The language of prints and printmaking.

By Elleree Erdos



An A.P. is a print, identical to the numbered edition, that is reserved for the artist. These prints are inscribed “A.P.” in the lower left-hand margin (i.e. "A.P. 3/10", to indicate the third of ten total Artist’s Proofs). The number of A.P.s is traditionally 10 to 20 percent of the numbered edition.



The bon à tirer, or B.A.T., is a print used by the printer as a standard by which to create the edition. Bon à tirer translates from French as “ready to pull,” meaning that the edition is ready to be printed; the image has gone through several stages of trial proofing and has been approved by the artist as the standard. The B.A.T. is inscribed as such in the lower left margin.



An edition is a set of identical prints made from the same matrix or printing surface. The artist decides how many prints will constitute an edition, and once that number of prints is made, the artist or printer typically “cancels” or destroys the plate by marking it with an "X" to ensure that no further prints can be made from the matrix.

Each print in a limited edition is numbered in the lower left-hand margin (for example "3/20", identifying the third print in an edition of 20 prints). Usually, a handful of other prints are made at the same time as the edition but are considered to be “aside from the edition”; these include artist’s proofs, printer’s proofs, the B.A.T., and hors commerce (“not for trade”) prints. These works are identical to the prints in the numbered edition and the only difference is the way in which they are distributed (directly from the artist, printer, etc.).


Engraving is an intaglio technique, like etching, in which the image is incised into a metal plate. The tool used for engraving, called a burin, is a very fine chisel with a V-shaped tip. The shape of the burin creates lines that are widest in the middle, with tapered ends. Unlike etching, the metal plate used in engraving is untreated with no waxy ground applied to the surface. The incised lines hold ink, which transfers to a sheet of damp paper when the plate and paper are run together through a press. The concept of engraving dates back as far as antiquity when it was used to decorate objects; however, engraved plates were first used to make prints via a transfer process in Germany in the 1430s.


Etching is an intaglio technique in which a waxy, acid-resistant ground is applied to a clean metal plate (typically copper or zinc). This wax is then selectively scratched off with a pointed etching needle, exposing the bare plate beneath. These are the areas where a line will appear in the finished product. The plate is then dipped into a corrosive acid bath, which eats into the metal exposed by the scratched lines, creating incised recesses that can hold ink. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the bolder the line will appear. The plate is inked and then wiped to remove ink from the surface of the plate, leaving it only in the recesses. Damp paper is laid on the plate and both are run through a press, transferring the ink from the incised areas of the plate onto the paper.



An H.C., short for Hors Commerce (or “outside of trade”), is a print that is not for sale through the traditional commercial channels. These prints are typically reserved for promotional use, such as a sample for display in a showroom or gallery.



From the Italian word intaglaire, which means "to incise”, intaglio is a term for any printing technique in which ink is transferred from the recesses of a matrix, rather than from its surface. Intaglio techniques include etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint and mezzotint.



In letterpress – the oldest of the traditional print techniques, dating to the mid-15th century – movable type (or blocks with images) are printed in relief. The inked, raised surfaces of the blocks are set in the bed of a printing press and the ink is transferred from the blocks to the paper through the application of pressure. This pressure often creates a slightly embossed effect unique to letterpress printing.


In lithography, the artist draws an image onto the surface of a plate or stone with a greasy medium (special lithographic crayons or a greasy ink called tusche) and the plate is treated with a solution of nitric acid and gum arabic. This treatment makes the non-printing areas receptive to water and the printing areas (the image) receptive to oil-based ink – the technique is based on the fact that oil & water don’t mix! The image is “fixed” with a solvent, and the surface is then dampened with water. When oil-based ink is applied, it sticks only to the image. The stone or plate is run through a press with damp paper and board laid down on top of it. The image prints in reverse; offset lithography was developed in 1875 and allows for the image to be printed onto an intermediate surface before printing onto the final sheet. As such, the image is twice reversed and appears on the final sheet in the same orientation as it was drawn on the stone or plate (the artist does not have to account for reversal when drawing the image).

Lithography allows for a wide range of gestural marks and tones, unlike the more limited intaglio or relief techniques. It allows artists to use many of the tools they are already familiar with, like brushes and pencils, rather than requiring them to learn the technical skills needed for woodcuts or etchings. It also facilitates color printing because areas of different colors can be applied to separate plates/stones and all printed onto the same sheet, one at a time.



By definition, a print is any image that is transferred from a physical surface that can be manipulated to hold ink (a matrix). Most matrices – though not all – are able to print the same image many times. A limited number of prints, known as an "edition", is produced by an artist with predetermined plans for distribution through the artist, a gallery or a publisher. As such, they are original artworks signed and numbered by the artists themselves.

Fine art prints result from a close collaboration between the artist and the printer, a highly skilled technician who can guide artists through the technical processes best suited to realize their ideas. Printmaking enables the documentation of stages of the creative process and can inspire an artist to explore new ways of thinking in other mediums. The prints an artist produces are therefore considered an important part of their broader oeuvre.


A printer's proof, or P.P., is a print, identical to the numbered edition, that is reserved for the printer. These prints are inscribed “P.P.” in the lower left-hand margin (i.e. "P.P. 3/5", to indicate the third of five total printer’s proofs.


A proof is any print not considered part of the numbered edition. This can include trial proofs made before the B.A.T. is achieved, as well as proofs made at the same time as the edition but reserved specifically for the artist or the printer (called artist’s proofs or printer’s proofs).


A print publisher is responsible for funding the production of an edition. Many print shops publish their own editions, in addition to being commissioned by other publishers to do contract printing.



Also known as silkscreen or serigraphy, this technique uses a porous mesh screen made of silk or a synthetic fabric that has been stretched over a frame. Ink is forced through the mesh with a rubber blade or squeegee, except in areas of the screen blocked out by stencils. The stencils can be created by painting on glue or lacquer, by applying fabric, adhesive film, or paper, or, most commonly, by transferring the image from a transparency or Mylar film using a photo-sensitive emulsion in a process akin to developing a photograph.



Woodcut is a relief technique in which shapes are cut or chiseled away on a block of wood, leaving a raised surface that becomes the printed area. Ink is applied to the raised surface and transferred to the sheet through applied pressure. Woodcuts are characterized by the visible texture of wood grain in the printed image.