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Dictionary of Printmaking Terms & Techniques

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Aquatint produces tonal effects similar to watercolour wash. Powdered resin is made to adhere to a metal plate; the metal that remains exposed around the tiny drops of resin is bitten in the acid bath, creating a pitted, grainy surface. These textured areas hold a thin layer of ink which prints as an area of tone. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the deeper the texture will be bitten and the darker it will print.

BAT or Bon a tirer is a French term meaning 'good to pull'. When the image has been finalised through proofing, the final proof is marked BAT and signed by the artist. The BAT is then used as a reference when printing the full edition.

Bitumen is diluted in white spirit and applied to the back of the plate to protect it while in the acid. It is also used as a stop-out on the front of the plate to protect some areas of the image from acid while other areas are been bitten.

Burnisher is a polished steel tool, usually curved, which is used to smooth a metal plate surface or to lighten a tonal area in mezzotint or aquatint. A burnisher is often used in conjunction with a scraper.

Carborundum is similar to aquatint in that painterly, tonal effects can be achieved. A paste is made using grit (finely ground silicon carbide particles) and strong glue. The image is then painted or drawn with this paste onto the plate (copper, aluminium or Perspex) and allowed to dry. Inks are then applied to the plate and it is wiped and printed like other forms of intaglio print.

Chine collée is a French term for thin paper, which is glued or collaged to a heavier backing sheet of paper.

Collograph takes its name from the French colle, meaning glue, and the Greek graphos, meaning drawing. Essentially, it is a print from a collage. The plate is built up using a collage process which combines materials as diverse as cardboard, fabric, gesso, glue and found objects. Collographs do not necessarily have to be in colour. They can be printed blind, where an un-inked plate is put through the printing press to produce an embossed effect on the sheet.

Copper plates are used in sheet form for intaglio printing.

Copper sulphate (CuSO4) is a solution of copper sulphate, salt and a weak acidifier can be used to etch metal plates.

Degreasing is the removal of grease from the surface of a metal plate using ammonia and whiting or other solutions so that grounds will adhere properly.

Drypoint prints are created by scratching directly into the metal plate using a sharp pointed tool or needle, which is held like a pencil. As the needle scratches the copper, it throws up a ridge of metal or burr on both sides of the scratched line. The burr creates a soft and velvety line when printed.

Edition is the total number of prints of an image pulled from the plate or plates. Each print in an edition is numbered. 5/40 would be the 5th print from an edition of forty. A limited number of artist's proofs may also be pulled, but not more than 10% of the total edition, and these are marked A/P.

Engraving is an intaglio technique where the image is cut into the surface of the plate or block using a burin or graver.

Etching is an intaglio technique in which a print is taken from a sheet of metal, usually copper, zinc or steel, into which the drawing has been bitten with acid. It involves coating a metal plate with a thin acid resistant layer or ground, usually a wax based resin. Using a sharp tool, a drawing is scratched into this layer leaving the metal exposed. The plate is then immersed in a bath of acid which 'bites' or etches away the metal in the areas exposed by the drawing. Once the lines have been etched to a sufficient depth the ground is cleaned off. Ink is rubbed into the lines of the design and the surface is wiped clean. A sheet of dampened paper is placed over the plate and it is then fed through a printing press under great pressure. This causes the ink to be pulled out of the incised lines onto the paper and creates the platemark.

Fabriano is the trade name of an Italian printing paper. Fabriano art paper has been in production since the 13th century.

Ferric chloride (FeCL3) is a corrosive salt also known as perchloride of iron. It is used to etch copper, diluted in water, and with some additives to etch zinc.

Flexograph, often abbreviated to flexo, is a method of surface printing most commonly used for packaging. A flexo print is achieved by creating a mirrored master of the required image as a 3D relief in a rubber or polymer material. Ink is deposited on the surface of the printing plate (or printing cylinder) using an anilox roll. The print surface then rotates, contacting the print material which transfers the ink.

Foul bite is when an intaglio plate is being etched in acid the ground can begin to break down allowing the plate to be etched in unwanted areas. The foul bite can either be removed from the plate by scraping and burnishing although it is sometimes incorporated into the image.

Gampi paper is a Japanese paper made from the inner bark of the Gampi plant. In Japanese paper making Gampi was the earliest and is considered to be the noblest fibre, noted for its richness, dignity and longevity. It has an exquisite natural sheen, and is often made into very thin tissues used in chine collée printmaking. Gampi has a natural 'sized' finish that does not bleed when written or painted on.

Giclée (digital print) is a French word which means 'squirt' or 'spurt'. Giclée digital printing is a relatively new process which has become highly regarded by collectors, galleries and museums. It combines new digital technologies with ink-jet printing techniques. Unlike other fine art prints, a Giclée print is normally produced one at a time on an as-needed basis.

Grey out is when printing intaglio plates the pigment can react with the metal causing the colour to become dull and lifeless. This is more likely to happen with grey metals such as zinc and aluminium.

Ground is any material that is used to protect a plate from acid. There are a variety of grounds, each one applied to the plate to produce a different effect. Types of ground include hard ground, soft ground, and white ground.

Hahnemühle is the trade name of a high grade German etching paper. Hahnemźhle papers have been in production since the 15th century.

Hand wiped is when after the application of ink to an intaglio print, the excess ink must then be wiped off, usually with fabric or paper. The palm of the hand is sometimes used to wipe the plate.

Hard ground is a mixture of wax and bitumen used to coat an etching plate, as an acid resist.

Intaglio is from the Italian to incise and engrave a design cut into a surface.

Intaglio print is a print from an incised surface where the ink lies in the incisions and not on the surface. Examples of this technique are: drypoint, engraving, mezzotint and etching which includes aquatint, soft ground and hard ground.

Japanese paper, the art of papermaking was brought to Japan in 610 AD by Buddhist monks who produced it for writing sutras. By the year 800, Japan's skills in papermaking were unrivalled, and from these ancient beginnings have come papers unbelievable in their range of colour, texture and design. It was not until the 13th century that knowledge of papermaking reached Europe 600 years after the Japanese had begun to produce it. It is highly prized by fine art printmakers.

Line etching is an intaglio technique where a line is produced by drawing the image into a hard ground using an etching needle. The plate surface exposed by the needle is then etched in acid.

Lithograph literally means 'stone drawing'. When lithography was invented in Germany in the late 18th century, the print was created by drawing on a special type of smooth limestone, although a metal surface is sometimes used today. It is a planographic or surface process which is based on the fact that grease and water repel each other. Using a greasy medium (a crayon) a drawing is made on the surface of the stone which is dampened with water. Greasy printing ink is then rolled over the surface. The ink adheres to the drawing but is repelled by the damp paper. Any medium, so long as it is oil based, can be used to draw the image and this explains why lithographs can have so many different appearances and are sometimes mistaken for original drawings.

Lithographic crayon is a crayon with a waxy, water resistant quality. It can be drawn onto a lithography stone, and will repel water.

Litho stone is the limestone that is used within the lithography technique. It is only found in Bavaria, due to the unique geology of that European location. Thus there are finite supplies of litho stones worldwide.

Master plate, when more than one plate is used, the plate which contains the key elements of drawing which are then transferred to other plates is called the master plate or key plate.

Matrix is the printing surface or plate is sometimes referred to as the matrix. It may be stone, metal, wood, linoleum, rubber, glass, card, paper or stretched textile screen.

Mezzotint is a tonal process characterized by soft areas of light and dark. Unlike other intaglio processes no acid is used and the plate is worked manually from dark to light. The whole plate is systematically roughened using a serrated chisel like tool called a rocker or roulette. If printed at this stage it would be a rich uniform black. The image is created by smoothing out or burnishing areas of texture to achieve modulated tones. The areas partially flattened will produce greys, and areas completely flattened render whites because the now smooth metal no longer retains ink.

Nitric acid (HNO3) is an acid used to etch copper, zinc, and steel, diluted in water.

Original print is a print designed and printed by an artist or under artist supervision. The original print is the first manifestation of the image and not a reproduction. An original print is one in which the artist intended the work to be realized by creative printed means.

Perchloride of iron: See ferric chloride (FeCL3).

Photo-intaglio/Photo-etching is another name for photogravure. Invented in 1879 by Karl Klic. A copper plate was covered by resin powder and heated. A sheet of bichromated gelatin tissue was laid on top and exposed with a positive transparency. Light hardened the gelatin variably giving an acid resist that could then be etched. Today artists often use a photopolymer plastic (which is light sensitive), and are applied to a backing of metal or plastic. They are exposed to an image and then etched using traditional intaglio techniques.

Pitting: See foul bite.

Plate is the matrix that holds the inked design in a variety of printmaking processes. The plate can be metal, wood, linoleum, rubber, glass, card, paper, stone or stretched textile screen.

Plate tone is a feint tone produced by the residue of ink which remains on the clear areas of a plate and which is transferred to the paper when printed. Plate tone can be controlled and used very effectively as an element in the design of a print.

Proof is a preliminary print pulled to examine the progress of the work at successive stages. See also State proof.

Proofing is the process of pulling a proof. Proofs are pulled to check colour, registration, weight of ink impression, and how the print looks on different papers.

Reduction method is a relief print technique whereby a single block is reduced and printed in stages to produce a colour print.

Relief printing is a process in which the image to be printed is created in relief. Unwanted areas are cut away and the image area is left in relief so that when the ink charged roller is passed over the block only the areas in relief receive ink. Woodcut, wood engraving and linocut are examples of relief printing.

Relief roll up is the inking of a relief printing block or in some cases an intaglio plate. After an intaglio plate has been inked and the surface ink wiped away leaving only the ink in the incisions, a different colour ink can then be rolled on the surface thus combining intaglio and relief printing techniques.

Roll up is to roll ink onto the surface of a plate or block.

Rosin is a natural tree resin which is used in powdered form as a resist ground to produce aquatints.

Roulette is a steel engraving tool with a small spiked drum or wheel which is used to make a dotted texture directly or through a ground onto an intaglio plate. The roulette is sometimes used to repair a worn aquatint during printing.

Scraper is a sharp tool, usually triangular in section and with a pointed end, used in intaglio, engraving and mezzotint.

Screenprint is created by one of the few printmaking processes in which pulling the print does not result in a reversed image. It is a stencil technique in which the stencil is painted, adhered, or exposed to a screen of mesh fabric stretched tightly over a frame. Silk is usually used (the process is also known as silkscreen or seriagraphy), but sometimes cotton, nylon or a metal mesh forms the screen. Ink is forced through the mesh with a flexible squeegee (rubber blade).

Scrim, refers to tarlatan, a fabric used for wiping intaglio plates.

Sekishu is a thin Japanese paper.

Soft ground is similar to hard ground but with added grease. Paper is placed over a plate prepared with soft ground and then drawn onto. The ground transfers to the back of the paper under the pressure of the drawing tool exposing the copper beneath which is then etched. Objects can also be pressed onto the soft ground surface creating an imprint which is then etched.

Spitbite aquatint is an intaglio process which involves painting strong acid directly onto the aquatint ground of a prepared plate. Depending upon the time the acid is left on the plate, light to dark tones can be achieved. To control the acid application various solutions can be used. Traditionally, a clean brush was coated with saliva, dipped into nitric acid and brushed onto the ground, hence the term 'spitbite'.

State proof or stage proof is a proof is taken each time work is done to a plate to check progress. State proofs are of great interest to historians and collectors.

Stop-out is a liquid acid resist which is used to stop selected areas on a plate from further etching by acid while allowing other areas to be etched further. Thinned bitumen or shellac based straw hat varnish can be used.

Straw-hat varnish is shellac mixed with black pigment used as stop-out in etching. Straw-hat varnish was originally made to waterproof hats.

Sugar lift is an intaglio technique which allows positive marks to be made in ground. Sugar is dissolved in water with some colouring and a small amount of soap. The sugar mixture is painted onto the plate and when dry the whole plate is covered in a liquid ground. The plate is immersed in hot water and the sugar dissolves and lifts away exposing the plate. Aquatint is then added and the plate is etched.

Tusche is ink emulsion that is made in liquid, paste or stick form. It is used to draw on a lithographic stone or plate, or for washes when diluted in distilled water.

Woodcut, also woodblock print. A print taken from a relief block of wood lengthways with the grain. When the wood is cut crossgrain it is called wood engraving. See also relief printing.

Zinc plate, Zinc is used in sheet form for both intaglio printing and lithography.