What is a Print?
A print is an original work of art – each is individually crafted and each one is signed by the artist. A print usually exists in a number of more or less identical copies. The print may be part of a limited edition and each print will be numbered in the lower left hand corner. E.g. 4/15 is print 4 from an edition of 15. Some artists make a quantity of prints, without numbering them – this is known as an open edition. Prints will have a slight indentation made from the edges of the plate (a plate is the name used for the surface the print is taken from) and this is known as a ‘plate mark.’
A print is sometimes confused with a reproduction. Images of some of the most famous paintings are mistakenly called “prints”, when they are photographically/mechanically produced copies or reproductions.
The art of printmaking includes several techniques and processes, each with their own unique characteristics. The term “print” is generic and can refer to etchings, engravings, woodcuts, linocuts, collagraphs, lithographs, screenprints, drypoint, and the new technique of photopolymer.
There are five main printmaking processes, which are relief printing, intaglio printing, monotypes, lithography and screenprinting.
Relief printing occurs when a plate has areas cut away. The remaining upper surface areas are inked with a roller, or brush and printed. Linocuts and woodblock are examples of relief printing.
Linocuts are produced by creating a design of white lines on black, black lines on white, or a combination of both. The design is then carved into the lino plate with special tools. The remaining surface area is then inked and printed.
Woodblock is a traditional Japanese technique, also known as Mokuhanga. Each colour of the design is carved on its own block of wood – either Shina or Japanese Hoh, and the result is a multi-block, multi-colour print.
Etchings, drypoint, photopolymer and sometimes collagraphs can all be printed with the intaglio method. Intaglio is the method of printing from an incised line – the word is derived from the Italian word intagliare meaning ‘to incise’. The ink is rubbed across the surface of the plate, so that it is forced into the etched lines or textures (this includes aquatints). The ink is then wiped away from the surface. Dampened paper is placed over the pate and run through a printing press, where the pressure makes the malleable paper push towards the ink in the etched lines, and only these print on the paper.
Photopolymer plates are also called ‘solar plates.’ It is a process which eliminates the need to use traditional chemicals (i.e. acids); and is seen as a safer alternative to etching. The photopolymer plate is sensitive to UV light. A drawing can be done on transparent film, placed over the plate and exposed to UV light. The image is washed out with water. The plate is then able to be inked and printed. Depending on the design, these plates can also be printed in relief.