Glossary of prints


'Original print' is the correct expression which defines all the drawn, painted and engraved works by an artist on any rigid medium, metal, stone, wood, linoleum, celluloid or rhodoid plate, etc which are then applied, after inking, to a sheet of paper. This application is facilitated by the use of a press. The result is called a print, more commonly known as an engraving, a proof, a board or a piece. [...]


[...] So that the medium is neither damaged nor worn, the duplication of these impressions – called a production run– is made using a model plate known as the print plate, which the artist gives to the printer. In general, this print plate determines the number of copies, that is to say, proofs, which the artist wants. It is the printer's responsibility to carefully ensure uniform quality of the print run with respect to the initial engraving of the print plate. If the quality diminishes, the printer and the artist consider the print plate to be at fault. All the prints which are returned to the artist are then signed by him and, in general, since the 1980's, numbered by him or by the publisher of the print. [...]


[...] Before the final print proof, a very small number of proofs are printed to optimise the choice of paper and the colour of inks. These are studio proofs called trial proofs. The artist selects the best one and annotates it by hand as the 'final print proof' (Bon à tirer) and then signs it. The print run is then made. A very small portion of this run is reserved for the artist. These are called artist proofs. These are not numbered or, sometimes, have special numbers so as to identify them as such. These proofs are always in addition to the normal, commercial, numbered print run. Before the final print proof and after one or two trial proofs, the artist may decide that his work has not achieved his ideal. He would, in that case, take his plate and continue his work with the same or different techniques, and then have one or two new trial proofs printed, or print them himself. The first are called the 'first state proofs' and the second proofs are the 'second state proofs'. This continues until the artist stops modifying the engraving. Picasso went up to eighteen, twenty and even thirty-one states. It is necessary to use the same plate, so that there are steps – that is, works states. If the plate changes, it is considered to be another engraving, even if the subject is identical.

Steel facing

Copper is a soft metal. Each time a print is made, it is necessary to ink the copper then pass the copper with a sheet of paper through the press. All these operations make use of the microscopic roughness of the copper which exists in each of the engravings made by the engraver– above all by drypoint and burin -, and this roughness is indispensable to ensure beautiful blacks on the proof, because they retain the ink before the printing. To solve this problem, deposition by electroplating was developed. This consists of electroplating a harder metal onto an engraved copper surface and soon became known as steelfacing. This term is technically incorrect, because, although one can deposit chemically pure iron by means of electrolysis, one cannot deposit steel by this means. The iron is, however, harder than copper and, when the iron layer begins to wear down, the steelfacing operation is repeated. This preserves the uniform quality of the prints up to the end of the run.

Bevelling - Bevels

Bevels, taluses, and chamfers are terms which relate to the removal of the sharp edges of the four borders of a copper or zinc plate that one performs using a file or a scraper so that the proof paper is not damaged when the print is under the press (this is called a plate cut). In general, the trial or stage proofs do not have this bevelling which is usually performed just before the definitive print run.

The Stylus

The stylus, a type of pencil with a steel tip – called drypoint (without a hyphen) -, is used to draw on bare copper or zinc. The line thus obtained is called a hatch. If one hatch crosses another, the second is called a cross-hatch. [...]


[...] The print obtained after inking and printing is called a drypoint (without a hyphen). [...]


[...] La même pointe peut être utilisée pour dessiner sur une plaque de métal recouverte au préalable par un vernis isolant. Le dessin terminé, cette plaque est plongée dans un produit chimique, acide nitrique (eau-forte) ou perchlorure de fer, corrosif pour les parties du cuivre, ou du zinc, mises à nu par la pointe. C’est la morsure. [...]


[...] The engraving obtained after removal of the varnish, inking and printing is called an etching.


Le burin is a small steel rod with a square section whose end is sharpened with into a slanted tip. The other extremity is covered with a small wooden sleeve which fits into the palm of the hand. The tip makes grooves – always called hatches – on the bare metal when the hand pushes the burin while applying varying degrees of pressure. The engraving obtained after inking and printing is called a burin.


The scraper is a tool with a triangular section that has three cutting edges and which ends with a point. These edges are used to scrape and to scratch the metal. On smooth copper this produces large areas which hold the ink, thus creating black or grey areas on the paper. On grainy copper, this produces large areas which hold less ink than the parts which are grainy, thus producing grey or white areas on the paper.


If the artist wants to create a tint, wash tint genre, he treats all or part of the surface of the metal plate by coating it with resin particles. The distribution must be uniform and a resin box is used to 'powder' parts of the plate. Then, the entire plate is heated. The resin particles adhere to the plate and bond together, but they leave small gaps between them. By immersing the plate into acid, the acid penetrates into the gaps and attacks – etches – the metal. The result is a large number of small or large black points (according to the size of the resin grains used), which give a tint which can be a deep black. The parts which the artist wants to protect from this tint are called reserved areas. For this, the artist deposits varnish or another protective product on the parts that he wants to be without tint. This is called using aquatinting with reserve areas. When the process of aquatinting is dominant or unique in a medium: the engraving obtained after etching, removal of the varnish, inking and printing, is called an aquatint.

Aquatint using Sugar

This allows an artist to paint on copper. The mixture used is a called a gouache mixture, which is composed of ink (to see what one is doing) and sugar. This sticky mixture is brushed onto the bare copper. The engraver paints all or part of his subject. Then the metal plate is varnished and immersed into a container filled with water. The sugar then dissolves in the water and the areas painted on the copper, and only those areas, are exposed, free from the protective varnish, to the etching chemicals.

Direct Acid Etching

On clean, bare copper, the artist paints his subject while dipping his brush into acid. The difficulty with this resides in knowing the time required for the chemical etching process. This requires the artist to first create the darkest portions because these are the areas where the acid must remain in contact with the copper for the longest period of time. Then, he must create the medium intensity tints and stop very quickly after the lightest tints. He quickly immerses the copper in water to neutralise the acid, thus stopping the etching process.

Engravings on stone or zinc - Lithographs

Lithography paper is grainy paper which is coated with Arabic gum. The artist draws on this paper with a lithographic pencil (grease pencil) as if he was drawing on a regular sheet of paper with a normal pencil. After the artist's work, the paper is transferred to a lithographic stone (limestone with fine grains, without flaws, flat and absorbent) or on a zinc plate (grainy).

The copy paper is likewise made up of lithographic paper, but it does not have any grain. It is used to transfer a design which already exists on a stone or on zinc, onto another stone or another zinc.

Stone offers many more possibilities than paper and it is the method that was used for the first, early lithographs including those of Goya, Delacroix, Daumier. The principle of lithography is based on the repulsion of water by grease (grease pencil or greasy ink). On the flat surface of a lithographic stone, the artist draws using a pencil, paint or ink. If the entire surface of the stone is moistened, the water covers all the portions of this surface which are not painted or drawn on. If one passes an ink-filled roller over it, a second repulsion phenomenon occurs, the ink is pushed by the water and the water is accepted by the greasy areas– therefore, it is drawn or painted. If one prints by placing a sheet of paper on the stone, the ink is deposited on the sheet of paper and one obtains a print or a proof.

PA print which is obtained in this manner is called a lithograph. In order for the stone to resist the pressure of the printing process, it must be sufficiently thick– five to ten centimetres. It can be seen that if the artist wants to create a larger lithograph, the weight of the stone can become a problem. This is why people often use zinc.

One also uses reserve areas in lithography to protect the portions of the composition that one wants to remain white – non-inked – on the paper, or so that it is reserved for another colour which is to follow.

On the stone or the zinc, one can also make scrapings or stipples, operations that Picasso liked to use for his lithographs.

Wood Engravings, woodcuts

The artist chooses a wood board. If he takes it in the form which corresponds to the length of a tree, it is a plank. The engraving that he will carve is called a wood-cut engraving (plank side), and one sees the grains of the wood on the sheet of paper. If he takes it perpendicular to the tree, the engraving that he creates is called an end grain wood engraving, and one cannot see the wood grains on the paper. In fact, in the latter case, in order to prevent the wood from cracking, one must place small, wooden cubes glued to one another, but with their fibres perpendicular to the surface of the carving. Picasso only created ten engravings on wood (1905 to 1915). They are all on the plank side (wood-cuts).

The artist first draws his subject on the board, then, with a canif or a Japanese carving knife, he outlines his design. With a gouge or wood scissors, he cuts away (digs out) everything that he doesn't want to be inked, that is, all the surfaces between the lines of his drawing. These original surface lines then remain on the board. This is the inverse of the process of metal engraving. This is why engraving on wood is also called 'relief printing'. If one passes an inked roller (such as a bakery roller) over the preserved surface and then one applies this, using a press, onto a piece of paper, the result on the paper is called a wood engraving, or engraved wood, or woodcut print.

Engraving on Celluloid and Rhodoid

The technique for engraving on these plastic media is similar to that on bare metal plates and the same tools are used, that is, mainly drypoint and burin

Engraving on Linoleum or linocuts

The technique for engraving on linoleum is the same as that for engraving on wood and uses the same tools. The uniform consistency of these materials which have no fibre, makes it easier to use these tools and does not lead to splintering problems that one may encounter with engravings on wood-cuts. On the other hand, it has problems due to its soft nature.

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