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Original Prints and Printmaking Terms Explained

Thinking of Collecting Original Prints ?

Original prints can be a fantastic way to start building your art collection, but understand what you are buying and don't be afraid to ask questions about the artist and how a print has been made. With so many different techniques, the terminology around printmaking can be confusing for anyone who isn’t a printmaker! That’s why we have put together this glossary of terms to help you when choosing an original print to add to your collection. And we are always happy to answer any questions when you pop into the Gallery..


An original print is not a reproduction print, it is a print that is manually printed onto paper by the artist from an image they have created on a plate, block or screen. Because of the hand printing method used, no two prints are completely identical, with small variations occurring.


A limited edition is when the artist decides how many prints will be made from a plate or screen. The number of prints can vary greatly, and is determined by the choice of the artist as well as the method of printing used. some methods such as etching create a much more durable plate which can create a large number of prints, whereas a collagraph plate may be more delicate or made from perishable materials. The size of the edition can also effect the price of the print.

The number of prints being limited makes original prints collectable in a way that giclee and other reproduction prints may not be. Usually along with their signature the artist will write in pencil below the print the number of the print and the size of the editions, such as 2/50.

Along with the limited number of prints, the artist may also create ‘Artist’s Proofs’ which can number up to 10 percent of the edition size. These may be extra copies for the Artist to keep for themselves, a proof of the plate at an unfinished stage or prints that differ from the edition, such as printed with a different colour of ink.

Linocut / Woodcut

To create a linocut or woodcut print, the artist carves their image into a piece of lino or wood, leaving raised areas that will take ink. The inked block can be printed either by hand or with a press. This technique is particularly suited to making bold, graphic prints with flowing lines, but can also be used to make intricate prints with fine details.


Lithography works on the principal that oil and water repel each other. Traditionally the artist draws directly onto a limestone block with a greasy substance, such as special wax crayons or paints made for lithography. The slightly porous surface of the limestone absorbs this greasy substance and holds it. The stone is then moistened with water, and oil based ink is rolled onto the stone. The water acts as a barrier to the ink, allowing it to be wiped off, with the ink only remaining on the greasy areas where the artist drew their original image. The Image can then be transferred to paper in a printing press.

Lithography can also be adapted to higher volume reproduction printing by using aluminium, polyester, or paper printing plates instead of stone tablets.


Screenprinting is an versatile technique, using a mesh screen, also known as a ‘silkscreen’ as a kind of stencil to print onto paper or fabric. Like a stencil, areas of the screen are blocked off by painting on glue, lacquer or sticking paper to the screen. Ink is then pushed through the screen onto the paper using a rubber squeegee blade.

Screens can also be made by covering the mesh in a light sensitive emulsion, laying a transparency into the screen and exposing the screen to light, hardening the areas reached by the light.  The areas blocked from the light can then be rinsed off, and prints made. Screen printing is good for printing bold images with a single colour, as well as more complex images with areas of gradient and multiple colours. It is also suited to making large scale prints.


Mono printing is a simple yet incredibly versatile technique which involves the artist applying ink or paint directly to the ‘plate’ (which can be made from any smooth flat material, such as plastic, glass or metal). The paper is then applied to the plate, and either manually pressed down or put through an press to transfer the ink to the paper. The artist may only print onto the paper once, or print multiple times to create a complex, layered image. They may also use different colours of ink to create a painterly look.

Because the artist paints the image on to the plate, only one print can be made, meaning it is 1 of an edition of 1.

Etching & Aquatint

Creating a etching involves a metal plate, which is covered with a layer of wax. The artist then draws on the plate by scratching away this wax with a pointed etching needle. The plate is then dipped into a bath of acid, which dissolved the exposed areas of metal where the wax has been scratched away. The remaining wax is then removed from the plate, and ink is applied.

The artist then uses a rubbing technique to wipe off the plate leaving ink only in the etched lines. Paper is then applied to the plate and run through an etching press to transfer the ink to the paper, creating the finished etching. Even after printing, the plate can be re-covered in wax and etched again, making etching particularly suited to creating very finely detailed images.

Etched plates are also durable, meaning they can be used to print large editions.


Aquatint is an etching technique used to create areas of tonal variation on the plate. Powdered resin is sprayed onto the plate and heated so it adheres evenly, creating a fine acid resistant coating. Once dipped into the acid bath, areas covered with less of the resin will have been more eroded and so will appear darker in the final print, and areas covered with more of the resin will have been less eroded and so will appear lighter in the final print. This allows the artist to create areas with a smooth gradient between light and dark.


Etching and aquatint techniques can be used on the same plate, to create a finished artwork with both lines and areas of graduated light and shadow. Alternatively, two (or more) seperate plates can be used to create an image with colour as well as black and white.


Collagraphy is a process where the artist applies collage materials, acrylic texture mediums and other substances like carborundum to a rigid plate such as cardboard or wood . This creates a highly textured surface that can be used to hold ink and create a print onto paper, either by hand or by using a printing press. Collography is an incredibly versatile technique, as there are few limits to what the artist can use to create the plate.

Drypoint / Engraving

Like etching, drypoint involves creating in image on a metal plate, however rather than the lines being etched by acid, they are created by scratching directly onto the surface of the plate. The ink is held in the scratched lines and the raised ‘burr’ at the edges of the lines, creating a finished print with much softer lines than an etching. Because the delicate raised areas wear away with repeated printing, drypoint is only suitable for printing smaller editions.

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