About Printmaking

Not sure what a monotype is? Baffled by the term "original print?" This mini guide will help make sense of the printmaking terminology found throughout the site (and it'll hopefully be interesting to boot).

Printmaking is a centuries-old approach to art making that typically involves a plate (woodblock, lithography stone, copper plate, etc.) and a receiving substrate (fabric, paper, wood, etc.). The artist creates a design on the plate using various methods and materials which is then transferred to the receiving paper by hand or using a press. There are many variations of this process, some complicated and involving the use of stringent practice and toxic chemicals and others are more benign (the potato stamping you did as a kid is a form of printmaking).

Printmaking is considered an "indirect" process of creating imagery, unlike painting or drawing which is a "direct" method. In an indirect method of making a work of art, the paper or substrate receives an impression of the original--a memory, or trace, as some have poetically described it. The actual original marks may be engraved on a copper surface or carved physically from wood. When the plate of copper, wood, or other material is inked up and run through press, it transfers the image to the paper. 

Printmaking can be used to produce editions or multiples of an image (especially in lithography and serigraphy), though a printmaker is directly invovled in the production of an original surface and its resulting pieces in a way that is not like reproduction printing. The aesthetic of printmaking is different from other forms of art, like painting or drawing, because the ink and receiving surface go through a very particular transformation when run through a press. Pressure causes the materials to have a unique mark, as do many of the chemical etching processes, that is inherent only to printmaking.

The word "print" itself has traditionally, in fine art, referred to printmaking prints, which are originals. Though the original marks exist as part of a physical surface, the prints that the printing plates produce are not the same kind of reproductive result as those done on inkjet or giclee printers. Thus you often see the term "hand pulled" used when referring to a print, just to be sure the viewer knows the print is not a "reproduction" but an actual original print.

A good source for printmaking definitions is Melanie Leslie's site. I quote a few of her definitions below that relate directly to work on this site.

chine collé:     A technique for gluing smaller pieces of paper onto a print while you
are printing it.  Usually thin papers are attached to a heavier printing paper with this
method.  Historically used to tone areas in a print.

collagraph:     A print made from a plate that is composed of other materials in a
collage manner.

deckle: The untrimmed feathery edge of a handmade sheet of paper.

etching: An intaglio process in which an acid-resistant coating is applied to a plate, an image is cut into the ground with a needle and then submerged into an acid bath to establish the image into the plate. The incised line is then inked and printed onto a sheet of dampened paper.

intaglio: One of four major divisions of printmaking in which an image is made by printing information that has been cut or etched into the surface of a plate.

linoleum cut (linocut): a print made from an image cut into a piece of linoleum.

lithography: One of the four major divisions of printmaking. Lithography is a planographic process, dependent on the fact that oil and water don’t mix. A stone or metal plate is drawn upon with a greasy substance. Then the surface is chemically etched so that some areas attract only greasy ink and nondrawn areas attract only water. The image is inked by alternately sponging and rolling the surface of the printing matrix. It is printed on a lithographic press.

monoprint: A one-of-a-kind image made with successive printings of information. A monoprint is often made using a repeatable matrix in a non-repetitious fashion.

monotype: A one-of-a-kind image using drawing and painting strategies to develop an image on a smooth surface. The information is then printed on a sheet of paper.

relief printing : One of the four major divisions of printmaking. The image is printed from ink on the surface of wood, linoleum, or other flat surface. Nonprinting areas have been cut away.

serigraphy: One of the four major divisions of printmaking. Images are made by forcing ink through a stencil on a screen stretched with a fine silk or similar fabric.

What, then, is a "reproduction print"? Reproduction prints are typically digitally or mechanically (automated) products that visually reproduce another image with precision. The other image may be a painting, photograph, digital art, or even a photographic version of a hand-pulled original print. The reproduction typically involves an automated production using inks or dyes which are sprayed out of a printing device. Some offset lithography can be considered reproduction prints, though offset printing that uses plates and blankets is typically not.

No matrix or plate surface is usually involved in reproduction printing.