Printmaking terminology


A means of etching tonal values, aquatint was named for the effects it creates, which look rather like ink or watercolor washes. The technique can be used to produce shaded areas in a printed etching that range from light to dark, and is useful in figure studies, portraits or landscapes   where modeling or atmospheric tones may impart realism and/or drama.
Tonal gradations may be added to a printing plate that has already been worked with engraved, etched, or drypoint lines. The plate is dusted with finely powdered resin and then heated until the resin melts in tiny mounds that harden as they cool. Acid is applied to the metal plate and bites channels around the resin droplets. The resulting microscopic reticulation will hold more or less ink, depending upon how long or how deeply the acid is allowed to penetrate the plate. Tones ranging from light gray to velvety black can thus be printed.


Collagraphy or Collography is a printmaking process in which materials are applied to a rigid substrate (such as paperboard or wood).

The plate can be intaglio-inked, inked with a roller or paintbrush, or some combination thereof. Ink or pigment is applied to the resulting collage, and the board is used to print onto paper or another material using either a printing press or various hand tools. The resulting print is termed a collagraph. Substances such as carborundum, acrylic texture mediums, sandpapers, textiles, bubble wrap, string or other fibres, cut card, leaves and grass can all be used in creating the collagraph plate. In some instances, leaves can be used as a source of pigment by rubbing them onto the surface of the plate.

Different tonal effects and vibrant colours can be achieved with the technique due to the depth of relief and differential inking that results from the collagraph plate’s highly textured surface. Collagraphy is a very open printmaking method. Ink may be applied to the upper surfaces of the plate with a brayer for a relief print, or ink may be applied to the entire board and then removed from the upper surfaces but remain in the spaces between objects, resulting in an intaglio print. A combination of both intaglio and relief methods may also be employed. A printing press  may or may not be used.


Drypoint – unlike traditional etching which is executed with a V-shaped burin which produces a smooth hard-edged mark – is performed with a sharp point, which leaves softer and more blurred lines. Until the introduction of electro-plating (steelfacing), which hardened the plate, drypoint was only feasible in small runs because the soft blur was destroyed during printing.


Engraving involves the incision of a design onto a metal surface (usually copper), by making grooves using a steel tool with a square or diamond-shaped end, called a burin. This produces a high quality line with a clean edge. Other tools – like mezzotint rockers, roulets and burnishers – are employed by the printmaker to create additional textured effects.


The plate is covered in a resin ground or an acid-resistant wax material. Using an etching needle, or a similar tool, the image is engraved into the ground, revealing the plate underneath. The plate is then dipped into acid. The acid bites into the surface of the plate where it was exposed. Biting is a printmaking term to describe the acid’s etching, or incising, of the image. After the plate is sufficiently bitten, the plate is removed from the acid bath, and the ground is removed to prepare for the next step in printing.


The word giclée was adopted by Jack Duganne, a printmaker working at Nash Editions. He wanted a name for the new type of prints they were producing on the Iris printer, a large-formathigh-resolution industrial prepress proofing inkjet printer they had adapted for fine-art printing. He was specifically looking for a word that would not have the negative connotations of “inkjet” or “computer generated”.

It is based on the French word gicleur, which means “nozzle” (the verb form gicler means “to squirt, spurt, or spray”). Besides its original association with Iris prints, the word giclée has come to be associated with other types of inkjet printing including processes that use fade-resistant, archival inks (pigment-based), and archival substrates primarily produced on CanonEpsonHP and other large-format printers. These printers use the CMYK color process but may have multiple cartridges for variations of each color based on the CcMmYK color model (such as light magenta and light cyan inks in addition to regular magenta and cyan); this increases the apparent resolution and color gamut and allows smoother gradient transitions. A wide variety of substrates is available, including various textures and finishes such as matte photo paperwatercolor paper, cotton canvas, or artist textured vinyl.

Johnson, Harald, What’s In a Name: The True Story of Giclée, Mastering Digital Printing, Second Edition, Chapter 1

Grant, Daniel. “Ink-jet art runs gamut from low brow to high class

Allen, Ken. “To Giclee or Not to Giclee


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.

To print an intaglio plate, ink is applied to the surface by wiping and/or dabbing the plate to push the ink into the recessed lines, or grooves.  The plate is then rubbed with tarlatan cloth to remove most of the excess ink. The final smooth wipe is often done with newspaper or old public phone book pages, leaving ink only in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top of the plate, so that when going through the press the damp paper will be able to be squeezed into the plate’s ink-filled grooves The paper and plate are then covered by a thick blanket to ensure even pressure when going through the rolling press. The rolling press applies very high pressure through the blanket to push the paper into the grooves on the plate. The blanket is then lifted, revealing the paper and printed image.

Normally, copper or zinc plates are used as a surface or matrix, but even aluminum, magnesium, plastics, or even coated paper can be used. The  incisions are created by engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint or Mezzotint.  Collagraphs may also be printed as intaglio plates.

Introducing Colour

There are two ways of making intaglio prints in varied colours. In the method known as à la poupée (French: “with the doll”), a doll-shaped bundle of fabric is used to apply different colours to different areas of a single plate, which is then printed in the usual way. In the other method separate plates, each carrying a different colour, are successively overprinted on a single sheet of paper. When this multiple-plate method is used, the printer must be careful to ensure that each successive colour falls in its precise location.


Lithography is a printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate on which the image areas are worked using a greasy substance so that the ink will adhere to them by, while the non-image areas are made ink-repellent

A printing process based on the fact that grease and water don’t mix. The image is applied to a grained surface (traditionally stone but now usually aluminium) using a greasy medium: such as a special greasy ink – called tusche, crayon, pencils, lacquer, or synthetic materials. Photochemical or transfer processes can also be used. A solution of gum arabic and nitric acid is then applied over the surface, producing water-receptive non-printing areas and grease-receptive image areas. The printing surface is kept wet, so that a roller charged with oil-based ink can be rolled over the surface, and ink will only stick to the grease-receptive image area. Paper is then placed against the surface and the plate is run through a press. Areas of different colours can also be applied to separate stones and overprinted onto the same sheet. Offset lithography involves printing the image onto an intermediate surface before the final sheet. The process is ‘offset’ because the plate does not come in direct contact with the paper, which preserves the quality of the plate. With offset lithography, the image is reversed twice, and appears on the final sheet the same way round as on the stone or plate.


A metal plate is scored all over, creating a rough surface. The desired image is produced by scraping smooth the part of the surface which is to be left white. Mezzotint is noted for its range of tonal effects, not only because a scored or scoured surface holds more ink than one with a smaller number of simple lines – thus creating rich colours, but also because the technique can be fine-tuned using various tools to produce very fine gradations in tone.


Also known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques , a monoprint is essentially a printed painting. The characteristic of this method is that no two prints are alike; although images can be similar, editioning is not possible.

The appeal of the monoprint lies in the unique translucency that creates a quality of light very different from a painting on paper or a print, and the beauty of this media is also in its spontaneity and its combination of printmaking, painting and drawing mediums.
If the goal is to produce a single painted image, why make a monotype instead of a painting?
It would certainly seem pointless to make that image as a unique print. However, monoprints combine the spontaneity of printed inks and paper, creating a surface that is unlike any other art.

Monoprints and monotypes

Although these two terms are used interchangeably, there is a big difference between one and the other.

A monotype is essentially ONE of a kind: mono is a Latin word which means ONE and type means kind. Therefore, a monotype is one printed image which does not have any form of matrix. On the other hand, a monoprint has some form of basic matrix.
The process of creating a monoprint or a monotype is the same, but when doing monotypes, the artist works on a clean and unetched plate; with monoprints, however, there is always a pattern or part of an image which is constantly repeated in each print. Artists often use etched plates or some kind of pattern such as lace, leaves, fabric or even rubber gaskets, to add texture. In this case, having a repeated pattern, we have a monoprint.

Monoprints and monotypes are created by manually adding (additive method) or removing (subtractive method) ink from a plate which is then printed using a printing press. Many effects can be achieved in monotypes that are not possible with any other technique. 
In the subtractive method you cover a surface (metal or plastic plate) entirely with colour (usually with etching or litho ink), then you remove the ink partially or wholly to expose areas of the picture being made. This process can be carried out using brushes, toothpicks, cotton swabs, foam rubber, fingers, rags, etc. With the additive method, you start with a clean plate and apply the ink or watercolor media in various ways, but as etching ink is a fairly unmanageable substance it is hard to achieve the intended effect. If the ink is applied too thick, it will spread from the pressure when printed, forming a blot. If too thin it won’t show up at all. 
When the picture on the plate is finished, it is run through an etching press with dampened rag paper to form a unique one of a kind print. Almost all the ink transfers fo the paper so it is not possible to make more than one print, hence the prefix mono. However, when a decent amount of ink remains on the plate, it is possible to strike another print without even adding any more ink: this is called a ghost image of the original print since it is much lighter than the first one, but has its unique character. 
Before cleaning the plate, it is also possible to add more ink or watercolor to the ghost image left on the plate. In this case, your second image, which is based mostly on the previous one, will be a monoprint and not a monotype, since its matrix will be the remaining color left by the previous print.


Relief printing is 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. Examples of relief-printing processes include woodcut and linocut.

Woodcut is a technique of printing designs from planks of wood incised parallel to the vertical axis of the wood’s grain.

Linocut, also called linoleum cut, is a type of print made from a sheet of linoleum into which a design has been cut in relief. This process of printmaking is similar to woodcut, but, since linoleum lacks a grain, linocuts can yield a greater variety of effects than woodcuts can. Linocut designs can be cut in large masses, engraved to give supple white lines, or worked in numerous ways to achieve many different textures. The ease with which linoleum is worked makes it admirably suited to large decorative prints, using broad areas of flat colour.

Screenprint or Serigraph

Screen printing is a technique whereby a meshed frame/screen is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. A blade or squeegee is moved across the screen to fill the open mesh apertures with ink, and a reverse stroke then causes the screen to touch the substrate momentarily along a line of contact. This causes the ink to wet the substrate and be pulled out of the mesh apertures as the screen springs back after the blade has passed.

Screen printing is also a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Ink is forced into the mesh openings by the fill blade or squeegee and by wetting the substrate, transferred onto the printing surface during the squeegee stroke. As the screen rebounds away from the substrate the ink remains on the substrate. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image or design.