Printmaking glossary

As you would expect with processes which have been developed over centuries, printmaking has acquired its own vocabulary. Here are some of the terms you might come across. (For a more detailed explanation of the methods I use please see this printmaking guide.)

Artists's Proofs
These are extra prints made in an edition. Traditionally they would be proof prints for use by the artist, but now it is common for them to be sold. Convention says that the number of Artist's Proofs should not be more than 10% of the edition size.

A flat disk used for hand burnishing relief prints. Traditionally made from bamboo, they can now also be found in plastic.

The material which is incised or cut to create a printing surface. This can also be called a plate or a matrix.

Another name (often used in the USA) for a roller used to apply ink.

Chine collé
The addition of thin paper collage elements during the printing process, so that the lighter paper becomes bonded to the heavier print paper as the ink is applied.

A process in which the matrix or block is created by building up collage elements.

A method of etching in which the image is directly scored on to the plate with a sharp tool. The act of scratching into the metal or acetate produces a raised burr which gives a drypoint etching its characteristic soft lines, similar to a pencil drawing. This burr wears away with printing which means that the life of a drypoint etching plate is limited.

A set of prints produced from a single block or plate. An edition can be 'limited', which means only a set number will be produced, or 'open', which means the artist has not stated a final number.

If a printmaker says they are spending some time 'editioning' they mean they are choosing which prints will make up an edition (discarding the substandard ones) and then numbering and signing them. (See notes on annotation below).

Incising an image into a plate, either with the use of chemicals (etching) or directly with sharp tools (drypoint etching).

This is a term for inkjet printing which was coined in the 1990s. A giclée print is a reproduction of another artwork; it is not an original print and should not be confused with printmaking.

Hand burnishing
This is when the printmaker transfers the ink from the block to the paper by rubbing the reverse side of the paper with a baren or any other suitable tool, such as the back of a spoon.

In an intaglio print the image comes from the lines that have been cut into a plate. The uncut areas may be wiped completely clean of ink so they do not appear in the image, or some ink may be left to create texture and shading. Forcing the paper down into the incised lines to pick up the ink requires immense pressure so can only be achieved with an etching (roller) press.

Linocut (linoprint)
A relief method of printmaking in which the block is carved from a semi soft material: traditionally lino but now also purpose-made printmaker's vinyl.

Another word for a prepared printing surface; can also be called a block or plate.

Moku hanga
Traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking in which the colour applied is a blend of watercolour paint and rice paste.

A print made from a matrix which contains an image, but which varies considerably from other prints made from the same matrix, either because of different colours used and/or because the technique of applying the ink (for instance à la poupée or wiping) will inevitably make each print unique.

A print made without a matrix by applying ink directly to a flat plate. The print will be unique and cannot be exactly reproduced.

A paste made from rice flour and water, used in moku hanga printmaking.

A prepared printing surface; can also be called a block or matrix.

Poupée (à la poupée)
This means applying different colours of ink to the block at once, inking small areas and pushing it into the crevices using tools such as brushes, card or, more correctly, the twisted wad of fabric which gives the technique its name (poupée is the French for doll).

Relief print
In a relief print the ink is rolled on to the raised surfaces of a block. The parts that have been cut away do not show on the final image. The ink can be transferred to the paper either using a press or by hand burnishing.

A coarse loose weave fabric used both to apply ink and to wipe it off.

Woodcut (woodblock)
A relief method of printmaking in which the block is carved from a piece of prepared wood.

Print annotation

You will find most original prints have their details written below them in the bottom margin; these tend to follow some traditional conventions. It is usual to write these details with a hard pencil so that the paper is indented permanently.

Usually on the left side, this shows the number of the individual print and the size of the edition, so 1/12 would be print number one out of an edition of twelve.

If a print is an Artist's Proof (see glossary above) the number is often written in Roman numerals, for instance ii/v would be print number two out of five.

Usually in the middle, the title can be written with inverted commas or without.

The artist's signature and the date are usually written on the right. The date may be omitted.

Other notations you might see include A/P for Artist's Proof (see above) and T/P for test print, which might be a print that doesn't fit in the final edition but which the artist feels is good enough in its own right to exhibit or sell.