GLOSSARY: PRINTS

GLOSSARY: PRINTS

The language of prints and printmaking.

By Elleree Erdos, Director of Prints and Multiples at David Zwirner

A

ARTIST'S PROOF (A.P.)

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.

B

BON À TIRER (B.A.T.)

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.

C

CHINE COLLÉ

Chine collé is a technique typically used in conjunction with other processes such as lithography or etching to create a subtle background for the printed image. A thin piece of paper is adhered to another by using a liquid adhesive and running them together through the printing press. Chine is French for “China,” which refers to the thin Asian paper originally used with this technique, and collé means “glued.”

D

DRYPOINT

Drypoint is an intaglio technique almost identical to engraving in that a plate is incised with an image directly, rather than through the use of acid. The image is incised using a sharp, needle-like tool that is used much like a writing implement. Within the incised lines, ridges of metal called burrs are created as the tool scrapes into the surface. When the plate is wiped with ink, the ink collects in the lines as well as under the burrs, resulting in a fuzzier line when printed.

E

EDITION

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

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

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.

SOFT GROUND ETCHING

A method of etching that results in a softer, grainier line with the quality of a pencil drawing. The printing plate is coated with a soft, waxy surface that is more sensitive to mark-making compared to hard ground etching. A sheet of thin paper is laid over the coating and the artist draws the image using a pencil or stylus, and when the paper is lifted, the wax ground lifts away with it in areas where the artist drew. The usual etching process follows: the plate is dipped into a corrosive acid bath, which eats into the metal exposed when the wax ground was lifted away, creating recesses that can hold ink. 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 recessed areas of the plate onto the paper.

HARD GROUND ETCHING

A method of etching in which the printing plate is prepared by coating it with a thin surface layer – usually made of beeswax or asphaltum – and heated. The artist then uses a sharp tool to carve or draw into the ground, exposing the plate beneath. The usual etching process then follows: the plate is dipped into a corrosive acid bath, which eats into the metal exposed by the scratched lines, creating incised recesses that can hold ink. 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.

AQUATINT

A method of etching that creates areas of tone rather than incised lines. Powdered rosin is dusted onto a metal plate, which is then heated to melt the rosin grains into the surface. When submerged in acid, the acid etches into the plate around the individual grains, and the plate is left with a rough allover surface that holds ink. The rosin can be sifted onto the plate by hand, resulting in an irregular surface, or it can be placed into an “aquatint box,” in which rotation or a fan creates an even dusting of grains on the surface.

SOAP GROUND

Soap ground is a form of aquatint – also known as “white ground” – that creates an irregular surface with variations in tone. In any etching, the “ground” is what protects areas of the plate from acid. Soap, however, is not entirely impermeable to acid–the acid penetrates it slowly and to varying degrees depending on how thickly the soap has been painted onto the plate. The result is a much broader range of tonal variation and a greater degree of unpredictability in the final image.

SPIT BITE

Spit bite is a form of aquatint that creates a watercolor-like effect and soft-edged lines in the final image. Instead of submerging the plate in an acid bath, a diluted acid solution is painted onto a plate that has been prepared with rosin. The brushstrokes and other gestural marks show in the final image.

SUGAR LIFT

Sugar lift is a way of using aquatint to create painterly marks. The artist paints directly onto the plate using a sugar syrup solution. The plate is then coated with a hard ground surface, dried, and immersed in warm water. In the warm bath, the sugar layer melts and “lifts” off the plate, exposing the metal underneath in those areas. Typically, the exposed areas are then treated with aquatint.

H

HORS COMMERCE (H.C.)

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.

I

INTAGLIO

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.

L

LETTERPRESS

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.

LITHOGRAPHY

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.

Processed lithography stones for Charline von Heyl. Photo: ULAE

M

MONOPRINT

A monoprint is similar to a monotype, except that the original surface begins with a repeatable image made through traditional printmaking techniques that enable multiples, such as etching, lithography, or silkscreen. An element within or on top of the repeatable image is then uniquely colored, drawn, painted, or otherwise altered, so each print in the series becomes a “variation on a theme.”

MONOTYPE

A monotype typically involves the simple transfer of an image from one smooth surface to another. Since the initial surface on which the artist creates the image is not etched or otherwise absorbent to ink, the image can only be transferred once.

P

PLATE SIZE

The dimensions of the printing plate used to make the work when the plate is smaller than the sheet. In intaglio printing, the plate may create an embossed outline in the paper.

PRINT

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.

Detail image of an edition by Christopher Wool in 2021. Photo: ULAE

PRINTER'S PROOF (P.P.)

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.

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).

Proofs and work up prints during the making of Wyatt Kahn’s "The Dream". Photo: ULAE

PUBLISHER

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.

S

SCREEN 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.

SHEET SIZE

The dimensions of the full sheet of paper on which a work is printed.

W

WOODCUT

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.