A print is an image which has been transferred from one surface to another.


An original print is an image produced from a surface on which the artist has worked, such as a stone or wood block or a copper plate. This surface is intended by the artist to be a stage in the creation of the artwork. Thus the original work of art in this case is the print itself rather than the block or plate, from which it is printed.


Because there is generally more than one ‘impression’ of any one printed image, it is inevitable that it is often easier to find an original print, than an oil or watercolour by a certain artist, and as original prints are in editions, they are generally more affordable than unique artworks.


Prints have played an important role in the history of art. Before the invention of photography, it was through engravings that many people were able to become familiar with great works of art, which would otherwise have been inaccessible. This tradition of bringing paintings to a wider public dates back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when many artists employed engravers to reproduce their work.

Many of the greatest artists themselves made original prints. Rembrandt is a notable example of a painter who was also a highly skilled etcher and produced some of his most memorable images in this medium.

The technical discipline of printmaking, the appearance of ink on paper and the ability to create different ‘impressions’ of the same image through different inking, has inspired artists throughout the history of art. Hogarth recreated many of the images from his paintings in engravings; Picasso was a prolific printmaker in the media of etching, lithography and linocut. Some of Matisse’s best known images are his simple lithographs and stencils.

Other artists whose important works include prints are Dürer, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Goya, Piranesi, Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec, Whistler, Sickert, Warhol, Freud, Hodgkin and Hockney.



There are several different methods of printmaking. Amongst the most common are the following :


Intaglio prints

These are prints where the image is cut into a surface or plate (from the italian intagliare), to cut into). When the plate is inked, the incised lines hold the ink and the image is transferred to a second surface, usually paper. The inked lines on the finished surface are often slightly raised and there is generally a visible line around the image where the plate has been pressed into the paper, called the platemark.  Different types of intaglio printmaking include engraving, etching and drypoint.



The image is engraved directly onto a metal plate, usually made of copper, with a sharp tool called a burin.


The plate is covered in an acid-resistant layer of wax called an etching ground. The image is then drawn into this surface with an etching needle. When covered with printing ink the lines hold the ink whilst the rest of the plate repels it.

As in an engraving, the drypoint needle draws the image directly onto the plate. The residue copper is left on the side of the etched lines, which then collect the ink, creating a furry effect called burr.


The whole plate is covered with grains of resin called an aquatint ground, allowing acid to bite into the entire area, creating an overall grainy, tonal effect. This technique is often combined with etching.


Like aquatint, this technique is used to create a tonal effect over large areas. The whole plate is worked with a rocker, creating a rough surface which will hold ink and produce an overall black velvety effect. A second tool is used to burnish out areas which are intended to be white in the final image. Thus this process works from dark to light.
Relief Prints
These are prints where the areas around the image to be printed are cut away, leaving the image on the block in relief. These raised areas are then inked and transferred onto a second surface, usually paper. The most common relief prints include woodcut and linocut.


From the Greek lithos (stone) and graphe (writing). This printing process is unlike both intaglio and relief processes, both of which involve cutting into the plate. Lithography relies on the principle that grease and water will repel each other. The image is drawn in a greasy substance onto a lithographic stone. The stone is then dampened with water and the greasy printing ink adheres only to the drawing.


Thanks to the London Original Print Fair for permission to use their explanations