What is an Original Print

An original print is the image on paper or similar material made by one or more of the processes described below. Each process and resulting print has a special, identifiable quality, but because more than one impression of each image is possible, original does not mean unique.  Also note that an original print is not necessarily a limited edition print.  A limited edition print can be an original print or a photomechanical reproduction.

The artist’s intention to create an original print is the key to the originality of the finished work. The total number of impressions printed of each image is an edition. The number may appear on the print with the individual print number as a fraction such as 1/20, meaning the edition was 20 impressions with this impression being number 1. Editions can range from small groups of as few as 5 impressions to very large groups of impressions in the hundreds and depending on the artist’s practices and the progress of the print it may or may not be hand-signed.


(Click to enlarge)


Aquatint (Intaglio)

A copper plate is protected by a porous ground which is semi-acid-resistant. The white (non-printing) areas, however, are painted with a whole acid-resistant varnish. The plate is then repeatedly put in acid baths where it is etched to differing depths. The final effect is an image on a fine pebbled background (imparted by the porous ground). Aquatint creates gradient etching and is usually employed in combination with line etching.

Collograph (Relief and Intaglio)

A plate’s surface is built up with photosensitive materials and then mechanically cut away to expose the plate.  It is placed in an acid bath until the  desired tones are reached.  Then it is inked and printed like a standard intaglio plate.  The resulting image is similar to a watercolor.

Drypoint (Intaglio)

The sunken lines are produced directly by diamond-hard tools pulled across the plate. The depth of line is controlled by the artist’s muscle and experience. The method of cutting produces a ridge along the incisions, called burr. This gives the drypoint line the characteristically soft, velvety appearance absent in the clean edged lines of an engraving or etching.  The stronger visibility of the burr is evidence that resulting print is an earlier impression in the series making it more desirable.

Etching (Intaglio)

A metal plate is coated by a material which resists acid, called the ground. The artist then draws his design on the ground with a sharp needle which removes the ground where it touches it and, when the plate is put in an acid bath, these exposed parts will be etched (or eaten away). The ground is then removed from the plate using mineral spirits.  This produces the sunken line which will receive the ink varying length of acid baths creates varying weight of etched lines. In printing, the ink settles in the sunken areas and the plate is wiped clean. The plate in contact with damp paper is passed through a high pressure roller press and the paper is forced into the sunken area to recieve the ink. The artist etches on the plate those parts which will appear in the finished print as black or colored areas. White areas are left untouched. Depth of tone is controlled by depth of etch.

Engraving (Intaglio)

The design is cut into the plate by driving furrows with a burin, then the plate is printed using a high pressure roller press identical to an etching.

Lithograph (Planographic)

The artist draws directly on a flat stone or specially prepared metal plate (usually with a greasy crayon). The stone is dampened with water, then inked. The ink clings to the greasy crayon marks but not to the dampened areas. When a piece of paper is pressed against the stone, the ink on the greasy parts is transferred to the paper.  Lithographs give the visual impression of a drawing.

Mezzotint (Intaglio)

A plate is textured with roulettes (spiked rocker balls) which produce burr (rough edge) as they cut into the plate.  Next the lines of the design are cut with the same technique as engraving.  Lighter shades are created by scraping the surface.  Mezzotints have a large range of tones and are often cut into steel plates today.

Serigraph (Silkscreen or Screenprint) (Stencil)

The artist prepares a tightly-stretched screen, usually of silk, and blocks out areas not to be printed by filling the mesh of the screen with a varnish-like substance. Paper is placed under the screen and ink is forced through the still-open mesh onto the paper.

Soft Ground Etching (Intaglio)

This process is similar to etching but produces a softer image with more delicate lines.  Ground is applied to a plate however it never fully hardens allowing the plate to take on different textures through impressions on the ground.  The plate is then put in an acid bath and printed like an etching.

Woodcut (Relief)

Made by cutting into the broad face of a plank of wood, usually with a knife. (The linocut is made by the same method, except that linoleum is substituted for wood.) In working the block, the artist cuts away areas not meant to print. These cut away areas appear in the finished parts of the design while the ink adheres to the raised parts.  The print is then transfered to paper in a stamp-like transfer process.

Wood-Engraving (Relief)

Made by engraving a block made up of a piece of extremely hard wood. The block, being naturally much harder, enables the artist to engrave (rather than cut) a much finer line than is possible on the softer plank surface used for woodcuts.  The plank is cut against the grain changing the nature of the engraving process so that detail is easier to create.

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