The earliest prints were made in China in the ninth century, around the time that paper was invented. Later, contact between Asia and Europe facilitated the spread of this form of art-making, and by the fifteenth century printmaking had become popular all over Europe. After the introduction of moveable type in 1437, text and printed images began to appear in conjunction and were used together with growing frequency to create illustrated books. Prints also continued to be made separately and were considered their own unique art form, distinct from painting and drawing.

Traditionally there are two categories of prints: original, or fine, prints and reproductive prints. Original or Fine Prints are created by an artist to be a work of art in its own right. That is to say, the artist creates original compositions and visual imagery, rather than copying another work of art. Artists are trained in any number of printmaking methods to yield distinctive appearances in their creations. The artist's choice of a technique or a combination of techniques depends on the specific effect the artist wishes to achieve.

Reproductive prints reproduce a work created in another medium, for example painting. This kind of print was in high demand from about the sixteenth century forward, often used in artists’ studios as inspiration or to ensure consistency in representations of certain subject matter, such as religious or biblical scenes. The practice of copying a famous work of art using a printmaking process was not considered forgery and in fact was quite common. In the nineteenth century, with the advent of photography and photomechanical processes of reproduction, cheaper and more accurate reproductions of works of art could be made and so traditional printmaking as a form of reproducing a painting fell into disuse.