Glossary of Printmaking Terms

Rating the Condition of the Prints: My rating system

Excellent

Maybe minor flaws in the paper texture, considering the age of the item. Usually rated at A+ to A-.

Very Good

Some minor flaws noted in the border areas only. Usually rated B+ to B-.

Good

Most areas are in average condition, given the age of the item. Rated C+ to C-

Poor

The item contains major defects in the paper, etc. Don’t worry I won’t be offering any of these on the site

Print Making Terms

À la poupée

A print à la poupée uses colored ink which is applied directly to a plate's surface and worked into the appropriate area of the design using cotton daubs called dollies. Up to 10 different colors can be worked into the plate, pulling a single print from each inking.

Acid-free Paper

Paper made from pulp containing little or no acid so it resists deterioration from age. Also called alkaline paper, archival paper.

Aquatint

Aquatint engraving consists of an etching process where acid, not hard tools, creates hollows in the metal plate. Aquatints can be printed simple with black ink, or in one or two colored inks: olive, brown, green or red. Colored aquatints were finished by hand and the best examples are difficult to distinguish from water color.

Book Sizes

In book descriptions it often describes them as folio or octavo, in the case of Audubon you see the term Double elephant Folio attached to it. These terms actually refer to the actual size of the book. The following list gives an estimate of the size of the print or leaf size. Finished size of pages can be a little different because the trim is done at time of binding.

Size of pages (estimated)

  • double elephant folio 39 x 26 1/2 
  • elephant folio 28 x 22
  • folio 25 by 19
  • quarto 19 by 12 1/2
  • octavo 12 1/2 by 9 1/2
  • sixteenmo 9 1/2 by 6 1/4
  • thirty-twomo 64 6 1/4 by 4 3/4
  • sixty-fourmo 6 64 18 4 3/4 by 3 1/8

Size of Untrimmed (in inches)

  • double elephant folio 40 x 28 
  • elephant folio 30 x 24
  • folio 20 by 12 1/2
  • quarto 8 12 1/2 by 10
  • octavo 10 by 6 1/4
  • sixteenmo 6 1/4 by 5
  • thirty-twomo 2 1/2 by 3 1/8
  • sixty-fourmo 3 1/8 by 2 1/2

Chromolithograph

The first true color printing method introduced in the 1830s. The process was based on lithography printing on stone, but extended so that a separate stone, each with its own color, was laid on top of the previous one. Thus, the paper sheet was printed on several times before the print was finished. This required both a number of stones and a very precise method for laying the stones.

As the century progressed Chromolithography became more intricate and as many as fifteen stones were employed and some wonderful and highly artistic results obtained.

Dry Point Etching

Engraving with an etching needle upon a plate without the use of any acid. The needle used has more of a cutting edge than the rounded point used when upon the etching ground. In drypoint the etcher starts with a bare copper plate without any ground.

In drawing the design the needle tears up the copper and leaves what is known as a burr- a ridge of copper on either side of the engraved line. It is called a burr which gives the impression of velvet or deep black fuzzy line to the first few images pulled from the plate.

Etching

An etching requires a highly polished metal plate, usually copper, that is covered in wax. The artist draws the design directly into the wax using a sharp instrument known as an etching needle. The idea is to expose the metal along the lines he draws. The plate is dropped into a bowl of acid, which eats into the exposed metal.

When the design is complete the plate is inked and then the surface is wiped with a cloth, cleaning the plate and leaving ink lodged in the lines that have been etched into the surface of the plate.

Folio

The book size resulting from folding a sheet one time, giving leaves half the size of the sheet. In modern practice double-size paper folded twice, or quad-size paper folded three times would be used, thus producing the requisite folio size but in sections convenient for binding

Foxing

(Stains, specks, spots and blotches in paper. The cause or causes of foxing, which usually occurs in machine-made paper of the late 18th and the 19th centuries, are not completely understood, but in all likelihood, it is fungoid in nature. Fungi, however, are not necessarily visible on foxed areas, nor does prolific growth necessarily imply excessive discoloration, and vice versa. This has been attributed partly to the fact that action may have been initiated before the examination of the paper.

Gold leaf

A sheet of gold 3 1/4 inches square of an even thickness of 1/200,000 to 1/250,000 inch, and used in lettering and decorating bookbindings, and in other artistic work. The gold leaf used in bookbinding is generally 23 to 23 1/4 karat, the remaining 1 to 3/4 karat being silver and copper.

Gum Arabic

A water-soluble gum obtained from several species of the acacia tree, especially Acacia senegal and A. arabica , and used in the manufacture of adhesives and ink, and as a binding medium for marbling colors. Historically, gum arabic was used to increase the viscosity of ink, or to make it flow well and to prevent it from feathering by suspending the coloring matter. It was particularly important in the days of the reed or quill pen. Solutions of gum arabic have long been used as adhesives for paper, but they are little used today. The properties for which they are valued include ready solution in water following drying, readiness for immediate use, cleanliness and ease of application.

Intaglio

The method of printing used for metal plates worked as Engraving, Etching, Drypoints, Mezzotints, Stipples and Aquatints. The paper receives the ink from the incised lines and not from the surface of the plate. The ink is pressed into the lines with a pad called a "dabber". Anything left on the surface is removed by wiping muslin across the plate and the process is usually complete with the palm of the hand. Paper is dampened and passed through a press on a board that slides between one or two rollers. The pressure must be strong enough to force the damp paper into the lines and lift the ink out onto the paper.

Considerable varieties of effect can be obtained by wiping so as to leave a film of ink on the surface of the plate.

An Intaglio print can be normally recognized by the plate mark and by the fact that the ink stands up from the paper in a very slight relief, which can be often detected by touch.

Laid Paper

Handmade paper with thick and thin lines at right angles to each other.

Lithograph

Lithography is based on the resistance properties of oil and water. Originally, limestone was used as the surface of the drawing – made by lithographic chalk or crayon. The surface of the stone is smoothed, washed and dried, then ink is made directly on the stone. Both the chalk and ink are greasy. The stone is washed with water and the printing ink is applied with a roller. This ink affixes to the greased image but is repelled by the remainder of the wet stone. The image can then be taken off on a sheet of damp paper.

In 1840 the Lithotint process was patented; in this process, another stone, known as a tint stone, was used so that the effect of a wash drawing could be obtained. The tint was usually buff or gray. By using several stones, fully colored impressions were obtainable.

Meridional

Meridional, -ale. adj, Southern.

Mezzotint

A mezzotint is easy to recognize because of the distinctive manner in which the design emerges from the black background. The copper mezzotint block yielded only a few superb prints, no more than fifty and perhaps another fifty of lesser quality. The engraver was aware that the quality depended entirely on the quality of each contributory factor - copper, ink and paper.

Octavo

The book size resulting from folding a sheet of paper with three right angle folds, which produces a leaf, one-eighth the size of the sheet and forming a 16-page section. To define fully, the paper size must also be stated. The typical book paper, for example, which is 25 by 38 inches, will give an untrimmed book size of 12 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches. Also called 8vo or 8°.

Photogravure

To make a Photogravure A pure copper plate must be thoroughly cleaned, its surface highly polished, and its edges beveled to avoid damaging the paper during printing. Next the plate it is evenly dusted or sprayed with an acid resist of rosin or asphaltum, and heated to make the resist adhere. While the plate is being readied, the photographic image is prepared. A positive transparency is made from either an original negative or a copy negative. Then the image is contact-printed under ultraviolet light to a gelatin-coated paper known as carbon tissue which was previously made light sensitive by soaking it in a solution of potassium bichromate. Next the image is transferred to the prepared copper plate by applying the image printed on the carbon tissue. This tissue/plate is then soaked in hot water softening the gelatin and allowing the paper base of the tissue to separate. Portions of the gelatin that received little or no light during exposure to the transparency remain soluble and slowly wash away, leaving a gelatin image that will act as an acid resist when the plate is etched. Next the plate is placed in a succession of etching baths until the desired image is etched into the plate. Finally, after the plate has been thoroughly washed, the gravure is printed - on an etching press. A more complete description of this process can be found at Art of Photogravure.

Plate Mark

The mark by the edges of an Intaglio Print marking the paper placement when run through the press.

Quarto

A book in which the sheets have been folded twice, the second fold at right angles to the first. The result is often squarer than the upright rectangular characteristic of the elephant folio, folio, octavo, and duodecimo . In books with laid paper the chain lines are horizontal. In England the quarto became an elegant format for published works in the first half of the 18th century.

Stipple Engraving

Identified as a type of etching, a copper plate is covered with a hard-ground acid resist and the design is outlined by piercing the ground to allow acid to reach and corrode the copper surface in a series of vertical pricks or slanting flicks. Ink retained in these acid-formed hollows was conveyed to damp paper by intense pressure. Sometimes an etching needle is used - or two together - but more often a time saving roulette which consisted of a tiny wheel on the end of a handle. Small teeth in the wheel rim produced a regular dotted line.

Stipple may be defined as the use of dots and flecks instead of lines as the ink-retaining hollows in copper plate intaglio printing.

Stochastic lithography

This process Unlike conventional lithographic origination which employs the mechanical cross-line screen and the equal spacing of half-tone dots, computer-controlled stochastic, or frequency modulated screening, delivers a random effect from microdots whose distribution varies according to tonal value.

Twelvemo

A sheet folded to form 12 leaves or 24 pages. Although two parallel folds followed by two right angle folds will produce this gathering, the more common method is to print the sheet 12 up on each side, and then cut the sheet into 2 sheets of and 4 leaves.

Watermark

A distinguishing letter, design, symbol, etc., incorporated into a paper during manufacture. True watermarks are a localized modification of the formation and opacity of the paper while it is still wet, so that the marks can be seen in the finished sheet of paper when viewed by transmitted light. The Robert C Williams Watermark Collection at Georga Tech

Wood Engraving

The oldest form of reproducing a design and was practiced in Britain before the 15th century right through until the late 19th century. The artist selects a piece of wood (box wood is often considered the best) and cuts away all those portions of the design he does not propose to print in black. When the cutting is complete, the drawing stands in relief to the rest of the block, which is cut down to about one eighth of an inch.

The surface of the woodblock is then inked, paper placed over it and the whole is put through a press.

Woven Paper

A paper having something of a cloth like appearance when viewed by transmitted light. The effect is produced in machine-made papers by the weave of the dandy roll. James Whatman was probably the first to produce wove paper.