniques and, in certain cases, a direct application of acid on an ungrounded plate can play a role. Etched lines tend to have blunt ends, appear softer and have a rougher appearance under magnification.

Foul bite: a spotty appearance on an etching caused by acid finding its way through the ground. Sometimes used intentionally by modern artists.

Giclee: an inkjet print.

Graver: an alternate term for the burin, but one often used instead for the tool used in wood engraving.

Ground: a coating, often of wax, that protects the plate in etching from the action of the acid.

Handcolored: a print in which color has been added by hand to each individual impression. Other ways of producing a print with color would include various color printing techniques or the application of stencils to individual impressions,

Heliogravure: also known as a photgravure, this technique creates an etched plate by photographic means.

Impression: a single copy of a print. While produced from a common matrix, individual impressions often betray subtle variations.

Intaglio: a print in which the depressed parts of the plate hold ink and are printed. To make an intaglio print one inks the plate and then removes all the ink from the surface in order to leave ink only in the depressed areas. The plate is then run through a press which forces the paper into the depressions. Common types of intaglio techniques are: engraving, etching, drypoint, mezzotint and aquatint. Often various intaglio techniques are used together in the same print.

In., inv., invt., invenit: refers to the original artist whose image is being reproduced.

Lavis: also known as brush bite, a tonal effect achieved when acid is applied directly to an etching plate.

Line engraving: a reproductive print combining etching and engraving.

Linocut: a relief technique using linoleum as the printing surface.

Lithograph: a planographic technique in which an image is drawn or painted on a polished piece of lime stone using a greasy medium. This image is then chemically fixed to the stone and the stone and the stone is printed by wetting it and using a hydrophobic ink. The ink is repelled by the water and only the drawn on areas print.

Matrix: the generic term for the plate, stone or block used to create multiple impressions in printmaking.

Metalcut: a relief technique using a metal plate. Popular in the 15th century.

Mezzotint: an intaglio tonal techique. In mezzotint a rocker is used to create a myriad of tiny marks on a copper plate so that, when inked, the plate would print as black. A scraper or  burnisher is then used to lighten certain areas to create tone. Often combined with linear techniques such as etching and engraving.

Monotype: in a monotype an image is painted directly onto a block or plate and then printed to create a unqiue impression. Sometimes a second print can be drawn from the same inking and in other cases such direct painting is combined with a repeatable matrix, in which case the print might be called a monoprint.

Open bite: the application of acid directly on an ungrounded etching plate. Similar to lavis or brush bite.

Pinx., pinxt., pinxit: refers to the artist who painted the work which the print reproduces.

Planographic printing: printing techniques in which the matric is neither raised nor depressed. The most common type of planographic printing is the lithograph.

Plate: the matrix used in intaglio printing.

Plate mark: the indentation left made in the paper during the printing process. Plate marks are a sign of intaglio printing, a technique which involves a greater degree of preasure.

Proof: usually an impression pulled before the plate, block or stone is finished. However, the rise of the concept of limited edition prints in the 19th century led to additional prints being made and called proofs (or artist’s proofs) as a way of enlarging the edition.

Relief etching: a plate that has been etched, but is printed as a relief print so that the raised parts of the plate print. This technique was used by Blake to create monoprints.

Relief printing: the term for printing techniques in which the raised part of the matrix is what holds ink and prints. Woodcuts are the most common type of relief print.

Reproductive print: a print which aims to reproduce or depict the appearance of a pre-existing work, most commonly a painting.

Retousage: a technique in which ink is teased out of the lines of an etching to create a softer appearance. Sometimes the effect is similar to that of the burr on a drypoint.

Screenprint: sometimes called silkscreen printing, a technique in which stencil (or other means) is used to prevent ink from being forced through a screen onto a sheet of paper below.

Sculp., sculpsit, sculpt. etc. : refers to the person who “carved” the matrix from which the print was made.

Soft ground etching: an etching made by covering the plate with a sticky ground. A piece of paper could then be placed on the ground and drawn on directly, lifting some of the ground in the process. This technique (which also has other artistic possibilities) allowed the artist to create a print which mimiced the appearance of a drawing.

Spatter: a lithographic technique in which ink is spattered onto the stone to create a random pattern. Much used by Toulouse-Lautreec.

State: reworking a finished matrix produces different states of the same print. Rembrandt and Degas are foamous for their production of different states of the same plate.

Steel engraving: an engraving in which steel rather than copper is used for the plate. The use of steel allows for both finer lines and great durability; however, steel is very difficult to engraving so the process of steel facing was invented. In this process a steel surface is add to copper plate to achieve the same goals.

Stipple engraving: a tonal intaglio technique in which a mattoir or mace-dead is used to create a random patern of dots on a plate either directly or through the piercing of the ground in an etching.

Stopping out: allows the etcher to control the darkness of his lines by painting varnish over lines which have been already etched and then placing the plate back into the acid bath, thereby allowing the unprotected lines to be bitten more deeply.

Surface tone: sometimes called plate tone, surface tone is produced (most commonly on an etching) when the artist (intentionally or not) has not wiped the surface of the plate complete clean. Rembrandt featured surface tone in many of his prints.

Transfer lithograph: the planographic nature of lithography allows for images drawn on other surfaces to be transfered directly to the lithographic stone. Thus, the artist could draw on a piece of paper and then transfer this to the stone.

Viscosity print: a multi-colored intaglio print (most commonly an etching) in which multiple colors are printed on the same plate by using inks of varying viscosities.

Woodcut: a relief print in which thematrix is a piece of wood cut along the grain. Dürer is perhaps the most famous author of woodcuts.

Wood engraving: despite the name the wood engraving is actually a relief technique. It is distinguished from the woodcut by the use of the end grain as the matrix. This allowed a much higher level of details and occasioned the use of tools similar to those used by engravers.

Zincograph: a lithograph using zinc as the “stone.”


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