Common Print Making Techniques

Aquatint – A technique of acid biting into areas of tone rather than lines. This printing technique is capable of producing unlimited tonal gradations to re-create the broad flat tints of ink wash or watercolor drawings by etching microscopic crackles and pits into the image on a master plate, typically made of copper and zinc. A ground is used that is not completely impervious to acid, and a pebbly or granular texture (broad or fine) is produced on the metal plate. Stop-out and second and third bitings are.used to produce variations of darkness. The majority of Spanish artists Goya.s (1746-1828) graphic works were done using this technique.

Engraving – Printing technique in which an intaglio image is produced by cutting a highly polished metal plate or box directly with a sharp engraving tool diamond-shaped in cross section, called a burin or graver. The burin is held in a fixed position and, to produce a curved line, the plate itself is turned. This makes engraving a slow and painstaking technique producing controlled, formal results. The incised lines are linked and printed with heavy pressure.

Etching – Printing technique in which a metal plate is first covered with a thin, acid-impervious coating called a ground that is smoked to a uniform black then worked with an etching needle to create an intaglio image. The exposed metal is eaten away in an acid bath, creating depressed lines that are later inked for printing. Different depths are achieved by covering some lines with acid-impervious varnish (stop-out) and biting others a second (or third) time. Etching surpassed engraving as the most popular graphic art during the active years of Rembrandt and Hercules Segher in the 17th century, and it remains one of the most versatile and subtle printing techniques today.

Intaglio Printing – In all intaglio prints except mezzotint the design is produced from ink in lines or areas below the surface of the plate. The smooth surface is wiped of ink before printing. Considerable pressure is used in the press to force the ink out of the lines and areas and, to an extent, to force the paper into them. One of the distinguishing characteristics of this type of printing is that the dried ink impression stands up from the paper in very slight relief, perceptible by touching with the fingers or by close inspection.

Iris or Giclee – A computerized reproduction technique in which the image and topology are generated from a digital file and printed by a special ink jet printer, using ink, acrylic or oil paints. Giclee printing offers one of the highest degree of accuracy and richness of color available in any reproduction techniques. Every sheet of archival art paper is hand mounted onto a printer drum. Precise calculations of hue, density and value are calibrated before printing. This is sprayed through a printer nozzle with over four million droplets of pigment, similar to airbrush but much finer to produce the finest quality reproductions. This is a costly process, but only Giclee art prints have the widest range of colors to produce rich tones that are not available with any other reproduction process. These high-resolution quality prints are in some cases better than the original painting. This cannot be achieved using traditional Lithographs, or even Serigraphs.

Lithography – The design is drawn or painted on the polished, or grained, flat surface of a stone, usually Bavarian limestone, with a greasy crayon or ink. The design is chemically fixed on the stone with a weak solution of acid and gum arabic. In printing, the stone is flooded with water which is absorbed everywhere except where repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled on the stone, which is repelled in turn by the watersoaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. A piece of paper is laid on the stone and it is run through the press with light pressure, the final print showing neither a raised nor embossed quality but lying entirely on the surface of the paper. The design may be divided among several stones, properly registered, to produce, through multiple printings, a lithograph in more than one color. A transfer lithograph employs the same technique, but the design is drawn on special transfer paper and is later mechanically transferred to the stone. Great French artists such as Daumier and Delacroix, and later by Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Braque and Miro dominate the early history of lithography.

Monotype – One-of-a-kind print made by painting on a sheet of metal or glass and transferring the still-wet painting to a sheet of paper by hand or with an etching press. The process is meant to produce a single impression. However, if enough paint remains on the master plate, additional prints can be made but with substantial variations from the original image. Monotype printing is not a multiple-replica process since each print is unique.

Offset Lithography – This is a special photomechanical technique in which the image to be printed is transferred to the negative plates and printed onto paper. Offset lithography is very well adapted to color printing. The artwork is translated to film as a negative, which is positioned using opaque paper and mylar. This process is called stripping. The film is placed over the plate. This is usually a thin metal plate with a light sensitive coating. The plate is then exposed to high intensity light. All the exposed areas bond to the metal. Then the rest of the coating is removed chemically and all that is left is a positive image of the piece to be printed. The image area attracts the oil-based ink and the rest attracts water. This is then placed on the press. The press inks the plate and the image is transferred to a roller that then transfers the image to paper.

Relief Printing – A printing process in which the uncarved areas create the impression. The printing element, usually wood, is inked with a Roller, or other tool. The cut, or incised, areas do not usually print, since they are recessed and are rarely inked. Nonetheless, during a run paper is often pushed into these sunken areas, creating an embossed effect. The recessed areas do print when the printing element is inked in the same manner as an etching plate, with the surface wiped clean, leaving ink in the recesses.

In all relief techniques it is the surface of the block that is inked and printed and, given perfect printing, all lines or surfaces will be equally dark. Moderate pressure in the press will emboss the paper to an extent, so the inked design will lie slightly below the uninked surface of the paper. Remarque – An original hand drawing by the artist painted or drawn onto the limited edition.

Serigraph – Silk-screening, which is also referred to as serigraphy or screen-printing, is a centuries-old process that originated in China. The image is divided, as it were, by a color, with a screen corresponding to each shade of ink that will appear on the final surface-paper, canvas, fabric, etc. The ink is applied to a screen, transferring to the paper only through the porous segments. A separate screen must be created for each color. On average, it takes between 80 to 100 screens to create a serigraph. The elements are hand-drawn onto Mylar and photographically exposed onto each screen. Inks are matched to the hues of the original and custom mixed. Each edition takes approximately eight weeks to complete: four to five people handle the several stages of the process, and 80 to 90 percent of the production time is devoted to making color separations and the screens.

Stone Lithography – The process starts with drawing the image on the stone by using a greasy black lithographic pencil. These usually take three to twelve days, depending on the size and complexity of the image. The main problem is that mistakes cannot be erased. Small corrections can be made with a sharp knife, but if major corrections are needed, it is necessary to start again on a new stone. The stone is moistened with water. The parts of the stone not protected by the greasy paint soak up the water. Oil-based ink is rolled onto the stone. The greasy parts of the stone pick up the ink, while the wet parts do not. A piece of paper is pressed onto the stone, and the ink transfers from the stone to the paper.

Wood Engraving – Tools similar to metal engraving are used on polished blocks of end-grain wood (usually boxwood), but instead of producing lines that will print, they are used to produce non-printing lines. It is the uncut surface that will take the ink and print.

What is a limited edition?

Limited edition art is simply what the name implies. An artist agrees with a publisher to produce an image in a certain size and edition number for sale to the public (for example 1000 signed and numbered and 100 artist proofs). When the publisher has sold all of the available prints to galleries, the edition is considered sold out.

Depending on the subject matter, the popularity of the artist, and the medium utilized, the prints will then go up or down in value according to supply and demand. Generally smaller edition sizes are more desirable to collectors. When a print is released in several image sizes and mediums (paper, canvas, serigraphs, gicl e, etc.) the print may not seem as rare to collectors, this will generally but not always drive the price down on the secondary market. In the recent years many artist have begun to reduce their edition sizes to help collectors realize more value in their art purchases. Limited edition prints are signed by the artist and sequentially numbered so the art buyer may be assured his piece is authentic. A certificate of authenticity is usually included with the print and should be kept by the art buyer for insurance purposes.