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A hand-made print is created by the artist who prepares the plate from which the print is printed using a variety of methods depending on the type of print involved. A digital print is made on a computer using the computer to create a piece of artwork. 

Most prints are printed on dampened paper. The paper is soaked from fifteen minutes to several hours. When ready to print the artist dries the paper between blotters or towels until any wet areas are blotted away. This softens the sizing and makes the paper more receptive to the ink and in the case of intaglio or embossing allows the paper to be actually pressed into the plate. These papers are heavy rag papers like Arches or BFK. Light Japanese rice papers are not dampened usually.

While oil based ink is necessary for lithographs, other prints can be done with either oil or water based ink. Water based ink will dry quickly which gives the artist less time to ink the plate, especially in a monotype or any plate using several colors. However the finished print will dry within a day. Oil based ink can be worked with for several hours before printing but the finished print will take several days to dry completely. In any case the plate must be cleaned thoroughly before storing as dried ink will distort future prints.

A hand made print is not a finished piece of artwork that is copied and printed by mechanical means. Many purchasers of art work buy what they think is a hand-made print when what they really buy is a photocopy of a watercolor or oil painting frequently numbered and signed by the artist. Sometimes the signature is a printed one and is valueless as such.



The image is cut into the material. Intaglio methods include:


A copper or zinc plate, well polished, is coated on all surfaces with an acid resistant ground (a type of varnish). A sharp tool is used to scratch through the ground in the manner of a pen and ink drawing. The plate is then immersed in the acid bath (ferric chloride or nitric acid) and watched while the acid eats the metal wherever the scratched lines have been made. If some areas are meant to be lighter than others the plate is removed, rinsed and dried and the area painted with an acid-resistant coating, called “stopping-out varnish”, and the plate is returned to the acid as soon as the varnish is dry. This can be done several times, as the deepest lines will hold the

ink. The plate is then rinsed, dried and the varnish removed. Etching ink is then pressed onto the plated until all areas are covered. Then the ink is wiped off the plate with tarlatan – a stiff gauze fabric, which while cleaning the plate leaves the ink in the etched lines. Wiping the plate is an art in itself; too much wiping creates a pale print and too little a dark muddy print. Further polishing of light areas can be done with a page from an old phone book or unprinted newsprint. The plate is then placed on the bed of the press and the dampened paper over it. The paper picks up the ink from the acid bitten crevices and the finished product is an etching.


The bare plate is scratched with a sharp tool straight into the plate, which can be copper, zinc or plastic. This is hard work as even a plastic plate is hard to scratch very deeply. Today electric tools are often used to aid in the incising of lines. In doing this a burr is formed which gives a slightly different quality to the finished print. As the burr wears off in printing the prints will vary a little. The plate is inked and printed in the same way as an etching.


The varnish ground is softened with Vaseline and then mesh, fabric, string, etc. can be put on the plate and run through the press, creating an impression of the items in the ground. The ground can also be marked with a pencil, toothpicks, etc. The plate is placed into an acid bath like an etching and stopping out varnish can be used. The plate is cleaned, inked and printed as is an etching and the result is a soft ground etching. The resulting images are softer rather than the linear crispness of an etching.


Powdered rosin is sifted evenly onto a clean polished metal plate and is then heated on a hot plate to melt the rosin enough so that it adheres to the plate. Too much heat and it will melt the particles into each other. The plate is put in the acid bath and removed each time that stop-out varnish is needed to create the image from light to dark areas. There is no line drawing, just wash areas, somewhat like a watercolor painting. The edges of the areas are burnished by rubbing with a metal tool to blend them. The cleaning, inking, wiping and printing are the same as an etching.


A color etching has the color inked into the plate with colored etching inks. It can be done by applying each color separately to the plate and carefully wiping or with a separate plate for each color requiring very careful registration for printing each plate on to one piece of prepared paper. Either method is time consuming and requires endless patience. A colored etching is an etching printed in the usual way that later has color added to it with paint or perhaps pastel. It’s a quick and easy way to color an etching but is not an integral part of the print.


An engraving tool is used to cut a line into a plate. The cut is very cleanly made without any burr and without the slight roughness of acid biting. It is difficult and nerve-wracking work that requires precision and patience and the tools must be constantly sharpened. The deeper cuts are darker as they hold more ink and as the tools are apt to slip many an error has to be burnished out (rubbed with a metal tool) before proceeding.


Special expensive tools are used in “rocking” across the plate vertically, horizontally, and both diagonals. When the surface is completely scored, which may take a day or so, and then the design image is carefully burnished erasing the scored surface. The plate is inked, wiped and printed as in 

an etching. The result is a rich velvety black with soft edges to the light image areas.


A general term for any metal plate process in which an image has been transferred to a metal surface by photographic means. A corrosive bath is used to incise the image into the plate before inking and printing. Photo-etching is a term alternatively used.

Any of the above ways of making an etching can be used in combinations to achieve very unique and interesting handmade intaglio prints. 


Solarplate is a simple approach and safer alternative to traditional etching and relief printing. Since Dan Welden’s development of the process in the 1970s, printmakers, painters, photographers, and art teachers interested in multiple impressions have utilized printmaking with Solarplates. Solar plates are steel-backed, light sensitive, photopolymer printmaking plates. After exposing with U. V. light, the plate is developed with water. Solar Plate may be exposed using sunlight, but an exposure system and vacuum frame gives more consistent results.Both positives and negatives can be utilized; intaglio and relief printing techniques can be applied.



A printmaking process in which the design remains on the surface and the unnecessary parts are cut away. Relief prints include:


A piece of wood is carved with wood carving tools (gouges) and the remaining surface is inked with an ink roller (brayer). Often the grain of the wood is incorporated into the pattern. It can be printed on a press or by hand rubbing with a baren or wooden spoon, etc. More than one color can be used, but more often a separate wood block is used for each color. Either oil based or water based ink can be used and a variety of different papers.


The wood used has no grain as the blocks are made with the grain on the vertical. The end of the block is carved and fine detail can be achieved. Separate blocks are usually used for more than one color.


 All the colors of a design are left on the block and the whole block is inked in the lightest color. More than the required number of prints are made of that first color. Then the part of the block that bears only the first color is cut away and the next color is printed. This is repeated for each color cutting the color away after each set of prints. Precise registration is very important. In the end the block is destroyed and if fifty prints were made to begin with, perhaps thirty-five or forty might successfully carry all the colors in registration.


These plates are carved with special tools and are softer and easier to work with and have no grain. More than one color can be inked on one block or separate blocks can be carved for each color. The printing can be done with a press or by rubbing. Various papers can be used.


Similar to a relief print, but instead of carving into the plate, the image is built up on the surface of the plate. The base plate can be cardboard, plastic, metal, wood, or anything available. Then the design is built from cut out paper, card stock, fabric, string, netting, lace, feathers, drizzled and dried glue, etc. When everything is glued down and dried the whole plate is sprayed with spray paint or varnish so the plate can later be cleaned. Then the plate is inked with one or more colors using either water based inks or oil, and printed as a woodcut. The plate can be inked in various ways many times and cleaned for storage.


A plate with a raised design somewhat like a collagraph is printed on heavy prepared paper using no ink. When displayed with appropriate lighting the embossed design can be very effective.


A relief technique for printing movable type (though blocks with images may also be used). Metal, wood, or polymer forms of a standard height are set in place in the bed of a press. Since ink is transferred from the surface of the blocks by the application of pressure, letterpress prints are recognizable for their embossed printed forms.



Printmaking based off of the principal that oil and water do not mix, if the plate is kept wet and the design has been done in oil, the wet plate can be inked in oil ink and printed on prepared paper. The oil based ink adheres only to the design area while rejected by the wet areas then printed on a special press. Lithography encompasses:


Lithograph translates to “Stone print” and all were originally done on specially prepared stones. The stones are heavy and expensive. The design is drawn on a stone with a grease crayon or painted with a grease-based ink (called tusche). When finished it is treated and cleaned and in appearance looks like a blank stone once again. However the design is there and while the stone is kept wet the ink is applied with a brayer. The oil-based ink adheres only to the design area and is printed on a lithography press. Separate stones are used for separate colors.


A specially treated zinc plate is used much as a stone, but is cheaper and easier to handle. The fine shading achieved on a stone is not quite as attainable on zinc.


A paper printed from a copy machine has an oil-based toner (computer ink is water based and will not work). Since wet paper is fragile the paper is sprayed with water and flattened onto a plastic plate. In order to keep the paper wet it is coated with liquid gum Arabic. A small amount is spread on the wet paper and allowed to rest about five or ten minutes. Then more water is sprayed on the paper and the ink is applied. Ordinary oil paint can be used as a substitute but must be modified. A few drops of linseed oil helps. Paint that is too stiff will tear the paper and if too soft will result in a pale print. The color is applied with a brayer and washed off. This step is repeated two or three times, after which excess water is gently blotted off, and the plate is ready to print on prepared dampened paper. An etching press works well. Any color or combination of colors can be used, but only applied with a brayer on very wet paper. The photocopied print can be constructed from anything – pen and ink drawing, a photo, cut outs, feathers, just about anything you can copy. The size is limited by the copy machine paper dimensions.



PRONTO plate printing), a new and nontoxic form of lithographic printing was developed by George Roberts while he was Professor of Printmaking at Boise State University. Polyester Plate Printing started as a low cost yet professional form of commercial offset lithography. The medium is capable of reproducing the full spectrum of lithographic marks such as: hand drawn brush strokes, ink wash, texture, crayon and pencil marks, and is equally well suited for digital imaging. Plates can be also imaged directly with a laser printer or a photocopier. The process is more straightforward than conventional lithography as the plate does not require chemical processing in the form of etching with acid. 



The process of adhering one piece of paper 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.”



In essence this comprises a hand-cut or photographic stencil with the silk mesh of the screen holding the stencil parts in place.

A piece of silk mesh fabric is stretched onto a wooden frame. The frame is hinged on one side to a base. A drawing is placed under the silk, and any part of the silk that is not the color to be printed is stopped out with a glue or lacquer or a photo process can also be used. The bare silk that is not painted out will allow the ink to be squeezed through the silk. After the prepared screen is dry the paper to be printed is put in place. If more than one color will be used in the print, accurate placement of the paper is critical. The paint is placed on one end of the screen and dragged across the silk with a rubber squeegee. The frame is lifted enough to remove the paper and replace it with the next piece and the paint is dragged back again and so on until the full number of prints are made. The printing is very fast – a minute or so per print. The set up of the image on the screen takes a good bit of careful planning. The screen is then cleaned of the paint, thenthe stencil removed and the stencil for the next color is put on the screen. Many different colors can be combined on one print, and the stencil can be done in a painterly way or a crisp cut out stencil or with photography. Either water-based or oil-based paint can be used.



A one of a kind print. A second print, called a “ghost” can be made but will look very much lighter.


A plastic plate has ink applied to it with brush, sponge, brayer, etc. Any color or design can be used. Objects such as feathers, lace, string, etc. can be placed on the plate; ink on the plate can be manipulated with fingers, Q-tips, brushes, etc. Ink applied too thick will slide off in printing and if too thin, will dry out and not print. The plate is placed on an etching press and the dampened paper placed on top. After the print is made a second print can be made from the same plate, but they will look very different. Before cleaning the plate the design can be manipulated with added ink, etc., but the result is still a one of a kind impression.


An innovative process created by Mitch Lyons in the 1960’s and continually developed by him even today. The “plate” for the print is a leather hard slab of stoneware clay. The media is white slip mixed with house paint colorants and ceramic stains to produce a rainbow 

of colors. The colored clays in the form of slip, moist clay, and powdered chalks are applied to the slab using a full range of painterly, printmaking, and ceramic techniques. Once the image on the slab is complete, a slightly dampened sheet of Reemay interfacing canvas is carefully laid on the slab, and light pressure is applied by hand to lift a thin layer of colored clay from the surface. The colored clays bond to the interfacing to produce an archival monoprint.


Cut out pieces of card stock can be inked, arranged on prepared paper, and printed either on a press or by hand.


Process is a cross between art and photography. It Is a method created using photography equipment but can be done on pieces of art, not just photographs. The method consists of etching, painting or drawing on a transparent surface, such as glass, thin paper, or film and printing the resulting image on a light sensitive paper in a photographic darkroom. This process originated in France in the early 19th century. Contemporary cliché verre artists also utilize scanners and editing software to produce the images on acetate or as digital prints. 



Traditionally, signifying inscriptions are written in pencil at the bottom of a print. Reading from left to right, the inscriptions indicate the edition number, the title of the artwork, and the artist’s name (and sometimes the date), e.g. 2/30 Untitled #1 A. Smith, 2012

Artist’s Proof (A.P.)

A print reserved for the artist and not included in the numbered edition. An artist’s proof can be identified by the inscription “A.P.” found in the lower left-hand margin instead of a number. Printer’s proofs are reserved for the printer and are inscribed “P.P.”

Bon à Tirer (B.A.T.)

A print that is not included in the edition, but which indicates the standard a printer tried to duplicate for the edition. A print which is bon à tirer (translated from French as “ready to pull”) can be identified by the inscription “B.A.T.” found in the lower left-hand margin.

What is an Edition?

A set of identical prints made from the same matrix (or set of matrices). Often a number of other prints – artist’s proofs, printer’s proofs, bon à tirer, and hors commerce (“not for trade”) prints – are made at the same time but are not considered to be part of the numbered edition. Each print in a limited edition is usually numbered in the lower left-hand margin. The form of this inscription is as follows: number in the edition/size of the edition (i.e. 15/50). To guarantee a limited edition, the artist or printer can “strike” or cancel the plate by incising an X on the printing face after completion.


The majority of the descriptions above are attributed to Elizabeth MacDonald with additional material by Julyen Norman.