- Printmaking Techniques
- Abbreviations commonly found on prints
There are three principal ways an antique print is made:
- Relief - the block is carved away to leave the area to be printed in relief. The surface is inked and conveys the image to the paper when printed.
- Intaglio - the plate is incised directly by a tool or by acid to leave the image incised into the plate. The ink left in the grooves creates the image when the paper is pressed into them under the pressure of printing.
- Planographic - image is created on the flat surface of the block by the antipathy between water and grease.
The following provides a brief description of the main methods of printmaking within these three basic categories.
Woodcuts are created from the plank side of the timber and the artist cuts away the timber with a knife to form an image in relief. The surface in relief takes the ink and prints.
Japanese colour woodcuts
The Japanese woodblock printmaker uses a block of cherry wood planed along the grain. The block is carved with various chisels and cutting tools to leave the design in relief. This first block is called the keyblock and from this block proofs are pulled. These proofs provide the templates from which each block is carved for each colour. Each block is inked or coloured and the damp paper of the print is laid on top of the block. A 'baren', an oiled pad of bamboo leaf wrapped around a circular card, is then used to rub the paper against the block to give the impression. Graduation of colour is achieved by thinning and wiping some of the ink on the block.All blocks are registered very carefully to produce the final image.
Wood engravers used the end grain of very hard timbers such as boxwood and cut away the relief image with an engraver's tool, thus creating very fine lines. As with the woodcut, it is the surface in relief that takes the ink and prints.
Linocuts are made in the same way as a woodcut except the printmaker cuts linoleum which normally has a wood backing.
An engraving is created by forcing a tool called a 'burin' into the surface of a copper plate creating a groove for the ink to sit in, the deeper the groove, the thicker the line.
Etching uses acid to form the grooves in the copper plate. The artist draws freely in the thin coat of waxy ground which coats the plate and exposes the copper below. Immersed in the acid bath, the lines are etched where the copper has been exposed allowing the acid to 'bite' the metal. The longer it is immersed the deeper the acid bites and the thicker and darker the line. To create thin lines, varnish coats those lines and protects them from further exposure to the acid. Alternatively the darker lines are bitten and then lighter lines etched and immersed for a short time.
For printing, the ground is removed, the plate is inked and then wiped clean. It is then covered with a sheet of dampened paper and run through a press, which not only transfers the ink but forces the paper into the lines, resulting in the raised character of the lines on the impression.
The drypoint printmaker uses a needle to scratch the surface of the metal plate. The metal which is forced out of the groove forms a 'burr' either side of the line and is often used by the printmaker to creat a blurry feel to the line.
General term used for prints which combine etching and engraving and includes most 18th century and 19th century prints.
From 1820s steel plates began to replace copper ones as more durable and able to produce a larger number of good impressions. Steel plates meant lines could be closer together and shallower so lighter in tone. Small prints became popular. Steel was hard to engrave and many were really etched despite the term steel engraving.
In this technique, the tone is created by a series of dots. The printmaker used a tool called a roulette to create his image in the wax coated plate. The roulette had a random pattern of dots variously sized and spaced apart.
The stipple engraving is created by using a mattoir or mace-head a flat headed tool with protruding dots to create a pattern in the wax. Some dots could be created with etching needle or the stipple needle, a form of the burin. The outlines would be etched and then tone added with stpple tools.
Soft ground etching
The wax ground is covered with tallow which keeps the wax from fully drying. Paper laid over ground and artist draws the design with pencil. When paper lifted it brings with it the ground where pencil is applied revealing the copper plate in an uneven line. This method allows the artist great flexibility.
Mezzotint creates tonal effects rather than lines. The plate is prepared by use of a rocker, which is like a chisel but with a serrated edge. About 40 times from different anlges, the plate is worked creating burrs which will hold the ink and create a dark velvety tone. The printmaker uses a scraper to remove the burr and reveal smooth copper which will hold no ink and print white, thus he works from black to white. For greyer tones he uses a burnisher to remove the burr.
Like mezzotint, aquatint produces areas of tone rather than line. The ground used on the plate is granular and when immersed in acid the area around the granule is 'bitten'. Some areas of the plate can be protected from the acid by varnish whilst others are bitten further creating a darker tone. Different grounds also produce different effects. Aquatint is often combined with etching to create the outlines of buildings or figures etc.
Lithography relies on the antipathy of oil and water. The artist uses an oily or greasy medium such as a crayon to draw on the stone. The surface of the stone is then flooded with water, which is repelled by the greasy areas and stays only where the drawing isn't. Printer's ink (oily) is applied to the stone with a roller and it, in turn, sticks only to the greasy sections, as the water repels it elsewhere. The stone is then covered with a sheet of paper and run through the press to create the print.
Colour lithographs are made through the use of several stones or plates to separate the colors and printing the same sheet of paper with each of them in turn.
Pochoir prints are hand-colored through a stencil. The stencil is cut by a knife from thin paper or metal and the ink or paint is applied with a brush through the stencil to the paper beneath. Multi-coloured pochoirs are produced with multiple stencils.
Glossary of terms
- 'after' written in description of print means the printmaker has reproduced another artists image
- restrike - a later printing from the original matrix
- foxing - brown spots on paper caused by
- plate mark - the area of an intaglio print which shows as an indentation and is where the plate has pressed into the paper. It is the condition of a print within the platemark that is most important.
- acid free - mount board that is treated so that it is ph neutral
- wove paper - a paper made on a thin mesh which does not impart the parallel lines seen on laid paper. Not commonly used until the 1790s, James Whatman was the famous maker of this paper.
- laid paper - made on a wire mesh which imparts parallel lines onto the paper esp when held to light.
Abbreviations commonly found on prints:
Describing the artist:
- del, delt, delin: drew (sometimes used by an artist who copied a picture for the engraver
- inv, invenit: designed
- pinx, pinxit: painted
Describing the engraver:
- Aqua, aquaforti: he etched
- Aquatinta: engraved in aquatint by
- F, fecit: made by
- Inc, incidit: engraved
- Lith, lithog: lithographed by
- Sc, sculp, sculpsit: engraved