La Grenouille et La Scie

Alexander Calder


Times Square red, Times Square blue


An intaglio technique in which gradations of tone or shadow are produced rather than sharp lines; often this technique is used in conjunction with etching for images that can resemble watercolor washes. In this process the artist applies a granular, acid-resistant ground to the plate before submerging it in an acid bath that “bites” in and around the granules creating large areas of texture. The use of grounds with varying granule sizes produces different degrees of tone. Spitbite aquatint involves painting acid directly onto the aquatint ground of the prepared plate. Traditionally, a clean brush was coated with saliva, dipped into nitric acid and brushed onto the ground, hence the name of this process. Now artists may use ethylene glycol or Kodak Photoflo, in combination with or in place of saliva, to control the strength of the acid applied. See more examples…

Back to top

Artist's Proof

A category of proof which relates to a practice dating back to the era when a patron or publisher commissioning prints provided an artist with lodging, living expenses, and a printing studio with workmen, supplies and paper. The artist was given a portion of the edition (to sell) as payment for his work. Though artists today are paid for their editions, the tradition has persisted and a certain number of impressions are put aside for the artist. Artist's proofs are annotated as such or as A.P., or Épreuve d'Artiste (E.A.).

Back to top

Bon à Tirer (B.A.T.)

Literally “ready to pull,” the B.A.T. is the final trial proof - approved by the artist - which tells the printer exactly how the edition should look. Each impression in the edition is matched to or modeled after the B.A.T. This proof is used principally when someone other than the artist is printing the series. There is only one of these proofs for an edition.

Back to top

Zelt 1915 Max Klinger_Tent 2012 Pat Andrea


A process developed in the 19th century which enabled artists to print on delicate papers imported from China. This paper (“Chine”) was attached (“collé”) to a heavier paper support as it passed through the etching press. This process gave the artist access to greater variety in their etchings; they could add color to the print by choosing a thin paper in a shade that differed from the backing sheet. In early practice, the thin paper was usually the same size as the etching plate but the paper can also be shaped by cutting or tearing to create a print that appears to be “a combination of collage and printing” as chine-collé has been described by Gabor Peterdi in his seminal book, Printmaking Methods Old and New. See more examples…

Back to top


A symbol, or logo that is either embossed or stamped on each print of a finished edition, including all proofs, as a way to identify the printer and publisher of the edition. A printer will often have his/her own individual chop that is separate from the publisher’s chop.

Back to top


Counterproofs, most notably favored by Impressionist artists like Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas, were made by placing a dampened sheet of paper on top of a pastel drawing and applying pressure, be it through a press, or by hand, to transfer the image to a sheet of delicate Japan paper. The result was an impression that was softer and, because of the introduction of water, more aqueous and subdued than source image. Counterproofing also proved useful as a way to transfer key elements of these drawings directly to lithographic stones for the later realization of becoming a print.

Back to top

Interior: Blue Couch and Green Owl

Digital Print

When artists use computers to create and manipulate their works, a large-scale ink jet printer can be used to print the works. These complex printers use a sophisticated print head to disperse the ink on the paper in a fine mist in order to deliver a consistently toned image. A digital print is only considered an “original print” if it was created by the artist to be realized specifically as a print. A digital print which is a copy of a work that originated in another medium, such as painting or drawing, is a reproduction and therefore is not an original print. See more examples…

Back to top

The Miraculous Journey of a Little Vixen 8


A form of engraving in which the artist incises the surface of the plate with a sharp needle or stylus. This intaglio technique gives the artist the greatest freedom of line, from the most delicate hairline to the heaviest gash. As the artist scores the plate to create the image, ridges of shavings called burr are pushed up to the surface and sit alongside the lines. Because the burr is not cleaned from the plate, as in a copper engraving, it is able to hold ink, yielding lines that are characteristically soft and velvety. Drypoint plates (particularly the burr on them) wear more quickly than etched or engraved plates and therefore show far greater differences from the first impression to the last. Consequently, drypoint editions have fewer impressions. See more examples…

Back to top


The set of identical impressions (prints) made from an individual matrix created by the artist, either working alone or in conjunction with a master printer.

Back to top

Hunt V


An intaglio technique characterized by clean tapered lines made by incising a metal plate (traditionally copper) with a sharp tool called a burin. A range of line widths is possible depending on the size of tools used, making delicate tonalities also possible. The incised lines hold the ink when the image is pressed. Engraving is the technique most commonly seen in Old Master prints. See more examples…

Back to top

Porcus Dei


With a visual result similar to drawing, etched lines are usually free with blunt terminations as a result of the artist drawing with a sharp tool through a soft, often wax-based, ground coated on the plate. Volume and contour is created using a technique called hatching, where the artist changes the spaces, angles, lengths and qualities of the lines The plate is then placed into an acid bath, where the acid eats away, or “bites,” the exposed metal of the incised lines leaving the areas that are coated with ground untouched. The artist can achieve a broad range of tonality with etching by controlling the time the plate spends in the acid-bath. See more examples…

Back to top

Hors Commerce (annotated H.C.)

These proofs started to appear on the market as extensions of editions printed in the late 1960's. They may differ from the edition by being printed on a different kind of paper or with a variant inking; however, they may also not differ at all. As their name indicates, these “proofs” are generally “not for sale.” Publishers use such impressions as exhibition copies, thereby preserving the numbered impressions from overexposure or rough handling.

Back to top

Intaglio Printing

The term intaglio comes from the Italian word intagliare, meaning “to incise.” In this technique, acid or a pointed tool is used to incise the composition into a metal plate, usually made of copper, but sometimes of steel, iron or zinc. After the image has been drawn, the plate is covered with ink, and then wiped so that only the incised areas contain ink. The pressure of the press forces the paper into the incisions where they pick up the ink, resulting in the raised character of the lines on the impression. Because often the sheet of paper is larger than the plate, an indentation of the plate edges, or platemark, appears around the edges of the image area. Before steel facing, a plate, especially one containing drypoint lines, would degrade over time as the pressure of the press would dull the burr. As a result, the first impression was often crisper than the last and in turn, the edition was numbered in order. The different types of intaglio prints are distinguished by the technique used: etching, aquatint, and photogravure are made using acid to corrode the metal plate, while engraving, drypoint, and mezzotint are made using a sharp tool to incise, or scratch, the surface of the plate. Often several different intaglio techniques are used in the same print to achieve variations in contrast and tone.

Back to top

isometric Figures in Five and Six Colors Series (Green Border)


This technique is a variation of relief printing, which uses a sheet of linoleum mounted on a plank of wood. Because linoleum has a smooth surface rather than the grainy texture of wood, the resulting prints are characterized by even areas of color and ink. As with woodcuts, linocut printing is a relief process where the areas which are carved away do not to receive ink. Separate blocks must be carved for each color in the print, however, artists can, using a reductive technique, use one block to print in multiple colors. In this instance, the artist carves further into the block after each color is editioned to reveal the next layer to be printed. Blocks are usually worked in color from light to dark, and as a result their surface is almost completely carved away, making it impossible to edition the print again. See more examples…

Back to top

Le Fruite en Egypte


Literally meaning “stone drawing,” this type of print is made by drawing or painting onto the surface of a limestone using a greasy crayon or liquid wash and is best known for its flat painterly surface. Because lithography is planographic, the resultant design lies on the surface of the paper, rather than pressed in or raised up from the page, as in other techniques. Colors appear smooth and uniform in tone. It is possible to use multiple colors in a lithograph, each color, as in the other techniques described here, requiring its own stone and several subsequent runs through the press. A zincograph is a print made by the same process, the only difference being that the artist uses a zinc plate rather than a stone as the surface of the composition. See more examples…

Back to top


From the Latin word mater, meaning mother, the matrix is the surface on which the artist creates an image prior to printing; for example, a woodblock, a linoleum block, a metal plate, a lithographic stone, or a mesh screen.

Back to top

Grain Threshers, Old Mexico


Mezzotints are best known for their rich and luscious black tones and soft, subtle areas of light. The resulting image appears hazy and atmospheric, almost like a photograph. Unlike the other intaglio processes, this technique is worked from dark to light; the entire surface of the plate is abraded using a spiked tool called a rocker. These grooves will hold the printing ink and if inked at this point in the process, the plate would print entirely black. To create variations in tone, the artist scrapes and burnishes the abraded plate to smooth out the surface so that those areas will hold less ink and thus yield lighter tones in the image. See more examples…

Back to top

Atomic Mystic Portrait, 8


Monoprints are made when an artist alters the image on an already etched and inked plate by adding ink to the surface. When printed, this addition produces an impression that appears different from a conventionally printed impression from the same plate. By manipulating the ink on the plate in each successive printing, the artist creates a series of unique impressions. See more examples…

Back to top



In this technique the artist creates a composition in printing ink or paint on any smooth surface which is then covered with a sheet of paper and passed through a press, transferring the image to printing paper. Because of the smooth surface, the pressure applied irrevocably alters the composition, making multiple impressions nearly impossible. In the rare instance that two prints can to be pulled from the same surface, one will be strong and the other weak. See more examples…

Back to top


While the numbering of individual impressions (prints) can be found as early as the late nineteenth century, it did not become standard practice until the mid-1960s. Before steel facing and other ways of preserving plates for longer print runs, the order in which the edition was printed was important. Today, all limited edition prints should be numbered, and because of advancements in technology and a printer’s ability to print reciprocal, identical images, the numbering sequence is no longer intended to reflect the order of printing. Numbering is transcribed as a fraction with the top number signifying the number of that particular print and the bottom number representing the total number of prints in the edition. The edition number does not include proofs, but only the total number of prints in the numbered edition.

Back to top

Zelt 1915 Max Klinger_Tent 2012 Pat Andrea


Photogravure is often characterized by photographic images that have moody, velvet-like black areas and a broad range of tone. Combining photography processes with traditional etching techniques, it allows the artist to print these photographic images on untreated printmaking papers. See more examples…

Back to top

Planographic Print

In this method of printing the ink is neither pressed down into the paper nor raised above its surface, but lies exclusively on the plane of the paper. This means that with planographic printing the printed and non-printed areas on the surface of the print exist on the same plane. Planographic techniques include: lithography, serigraphy, pochoir, monoprints, monotypes, screenprints, digital prints, and counterproofs

Back to top



This technique was developed in France in the early twentieth century. Translated “stencil,” this process allows the artist to directly add hand-colored areas to an impression by painting these areas through a stencil. The stencil itself is usually knife-cut from thin coated paper, paperboard, plastic, or metal and the ink or paint is applied with a brush. This technique is sometimes combined with other planographic methods, such as lithography. See more examples…

Back to top

Posthumous Edition or Impression

When an artist’s heirs give permission for the printing of an edition or second edition, it is known as a posthumous edition. Posthumous editions should be limited and documented just as in standard printing practice, though they are not necessarily hand-numbered. Editions that were pencil-signed in their original edition frequently bear stamped signatures authorized by the artist’s heirs or the publisher in their posthumous state.

Back to top

Printer's proof

A complimentary proof given to the printer; there can be one or several of these proofs, depending upon the number of printers involved and the generosity of the publisher.

Back to top


This term generally refers to any impression pulled before the official printed edition of an image. The artist may make changes to the image after examining a proof, much like an author makes changes to a rough draft of a manuscript before sending it to the publisher. Once the image is the way the artist wants it to be, it will be the model for the finished edition. Read more about proofs: artist’s proofs, Bon à Tirer, Hors Commerce, printer's proof, trial proof.

Back to top


This person provides the financial support to produce and market an artist's prints. A publisher brings together artist and printer (assuming the artist does not do his own printing) or the publisher may also be a printer himself, a business model which dates back to the sixteenth century. The great majority of original prints made in the nineteenth century were commissioned and brought to market by publishers.

Back to top

Relief Printing

Relief prints are characterized by bold contrasts of dark and light. In this technique the artist first sketches a composition on a hard, flat surface such as a wood or linoleum block; then the parts of the image that are not to receive ink are carved away from the surface, leaving only the composition visible on the top surface of the matrix. Ink is then applied to this raised surface with a roller. The raised image on the block is transferred to paper with a mechanical press or by pressing the block into the paper by hand. Since the areas of the block that were cut-away did not receive ink, they appear white in the printed image. The inked areas are slightly impressed into the surface of the paper from the force of the press and so appear indented into the paper. The primary relief techniques are woodcut, wood engraving and linocut.

Back to top


Restrikes are later impressions that have not been authorized by the artist or the artist's heirs. While some restrikes are of good appearance, the excessive printing of the matrix tends to wear it out and many restrikes are only ghostly images of what the print is supposed to be. In the case of images that may be intrinsically valuable (i.e. Rembrandt etchings), the worn-out copper plate is often reworked several centuries later so that, while the restrike may be said to have come from the original plate, there is hardly anything left of the original work on the plate, even the plate's signature often being re-etched by someone else.

Back to top


Screenprint (Serigraph, Silk Screen)

A process based on the stencil principle in which material is attached to a mesh screen to block the flow of ink to the paper in that particular area. A squeegee is used to force the paint or ink through the exposed areas of the mesh screen. A separate screen is required for each color in the artist’s composition and the same piece of paper is printed with each screen in succession. The resultant image is simple, yet bold and often has a graphic quality. See more examples…

Back to top

Second Edition

A second edition is a later printing, usually authorized by the artist or by the heirs, from the original matrix, after an edition of declared number has already been printed. It should be annotated as a second, or subsequent, edition. A photographically produced replica of the original print, whether printed in a limited edition or not, is not a second edition; it is a reproduction.

Back to top


Signatures tell a viewer a lot about the authenticity and dating of a print. The very earliest prints did not have signatures at all, although by the late fifteenth century many artists indicated their authorship of a print by incorporating a signature or monogram into the matrix design. This kind of composition is called “signed in the plate” or a “plate signature.” While some prints were pencil signed as early as the late eighteenth century, the practice of signing one's work in pencil or ink did not really become common practice until the 1880s. Today, it is customary for original prints to be signed. When a print is described simply as “signed” it should mean that it is signed in pencil, ink or crayon. A plate signature or a stamped signature should be described as such.

Back to top


Often an artist will work on a composition to a certain point, and stop to print an impression of it. This single stage in the evolution of this image is called a state. Each time the composition is changed a new state of the print is created. These changes can range from the addition of a plate signature to drastic alterations in the composition. Today artist’s will frequently choose to edition a state before moving on with the composition.

Back to top

Trial Proof

An impression pulled before the edition in order to see what the print looks like at that stage of development, after which the artist may go back to the matrix and make adjustments. There can be any number of trial proofs, depending upon how a particular artist works, but it is usually a small amount and each one usually differs from the others. In French, a trial proof is called an epreuve d'essai, in German, Probedruck.

Back to top


An important role in the connoisseurship of a print, a watermark is an image, logo, or symbol embedded in a sheet of paper that identifies the mill at which the paper was made as well as the paper type/style, and in some cases, a date. The mill’s logo is woven with wire into the mesh of the paper moulde and as a result less pulp collects on top and around the image making that area of the page thinner. Watermarks, which are typically located in the lower right corner of a sheet of paper, are often only visible when the sheet of paper is held in front of a light.

Back to top


Wood Engraving

The appearance and line quality of a wood engraving is similar to that of a copper-plate engraving. The lines are rigid, noticeably tapered at the ends, and vary in thickness and length to create tone and texture. Wood and copper differ insofar as a copper engraving is printed using an intaglio technique where the incised lines receive ink, and print on paper as black. Wood engravings are printed in relief; the ink is rolled onto the surface, so the incised lines remain white. See more examples…

Back to top

Theuerdank Defeating Another Knight


Woodcuts are identical to linocuts in process, but have a unique appearance because the inked surface of the block often picks up the texture of the wood grain, which in turn transfers to the printed image. Woodcuts were some of the first kinds of prints made in ninth-century China, and the practice was later adopted by the Europeans. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Japanese artists using woodcut techniques reached an exceptional level of artistic achievement through a style called ukiyo-e. Multiple colors can be achieved by creating a separate block for each color, however around 1915, artists in the Provincetown art colony developed white-line woodcuts – a process which allowed for many colors to be printed on one block. By cutting a groove between each colored surface in the composition, the artists were able to apply ink only to the raised areas while the groove, which does not receive ink, prints as a blank or “white” line which separates each area of color. See The British Museum's short film. See more examples…

Back to top