Printing Process

Understanding the various media employed by an artist can be important in determining the quality and value of a particular painting or print. Most original works of art are created using by using one of the following techniques: oil painting on canvas or on board, acrylic painting on canvas or board or paper, watercolor on paper, pastel on paper or pen & ink on paper. What are considered “original prints” are most often made in one of the following printing processes: intaglio (includes engravings, etchings, mezzotints and aquatints), serigraphy, lithography, relief painting and most currently giclee. A brief synopsis of these common techniques follows:


Definition: In the various intaglio printing methods, the area of the image to be printed is recessed into the surface of the printing plate (which can be made of steel, copper or zinc) and the recessed areas are filled with ink. The incised image may be etched, engraved with chemicals or tools. Intaglio printing is used for printing U.S. paper currency and for other fine art printmaking. The image to be printed is incised into the metal plates, the incisions filled with ink, and excess ink wiped from the plates. Heavy pressure is applied to transfer the ink from the plates to the paper, leaving the surface slightly raised and the backside slightly indented. Other forms of printing that use the intaglio process include engraving, gravure, etching, mezzotint and aquatint.


The artist makes a wooden frame and stretches it with a tight screen, usually silk, and covers the screen with a varnish-like substance to block out the areas he does  NOT  want to print. Ink or paint is then forced thru the screen with a squeegee on to the receiving paper or canvas, printing only through the unvarnished sections. This process is then repeated for each color added. Simple serigraphs may just have one or two colors whereas more complex and hence more costly serigraphs may have over one hundred colors.


Lithography (from Greek: Litho meaning  STONE  ) is a method for printing using a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface. To produce a lithograph, the artist draws on a limestone or metal plate with a grease crayon. Water is then spread over the smooth slab and covers only the areas not drawn on. Ink is rolled over the slab, adhering to the greasy lines drawn by the artist, but not to those areas covered by the water. Paper is placed over the surface of the slab and pressure is applied by a special press creating an image in the paper.
There are other forms of lithography which include offset lithography and continuous tone lithography. Neither of these is considered “original prints” as they are photo mechanical reproductions of an original.

Relief Printing

The most common form of relief printing is the wood block print. The artist hones the surface of the wood plate to create a smooth surface. He then carves the design into the surface of the wood block using a sharp tool, removing all of the undesired area and leaving his original design on the block. The design is then inked and pressed on to paper creating his print. Another somewhat common material used by artists is linoleum. The same technique is applied.


Giclees will be mentioned here, not because they are considered “original prints” but because they are becoming very popular with artists because of the excellent color and image reproduction that can be achieved. The term “giclee” is a French word meaning “to squirt” or “to spray”. It is a computer generated reproduction of an original painting, drawing, photograph or print. It is scanned into the computer and printed with a super high speed ink jet printer. The printing can be done on paper or canvas or any other smooth surface. The sprayed ink is made up of microscopic dots of ink that merge together on the paper or canvas to create an image that is often indistinguishable from the original. Rarely are they done as “an original” due to the high cost of production of a single image. Most often they are used for multiple or limited edition prints.