Printmaking Glossary
Terms Used in Engraving, Etching, Lithography, Screenprinting.

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Glossary of Printmaking Terms

See below for an explanation of words used in the history and types of printmaking.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H-J - K - M - N-Q - R - S - T - U-Z

Zodiac Poster (1897)
Lithography poster by Alphonse Mucha.




A relief-etching method, the opposite to the normal which is intaglio. The picture that is to be printed is painted or drawn with a pen directly on to the plate using an asphalt varnish; the result being that when the plate is put in an acid or mordant bath all the areas to be white or unprinted are etched away. William Blake used the manner for text and illustrations in his books.
An etching method that uses areas of tone rather than lines and cross-hatching. The plate is grounded with either powdered asphaltum or resin. The plate is then heated; this causes the powder to melt and separate into thousands of tiny specks. The control of tonal areas in between dips in the acid bath is done by brushing on stopping-out varnish.


Artist's proof
One of the proofs (or prints) in a limited edition of original prints. These would all be signed and bear a number such as, 7/32; this would mean it was the seventh pull of an edition of 32.
For the different forms and categories, see: Types of Art.
A smooth, flat pad with a handle that is used for hand-proofing wood-blocks. Closely associated with the Japanese print-makers.
Baxter print
A method of printing using oil-colours developed by George Baxter (1804-67). Among his best works are, a copy of "The Descent from the Cross" by Rubens and "The Opening of the First Parliament of Queen Victoria", for the latter he was awarded the Austrian gold medal.
Blind printing
Placing damp paper over an un-inked plate or block to achieve an embossed image.
A roller used to work up the ink and apply it to the block or plate. Made of hard rubber or a gelatine compound.


Chiaroscuro woodcut
A monochrome relief-printing manner, that is built up by using a number of blocks with varying depths of tone with the same colour ink. Developed largely by Ugi di Carpi (1450-I525) and experimented with by the Germans Lucas Cranach and Hans Baldung; it was Cranach's wood-cutter Jost de Negker who did much to perfect the method.
A simple process which uses stiff clay that has been pressed into a shallow rectangular box. Line work is then scratched into the clay with a knife-point or similar instrument.
An impression of an engraving or etching printed from a wet proof. This is done by placing a piece of damp printing-paper over the wet proof and passing both through the printing-press. It is a help for the artist to be able to see in the counter-proof what the plate looks like, and assists in spotting mistakes.
Currier and Ives Prints
Hand-coloured lithographs published by Nathaniel Currier (I803~87) and James M. Ives (1824-95). Their subjects ranged over the contemporary American scene; sporting, sentimental, political, disasters, city life, railways and steamboats.


An instrument somewhat similar to a muller used for grinding pigments, only the bottom is a thick pad of wool covered with leather; the purpose of the dabber is to ground an etching plate. A second type is covered with a heavy woollen material and is used to force the ink into the intaglio lines during printing.
An intaglio-printing method related to engraving. It is worked on copper and zinc plates with the design being cut by a hard steel tool, called a dry-point, or a diamond-tipped stylus. The main characteristic is the slightly softer lines than those with an engraving. The reason for these is that the steel dry-point or diamond raises a slight burr, which retains some ink during the wiping of the plate (see Etching).
Dust box
A box with a fine gauze bottom that is partly filled with powdered asphaltum or resin, and then shaken to ground a plate to be used for an aquatint.
Dutch mordant
An alternative to nitric acid for biting a plate when etching. It is a solution of hydrochloric acid and potassium chlorate. Smillie's bath, that some prefer for aquatint, is a more concentrated version of the above.


The process of incising a design into a plate block which is then used to make an impression. It encompasses various different methods, such as: Aquatint, Drypoint, Etching, Intaglio, Line Engraving, Mezzotint, Relief Print, Woodcut.

One of the favourite print-making methods for the artist. The word is derived from the Dutch etsen. The plate is generally copper or zinc; iron has been tried but is erratic and will only produce rather unsuccessful prints. The plate has to be first meticulously prepared; the surface must be without blemish. This is achieved by grinding and smoothing with fine abrasives such as emery, tripoli and crocus powders. Then the plate is heated and grounded with asphaltum or resin with the aid of a dabber. The artist now has to work his design, as with all printing methods except serigraphy, back-wards. Some use light guide lines of weak Chinese white, others sit with their back to the subject looking into a mirror; but most go straight in with the etching needle cutting through the ground to expose the metal. When the needling is finished the back of the plate is brushed over with acid-resistant stopping-out varnish. The plate is now cautiously lowered into the acid bath. A careful watch has to be kept that too great an accumulation of bubbles does not cause the acid biting to be erratic; to stop this the bubble groups are dispersed with the tip of a feather. After the bath the ground is removed with white spirit and for the first time the artist can see exactly what he has done, The plate is inked with a dabber, then the surface is wiped, first with retroussage, stiff canvas, next with muslin or cotton rags and lastly with a coup de main, the palm of the hand; the idea being to leave a subtle veil of ink on the surface. The printing is done with a strong press, the inked plate being laid on to a firm bed, damped paper is laid over the surface, backed with blotting-paper and thick wool blankets. It is then drawn through the
rollers of the press; and the blankets and blotting-paper are removed and the print is carefully lifted. With intaglio prints the inked lines are always slightly raised, a fact that can be picked up with a magnifying glass and a raking light. Outstanding masters of the method include Rembrandt, Goya and Whistler. Rembrandt is perhaps the supreme genius who could bring to this difficult medium an intense feeling with superbly controlled light and shade and great variety of velvet tones.


Fine Art
Chiefly painting, sculpture and printmaking.
Flat bed
A simple term in print-making to identify methods such as serigraphy and lithography that rely on neither relief nor on intaglio for image production.
Flock print
The surface of a wood-block is brushed with glue and then finely chopped textile material is dusted on to the glue. The resultant print is soft and tends towards indistinct outlines. Some artists experimented with the manner in south Germany during the latter part of the 15th century. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a rare example, 'Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St John'.


Giclée Prints
In printmaking, the term applies to images generated from high resolution digital scans, printed with archival quality inks onto numerous substrates such as canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper. The giclee printing method provides greater colour accuracy than other means of replication.
An electrotype process by which it is possible to take a copy of an engraved plate which can be used for letterpress printing.


Lines and areas that are sunk into the plate to take the ink as opposed to relief where the printing areas are left upstanding.
Japanese prints
A broad term for the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints made in Japan from about 1650 to 1868. Early examples were black outline blocks that were coloured by hand, tan-e: vermilion and beni-e: a gentle rose red. Full colour prints often using up to 30 blocks came into being in the middle of the 18th century, early examples being called benizuri-e and the later nishiki-e. The subtle tone and tint changes combined with transparent inks at times give an impression of water-colour. Masters of the later periods include Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858). Works were not only single prints but often diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs.


A relief method, the block being made from high-grade linoleum. Cutters are small gouges that are fitted into a handle in the same manner as nibs into a penholder. 'Knight, Death and the Devil' by Albrecht Durer, a line engraving carried out in 1513, is probably one of the greatest masterpieces in this method. Note his control of almost velvet-like tone areas.
A flat-bed method which uses a stone or specially prepared zinc plate. The principle is the mutual repulsion of grease and water. The drawing is made either with a wax crayon or wax ink on the stone or plate. To print, the stone or plate is damped with water, which adheres to all areas not treated with the wax ink or crayon, and repels the oil-bound lithographic ink which is then rolled on and the print made. The method was developed by Aloysius Senefelder, a German (1771-1834) in 1798. It has found much favour with artists since then as it gives greater freedom with drawing and executing a design. An account of the method by Senefelder, published in 1818, made it universally known.


Maniere Criblee
A relief method that is a combination of engraving on a copper plate combined with the use of dies and prickers to produce areas of white dots for tones.
Cutting the design into copper, zinc or steel plates with a burin or graver, an intaglio method. Sometimes, after printing, the metal plates were filled with a black composition of metallic alloys and were known as niello plates and framed as they were.
A method of engraving said to have been invented in 1642 by Ludwig von Siegen (1609-1680), an artist born at Utrecht, Holland, of German parents. He is said to have communicated the process in 1654 to Prince Rupert, who introduced it into England after the Restoration. The British Museum has a number of Siegen's mezzotint portraits. Mezzotint relies on tones rather than lines. The plate can be copper, zinc or steel, and it is first roughened by a rocker and then highlights and various tones are worked into it with scrapers and burnishers plus any lines called for by the use of a burin.
A method that will only allow for the taking of one print of a design. The plate can be a sheet of glass, metal or formica. On this the design is painted in oils, acrylics, gouache, inks or tempera and the print is taken by placing a sheet of paper over the wet colours and smoothing it down with the hand. Marc Chagall is one who has experimented with the method.


A manner for printing lithographs which uses an intermediary roller that picks up the inked image and in the transferring reverses it to the right way round. The advantage for the artist being that when he makes his drawing, he does not have to reverse it.
Offset Litho (photo-offset)
Planographic printing process involving indirect image-transfer from photomechanical plates. The printing plate transfers ink to a rubber-covered cylinder, which "offsets" the ink to the paper.
A relief method in which a block of plaster of Paris is prepared on to which the artist works with various scrapers and cutters.
The impression made on the damp paper by the plate as it passes through the press.
Poster Art
Made possible by Jules Cheret's invention of "three-stone lithography", and exemplified by the works of Alfonse Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec and others. See History of Poster Art.


A mark made in colour-block or plate printing that acts as the key, to ensure perfect registration.
Relief print
The opposite of intaglio, it is the upstanding parts of the block or plate that take the ink.
A print where the artist has made small sketches in the margin which relate to the state of the print.


A method of printmaking in which stencils are applied to fabric stretched across a frame. Paint or ink is forced through the unblocked portions of the screen onto paper or other surface beneath.
(also more popularly known as silk-screen printing) The name is reputed to have been coined by Carl Zigrosser, Curator of prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Basically it is a method of refined stencilling. A screen of silk, organdie, or fine wire mesh is stretched over a frame. On this screen is placed a stencil, which may be of thin card, shellac film, or tusche (a mixture that may include: wax, soap, lampblack, spermacetti, shellac or tallow). The ink which is of thick consistency is forced through the screen on to the paper by a squeegee. Multi-colour work is just a matter of preparing as many screens as the colours called for. Subtle water-colour effects can be gained by thickening water-based colours with isinglass.
A method of drawing that was popular during the 15th and 16th centuries. A silver-tipped stylus is used on a paper that has been given a slightly abrasive surface. One way to achieve this is to grind up calcined bones and mix them with a gum and water, and brush over the sheet of paper. When the drawing is actually being made the silver point leaves only a very faint grey line; later with exposure to the air the minute particles of deposited silver tarnish leaving an attractive warm sepia tone. Albrecht Durer used silver point for a self-portrait in 1484 when he was 13.
Soft ground etching
The ground used has an excess of wax. The plate is then covered with a piece of thin hard paper and the design is drawn on this with either a hard pencil or a stylus; this causes the ground to adhere to the paper when it is lifted. The attraction for artists is that the print has the qualities of a pencil drawing. Thomas Gainsborough and Paul Sandby were exponents of the method.
Steel facing
A method of electroplating nickel or chromium steel on to an etching or engraved plate, which will allow a much larger edition to be printed. With etching on copper in particular, owing to the pressure applied in printing, an edition of over 50 is undesirable as the plate tends to squash and to lose crispness and detail.
A copper or zinc plate is grounded and then worked on by a multi-etching needle and a roulette. The plate is then bitten and finished with further roulette work or a stipple-engraver.
Sugar aquatint
A method of making an aquatint that has qualities akin to a brush drawing. The design is painted on the plate with black, gamboge and caster sugar mixed with a little water. The plate is then brushed over with stopping-out varnish, and left to soak in water overnight. During this time the water somehow penetrates the varnish, causes the sugar mixture to swell and lift the varnish exposing the metal. Picasso used this manner a number of times; it provides the artist with great freedom.
Japanese miniature colour-prints.


A relief method in which the upstanding relief areas are stuck on to the block. Materials used include pieces of cardboard, string, sand, coarse textiles, etc.


Ukiyo-e Woodblock Printing
Similar to Western woodcuts, it was the dominant art form in Japan during the Edo period and Meiji period (1670-1900).
Visual Art
A general category of art, embracing activities from the fields of fine, applied and decorative art.
Molten wax is spread over a piece of hardboard or planking. The design is scratched into the wax and the print made in a similar way to an etching.
Relief printing using the plank or long grain of the wood. The oldest method for print-making; it was introduced during the Middle Ages into Europe. Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Durer were among the talented early users. More recently the manner has been exploited by Paul Gauguin and the Norwegian Edvard Munch, also members of the leading German movements, notably Emil Nolde.
Carried out on the end grain of hardwoods such as box, holly and cherry. One of the finest exponents has been the Englishman Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) with his exquisite studies of animals and birds. Both with engraving and cutting, the wood-blocks are held on a circular, flat leather bag filled with sand. In general the cutting tool is held steady and the block is moved on the bag to effect the cut.

• For a general explanation of visual arts terminology, see: Art Glossary.
• For oils, watercolours, acrylics and other picture-making materials, see: Painting Glossary.
• For architectural terms, see: Architecture Glossary.
• For camera terminology, see: Art Photography Glossary.
• For art colours, pigments and lakes, see: Colour in Art Glossary.
• For styles, schools and periods of painting, sculpture and architecture, see: Art Movements glossary.

• For information about the terminology of printmaking & fine art prints, see: Homepage.

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