How to Understand Prints

Understanding Prints 

A helpful glossary of terms related to prints and printmaking.

Woodblock - One of the oldest techniques of printmaking, it originally began in China in the 3rd century. A relief is created with the "white" parts being cut away, leaving the image on the original surface which is then inked and applied to paper to create the final print. Printing presses were not often used until the 15th century. Woodblock is the preferred method of printmaking in Asia, and ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints that defined the art of Edo Period in Japan.

Engraving - One of the most common forms of printmaking in which a burin (a small needle-like tool) is used to carve a design into either a copper or steel plate. The earliest evidence of engraving dates as far back as the Stone Age, however, modern engraving techniques were developed in the 15th century in Germany. Today, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) is typically regarded as the master of engraving.

Etching - A form of printmaking in which the drawing is first carved onto a steel plate, which is then bathed in acid to create a relief. German artist Daniel Hopfer invented the technique in the 1400s. One of the most popular forms of printmaking, aquatint.

Drypoint - A technique dating back to the 15th century. When creating a drypoint, an image is etched using a metal needle on a copper plate. Soft lines are created by the raised burrs created during the printing process to create a unique look. To create a colored drypoint image, artists in the 19th and 20th century combined drypoint with aquatint.

Mezzotint - A popular form of printmaking developed in the 1600s that allows greater shadowing and depth in the image by enhancing the tonality of the image. Greater tonality is made possible by "roughening" the paper or creating small pits that hold the ink, instead of shading with the crosshatching technique.

Lithography - A form of printmaking created in the late 1700s. In this process, a mix of greasy materials (whether a crayon or pen) and water repel one another to create positive and negative spaces that form the image once ink is applied to a limestone or metal plate. Lithography is a technique often employed in the creation of maps, to create illustrations for a novel or to reproduce paintings. In the 20th century, modern artists, such as Chagall and Miró, popularized lithography as an art form, creating original works of art.

Hand-coloring - The use of either crayons, watercolors, or oils to paint a black-and-white photograph or engraving. Popular in the 19th century, this was the primary method of creating full-color images until the development of chromolithography.

Chromolithography - A process of lithography that used a number of stones - each with a different ink color - to produce a full-color print. Previously, lithographs and other prints were most often hand-colored. The process of chromolithography was first patented in 1837 in France, but spread across Europe and the Americas before the end of the decade.

Aquatint - A form of etching in which the artists marks a copper or zinc plate and then transfers the engraved image onto a piece of paper through a press. Rosin is used to create the tonal variation the prints are known for. Francisco Goya is one of the artists most renowned for his aquatints, particularly his Los Caprichos series.

Heliogravure - Also known as photogravure, this process was developed in the 1870s, in which a film positive is exposed to a gravure sheet. A mezzotint screen is then applied to the gravure sheet and then fused to a copper plate, dipped in a series of chemical baths and then cleaned to create the final engraving. 

Linocut - One of the simpler methods of printmaking, linocut is a drypoint technique in which engravings are carved onto a sheet of linoleum, which is then covered in ink and pressed onto paper. The members of the German art movement Die Brücke first pioneered linocut during the early 20th century.

Serigraph - Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and others popularized this printmaking technique in the Western world in the 20th century. Multiple screens are used to create a colored image by transferring ink onto a mesh surface. It was originally developed in 10th century Asia where they used silk.