Glossary of Printmaking and Print Collecting Terms
Aquatint: An etching technique that creates tonal shading. Powdered rosin (acid resistant) is sprinkled on a metal plate, baked on, then etched in an acid bath to create shading. By using controlled etches and stop-out varnish a skilled printmaker can mimic the look of a watercolor. For some wonderful examples of aquatint engraving see The Temple of Flora by Dr. Thornton, landscapes by Karl Bodmer, and the Havell edition of the Birds of America by Audubon.
Chine-collé: An intaglio technique where a piece of thin Japanese paper is inserted between the heavier etching paper and the inked plate, before running through the press. The two papers are laminated together and a very sensitive impression may be taken. Chine- collé prints are not usually intended to have hand coloring. Some of Karl Bodmer's work is printed in this manner.
Chromolithograph: a 19th century lithographic technique using multiple limestone printing plates printed in colored inks creating a painterly effect. Masterful examples include works by American artists, Thomas Moran and William Harnett. Audubon's American edition of the Birds of America, published by Julius Bien also used this technique.
Dry point: The most basic metal plate printmaking technique. Lines are hand drawn on a copper plate with a sharp needle. The line quality is rich, fat and velvety but quite ephemeral. Only a few impressions may be pulled before the line quality deteriorates.
Edition: All of the impressions that are pulled in one publishing event.
Engraving: Creates distinctive V-shaped lines hand incised into a metal plate with a tool called a burin. Considerable strength and skill are necessary to control the tools. The deposit of ink when printed is dimensional and can be felt by touch. Besler used simple line engraving to create some powerful botanical images in the Hortus Eystettensis.
Etching: A metal plate is coved by an acid resistant coating (hard ground) then a drawing is made with a sharp needle through the ground, exposing the metal plate. The plate is then etched in an acid bath to create the printing surface. This technique captures well the calligraphic expressive qualities of the draughtsman. Robert Havell used this technique to create the printing plates for Audubon's Birds of America.
Foxing: Age spots in old paper. It is thought that foxing is caused by fungal growth or oxidized materials incorporated in the original pulp material. A professional paper conservator may offer advice as to the cost of mitigating foxing in a valuable piece.
Intaglio: Italian for "carved". Generally used as a printmaking term including any of the techniques used to make marks on a metal printing plate. The plate is then inked and wiped by hand. An impression is taken onto a dampened piece of paper by running the inked plate through an etching press .
Lithograph: A planographic printing technique where a drawing is made on a flat limestone printing surface using a grease crayon or greasy ink wash. The drawing is then chemically treated to resist water and attract oil based ink from a leather roller. The image is hand charged with ink and then the stone is run through a lithographic press with a sheet of dampened paper. The line quality of a lithograph looks a bit like a charcoal drawing and may have more spontaneity than an engraved line. Unlike printing from a metal plate a properly treated stone can make thousands of impressions without any loss of quality. Most often contemporary artists use a zinc plate that has been grained to mimic the limestone, as the stones have become harder to find especially in large sizes. Great examples of 19th century lithographs include Audubon's Quadrupeds, Currier and Ives, John Gould's hummingbirds among many others.
Margins: Collectors like to see wide untrimmed paper margins when possible.
Mezzotint: An intaglio technique where the metal plate is textured by hand using a mezzotint rocker creating a rich velvety black surface when inked. The artist creates the image by working backwards from dark to light by burnishing into the dark areas. Dr. Thornton used this technique in his "Temple of Flora".
Monotype: A painterly method of printmaking, where an artist applies pigment (usually thinned oil paint, directly onto a glass or metal plate, then run through an etching press with dampened paper to receive the image. A series of related images may be worked out very spontaneously but no two are the same.
Photogravure: A means of printing a photographic image by the intaglio process. A photographic negative is used to expose a metal plate coated with light sensitive emulsion. The plate may then be etched and used to create prints. Artists who used this technique included Edward S. Curtis and Karl Blossfeldt.
Plate mark: The embossed rectangle in a sheet of paper created by the metal intaglio printing plate run through the press.
À la poupée: A color inking technique for an intaglio plate perfected by the French in the late 18th century. The plate is inked in specific areas with specific colors using tiny felt daubers that look a bit like dolls. Masterful examples of this technique were produced by Redouté in Les Roses and Les Liliaceés.
Proof: An impression taking during the creation of the printing plate to check on the progress by the artist. Once the plate is deemed finished a bon`a tirer proof may be designated, (good to pull). The rest of the edition is compared to the bon à tirer for consistency. As well, artist's proofs or printers proofs may be designated as distinct from the regular edition.
State: A way scholars distinguish changes made in the printing surface. The change may be intentional (an area might be re-worked or lines may be strengthened) or unintentional if the printing plate gets scratched, nicked or otherwise damaged.
Woodcut: A relief print taken from a carved wooden printing surface. The negative areas are cut away. The block is inked with a brayer and the impression may be taken by hand by rubbing the back of the sheet to transfer the ink from the block to the paper.
Wood engraving: A relief print carved into the end grain of a block of wood whose thickness is the same height as a piece of moveable type. In 19th century publishing a pen and ink drawing was pasted onto the block and then destroyed as the engravers cut away the light areas with sharp tools leaving the dark lines in relief. This was the technique that publications like Harper's Weekly used for illustrations. Young artists could get started working as illustrators under contract for these magazines, Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington, among them.