What is printmaking?
There are so many technical terms out there regarding print editions and different techniques, so we decided to put together a glossary to help you pin down a better understanding on the matter of printmaking.
We start with the basic’s basic…
Each work is carefully manufactured by the artists in close collaboration with our team of master printmakers in Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara – Cristian Opris, Lacy Matyas, Grigore Liteanu. Using traditional printmaking techniques such as mezzotint, aquatint, drypoint, pochoir, woodcut, linocut, stone lithography, offset lithography and screen printing, each work is a unique piece of art, signed and numbered by the artist’s hand and will include an original certificate of authenticity.
Although printmaking involves reproducing an image, a print is more than just a copy of an original. Fine art prints are something else entirely, resulting from a close collaboration between the artist and the print studio. Master printmakers — the people who work with the artist to produce an edition — are highly skilled technicians, and are often artists in their own right. Prints are not made in large production runs, as a result they are true works of art, and as important to the artist as drawings or other works on paper.
What are print editions?
An ‘original’ print is technically a unique work given it is generally produced as a limited number of impressions (collectively known as an edition), and each print is given an edition number. A print edition is the total number of impressions from a given print.
The numbering of a print takes the form of a fraction. It shows the number of the print and the total number of prints in the edition. For example ’12/50′ means the print is number 12 within an edition of 50.
*Limited edition prints are usually numbered in pencil to reduce risk of fraud as computers can’t trace it.
➝ AP or Artist’s Proof
Artist’s Proofs are exactly the same as numbered copies of the print. In the early days of printmaking, technology was way less advanced, so the first prints of an edition were of a higher quality. Re-using printing plates would gradually wear them down, causing a decline in quality throughout the production. This is not the case nowadays, with advanced technologies. Each print is almost identical. In other words, APs are now exactly the same as numbered copies of the print.
The number of APs in an edition should not surpass more than 10%. Because of this particular restriction, these are usually priced higher than other prints.
➝ BAT / Final Proof
The acronym for “bon à tirer” (good for printing), BAT is the final proof of a print that the artist approves and wants the rest of the edition to look alike. This is usually kept by the printer and it is argued that the final proof is more prized than the AP because there is only one.
➝ PP – Printer’s Proof
A Printer’s Proof is a print given to the printer (s) as a ‘thank you’ for their work. The number of PPs in an edition depends on how many people were involved in the production. APs and PPs are both numbered in the same way. For example 1/5 AP and 1/5 PP.
➝ HC – Hors Commerce
Meaning ‘Out of trade’ in English, an HC is given as a gift to the artist for allowing the publisher to print their images. The HCs are said to be the most valuable, because of their rarity.
Which are the traditional printmaking techniques?
Throughout time, artists embraced printmaking as part of their artistic practice, but it is particularly in the 20th century that printmaking really became an art expression in its own right.
The process of printing is constantly evolving and things have changed a lot since its beginning. There are many different types of print and some of the most widely used are outlined below.
Most important is to understand the difference between a hand-made original print and a reproduction:
An original print is produced by hand from a surface on which the artist has worked. The image is conceived by the artist as a print from the outset, it is not a photographic reproduction in a different medium. Thus, the original work of art in this case is the print itself. As the application of colour and the amount of pressure that is applied is slightly different for each print, there will be subtle differences between the prints and each single print is therefore an original piece of art. An original print is by definition limited edition, since the printing medium simply wears away after a number of uses.
On the other hand a reproduction is a copy, either of a painting or of an original print, that is produced by a mechanical process in which the work is photographed and then printed by technicians on a commercial printing press. Reproductions are often signed and numbered as if they were artist’s original prints and some are even offered as ‘signed limited edition prints’ when sometimes even the signature is photographically reproduced. Applying the term ‘limited edition’ to reproductions, with each copy numbered and signed, is often a ploy used by publishers to suggest that the item has both an artistic and a financial value. It is misleading, since the first print in an edition is identical to the last and one can continue printing identical images indefinitely. The size of the edition is limited merely by switching off the machine at an arbitrary point.
In the long history of printmaking and in all variety of printed imaged, there are only three basic types of print. This may see too absolute to be believable, but when you looked more closely it sounds very plausible, the difference is deriving from how the image is created on the printing surface, from how it is inked and from how the ink behaves when transferred to the paper.
- Relief printing, in art printmaking, a process consisting of cutting or etching a printing surface in such a way that all that remains of the original surface is the design to be printed.
- Intaglio is the family of printing and printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink. It is the direct opposite of a relief print.
- in Planographic printing, as opposed to intaglio and relief processes, there is no difference in level between the inked surface and the non-inked surface.
In our case, our master printmakers are using the following techniques, as well as, a mix of the following techniques together:
Woodcut printing uses a relief technique and is the oldest type of print. This technique involves removing the non-printing parts of an image, leaving the printing parts level with the surface. An image is sketched on a block of wood before the surface is carved into with gouging tools. To alter the surface of a block of wood, many artists use special knives and other tools, such as gauges, to carve in the direction of the wood’s grain. One feature that sets woodcuts apart from other printmaking techniques is the residual wood grain texture the block leaves behind. The resulting raised portions of the block are then coated in ink using a roller. A sheet of paper is placed on top and pressure is applied, leaving an impression of the block’s raised areas in reverse.
A more modern technique, but very similar to woodcut printing, in which linoleum is used as opposed to wood. This material (made from cork and linseed oil) is far softer, which allows for more fluid, sharp lines, making it an ideal printmaking medium. Linocuts, which emerged in the 20th century, also fall under the category of relief printmaking.
Mezzotint is technically a drypoint method which allows for the creation of prints with soft gradations of tone. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. The process involves indenting the metal printing plate by rocking a toothed metal tool across the surface. The printmaker creates dark and light tones by gradually rubbing down or burnishing the rough surface to various degrees of smoothness to reduce the ink-holding capacity of areas of the plate. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved.
Drypoint is a form of etching which requires no acid. The drawing is scratched directly onto the plate with a very sharp tool. This gives the artist the freedom to use material other than metal for the plate. Any smooth non-absorbent surface will do, such as plastic (perspex is popular), glossy card or other metals like aluminium. Many artists use copper or zinc for drypoint, and then combine drypoint with etching.
This technique originated in the late 1800s and became a popular form of printmaking because its visual qualities mimic that of watercolor, hence the name aquatint. Aquatint enables the artist to achieve a wide range of colour tones. A fine resin powder is dusted onto the plate and fixed by means of heat. Each resin dot is acid-resistant; therefore, the acid eats away the metal in between each dot. The same principle as line etching applies; ie, the longer the plate is immersed in the acid, the deeper and darker the tone becomes. A complicated plate, therefore, can take several weeks to complete.
Usually seen as the most complex printing process, lithography relies on the principle that oil and water do not mix when they come into contact. This technique ‘Involves drawing directly on a flat surface usually a traditional limestone slab or zinc or aluminium plate, with an oil-based implement, then coating it with a water-based liquid. When oil-based ink is applied it’s repelled by the water, inking in just the image and allowing it to be transferred onto a paper ground.’ (Artsy, Nine Types of Print Making You Need to Know) Lithography opened up printmaking to artists otherwise reluctant to learn the technical skills needed to create woodcuts or etchings, since many of the same tools, such as brushes and pencils, can be used. Lithography was first made famous by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the 19th century, but has been embraced by many of the major artists of the Post-War period, including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, David Hockney and Jasper Johns.
➝ Offset Lithography
Very similar to lithography, being a planographic printing technique, handprinted offset or offset lithography relies on the principle that oil and water do not mix when they come into contact. This technique involves the transfer or “offset” of an imagine from a flat surface usually an aluminium plate to the paper. When oil-based ink is applied it’s repelled by the water, inking in just the image and allowing it to be transferred onto a paper ground. Printing using this technique started in the end of the 19th Century in England.
Pochoir (French: “stencil”), as distinguished from ordinary stenciling, is a highly refined technique of making fine limited editions of stencil prints. It is often called hand colouring, or hand illustration. The 20th-century artists Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró made prints in this technique for book illustrations. More important was Henri Matisse’s use of stencil prints, notably in Jazz (1947), his illustrated book with handwritten text.
Perhaps the most omnipresent printing technique today, an image is cut into a sheet of paper or plastic film, creating a stencil. This stencil is then placed in a frame, which has a layer of fine mesh stretched across it, forming a ‘screen’. A sheet of paper is placed below the screen, and ink is pushed through the stencil from above, using a rubber blade or squeegee. Only cut-out portions of the stencil print. In addition to stencils, a photographic image can be reproduced on the screen using light-sensitive gelatins. This was a hugely important innovation for Andy Warhol and other members of the Pop generation, who would appropriate commercial photographs and popular images in tandem with the technique.
A sign of a true print specialist is not only their interest in technique but also their obsession with paper. The choice of paper is an important part of the printmaking process because it can directly influence the nature of what the printed image looks like. In our case we rely on three different paper manufacturers: Fedrigoni alongside Fabriano two of the oldest paper manufacturers in Italy alongside the world famous German Hahnemühle papermill that convey our editions, museum quality standards.
All our original art editions come with a special sleeve for dust protection and a shipping tube for safe keeping. We encourage you to use our suggested framing solutions in Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara, that are not included in the selling price, hence a print is better preserved in a frame. How you frame your print is the most important long-term decision you make when it comes to caring for and keeping the piece. It’s worth paying for a print to be properly mounted using the right materials, and many are not as expensive as you might consider.