Glossary of Printmaking Terms
See below for an explanation of words used
in the history and types of printmaking.
A - B
- C - D - E - F
- G - H-J - K - M
- N-Q - R - S - T
Zodiac Poster (1897)
Lithography poster by Alphonse Mucha.
The Prophet (1912) Woodcut.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.
One of the most powerful prints created
by German Expressionist Emile Nolde.
A relief-etching method, the opposite to the normal which is intaglio.
The picture that is to be printed is painted or drawn with a pen directly
on to the plate using an asphalt varnish; the result being that when the
plate is put in an acid or mordant bath all the areas to be white or unprinted
are etched away. William Blake used the manner for text and illustrations
in his books.
An etching method that uses areas of tone rather than lines and cross-hatching.
The plate is grounded with either powdered asphaltum or resin. The plate
is then heated; this causes the powder to melt and separate into thousands
of tiny specks. The control of tonal areas in between dips in the acid
bath is done by brushing on stopping-out varnish.
One of the proofs (or prints) in a limired edition of original prints.
These would all be signed and bear a number such as, 7/32; this would
mean it was the seventh pull of an edition of 32.
For the different forms and categories, see: Types
A smooth, flat pad with a handle that is used for hand-proofing wood-blocks.
Closely associated with the Japanese print-makers.
A method of printing using oil-colours developed by George Baxter (1804-67).
Among his best works are, a copy of "The Descent from the Cross"
by Rubens and "The Opening of the First Parliament of Queen Victoria",
for the latter he was awarded the Austrian gold medal.
Placing damp paper over an un-inked plate or block to achieve an embossed
A roller used to work up the ink and apply it to the block or plate. Made
of hard rubber or a gelatine compound.
A monochrome relief-printing manner, that is built up by using a number
of blocks with varying depths of tone with the same colour ink. Developed
largely by Ugi di Carpi (1450-I525) and experimented with by the Germans
Lucas Cranach and Hans Baldung; it was Cranach's wood-cutter Jost de Negker
who did much to perfect the method.
A simple process which uses stiff clay that has been pressed into a shallow
rectangular box. Line work is then scratched into the clay with a knife-point
or similar instrument.
An impression of an engraving or etching printed from a wet proof. This
is done by placing a piece of damp printing-paper over the wet proof and
passing both through the printing-press. It is a help for the artist to
be able to see in the counter-proof what the plate looks like, and assists
in spotting mistakes.
Currier and Ives Prints
Hand-coloured lithographs published by Nathaniel Currier (I803~87) and
James M. Ives (1824-95). Their subjects ranged over the contemporary American
scene; sporting, sentimental, political, disasters, city life, railways
An instrument somewhat similar to a muller used for grinding pigments,
only the bottom is a thick pad of wool covered with leather; the purpose
of the dabber is to ground an etching plate. A second type is covered
with a heavy woollen material and is used to force the ink into the intaglio
lines during printing.
An intaglio-printing method related to engraving. It is worked on copper
and zinc plates with the design being cut by a hard steel tool, called
a dry-point, or a diamond-tipped stylus. The main characteristic is the
slightly softer lines than those with an engraving. The reason for these
is that the steel dry-point or diamond raises a slight burr, which retains
some ink during the wiping of the plate (see Etching).
A box with a fine gauze bottom that is partly filled with powdered asphaltum
or resin, and then shaken to ground a plate to be used for an aquatint.
An alternative to nitric acid for biting a plate when etching. It is a
solution of hydrochloric acid and potassium chlorate. Smillie's bath,
that some prefer for aquatint, is a more concentrated version of the above.
The process of incising a design into a plate block which is then
used to make an impression. It encompasses various different methods,
such as: Aquatint, Drypoint, Etching, Intaglio, Line Engraving, Mezzotint,
Relief Print, Woodcut.
One of the favourite print-making methods for the artist. The word is
derived from the Dutch etsen. The plate is generally copper or zinc; iron
has been tried but is erratic and will only produce rather unsuccessful
prints. The plate has to be first meticulously prepared; the surface must
be without blemish. This is achieved by grinding and smoothing with fine
abrasives such as emery, tripoli and crocus powders. Then the plate is
heated and grounded with asphaltum or resin with the aid of a dabber.
The artist now has to work his design, as with all printing methods except
serigraphy, back-wards. Some use light guide lines of weak Chinese white,
others sit with their back to the subject looking into a mirror; but most
go straight in with the etching needle cutting through the ground to expose
the metal. When the needling is finished the back of the plate is brushed
over with acid-resistant stopping-out varnish. The plate is now cautiously
lowered into the acid bath. A careful watch has to be kept that too great
an accumulation of bubbles does not cause the acid biting to be erratic;
to stop this the bubble groups are dispersed with the tip of a feather.
After the bath the ground is removed with white spirit and for the first
time the artist can see exactly what he has done, The plate is inked with
a dabber, then the surface is wiped, first with retroussage, stiff canvas,
next with muslin or cotton rags and lastly with a coup de main, the palm
of the hand; the idea being to leave a subtle veil of ink on the surface.
The printing is done with a strong press, the inked plate being laid on
to a firm bed, damped paper is laid over the surface, backed with blotting-paper
and thick wool blankets. It is then drawn through the
rollers of the press; and the blankets and blotting-paper are removed
and the print is carefully lifted. With intaglio prints the inked lines
are always slightly raised, a fact that can be picked up with a magnifying
glass and a raking light. Oustanding masters of the method include Rembrandt,
Goya and Whistler. Rembrandt is perhaps the supereme genius who could
bring to this difficult medium an intense feeling with superbly controlled
light and shade and great variety of velvet tones.