This guide will introduce prints and define key terms & abbreviations.
How to tell the difference between types of prints, a definition of original print, and basic print care.
Is a print a copper plate engraving, aquatint, mezzotint, lithograph, giclee, or modern photographic print? The subject of prints can be complexing to the beginner, but clues are located on the print itself. A good magnifying glass is useful in analyzing the details of a print. Ask the seller to send you a detailed scan of the print you are considering. There is great satisfaction to be gained from doing your own research. Prints often have an illustrious history. To learn how to differentiate prints, see Art of Original Printmaking.
The relatively low cost of prints enables many people of average means to collect and enjoy original works of art. There is an important distinction that needs to be made between an original print and a reproduction.
An original print is a work of art, the general requirements of which are:
The artist alone has created the master image in or upon the plate, stone, woodblock or other material, for the purpose of creating a print.
The print is made from the said material, by the artist or pursuant to his directions.
The finished print is approved by the artist.
These requirements define the modern print and do not in all cases apply to prints made before 1930. Code of Dealer's Standards, The Print Council of America.
Prints require a non humid, pest free environment. They should be matted under glass using archival materials or stored flat. Keep them away from the light to prevent fading. Use cotton gloves when handling prints as body oils cause deterioration. Never use scotch or any type of sticky tape. Don't stack prints on top of each other. Leave rips, foxing, and other maladies to professional restorers.
If you are considering a framed print, ask the seller if the print is laid down or not. Prints that are affixed to non archival materials like cardboard can be more trouble than they are worth. Also, make sure the mat and backing is acid free. Mat burn is irreversible and common in prints framed before 1970.
Finally, how should a beginner start collecting? Simply, buy what you like. Examine the print closely and study it. Everyone makes mistakes, but bad decisions will decrease as you learn more. A word of caution concerning the "limited edition" prints by European artists. Many of these reproductions were printed in the thousands, regardless of the plate number. There are many forgeries of the famous artists. If you are interested in learning more about prints then read books. Buy reference books on prints. It will be a good investment.
Common definitions of words relating to the art of the prints and printmaking.
An aquatint by Thomas Rowlandson. The humorous Dr. Syntax series was published by Ackermann from 1812 onwards. There are very many reissues of this series. There were three Dr Syntax books produced by Ackermann with illustrations by Rowlandson - and a series of spin-offs illustrated by Charles Williams. Author's collection.
The earliest and rarest Syntax aquatints were those issued in the Poetical Magazine, where the series first appeared in monthly installments. To learn more, check out my guide British Satire Prints.
AQUATINT (aquatinte, Aquatinta) A time intensive intaglio method using acid to bite a design on a metal plate which has been placed on a resin ground. Introduced by J. Prince (c.1769).
ARTIST'S PROOF A print signed by the artist signalling to the engraver that is a satisfactory imaging of the artist's original drawing or painting.
CARBOGRAPH A variant of mezzotint, perfected in the 30's by the Pennsylvania Art Project.
CELLOCUT Method where a smooth surface such as plywood is built up with a liquid type of plastic and allowed to harden so it can be worked with woodcut or intaglio tools.
CHIAROSCURO (gravure en camaieu, clair-obscur, Helldunkelholzschnitt) A type of woodcut, printed in color, and perfected in the early sixteenth century. The positioning of two or more blocks or plates whereby effects of light and dark may be effected.
CHALCOGRAPHY The process of engraving on metal plates.
1843 chromolithograph from Dresses and Decorations of The Middle Ages the first collected edition of Henry Shaw''s most ambitious work, being what McLean calls "the most handsome book produced in the whole nineteenth century". Author's collection.
CLICHE VERRE An autographic process where a glass plate is covered in a dark emulsion. A stylus is used to draw an image leaving the bare glass where light can pass through. Photographic paper is used and the print is developed in the usual way. Favored by Corot and Millet.
CHROMOLITHOGRAPH Sometimes called "Chromo" a reproduction process using finely grained lithographic tones from continuous-tone negatives.
CRAYON MANNER See STIPPLE.
CROPPED A print that has been cut or trimmed down sometimes reaching into the engraved surface.
DOTTED PRINT See METAL CUT.
DRYPOINT An method of intaglio engraving where a linear design is scratched on a soft metal plate using a diamond point or hard steel. The metal pushed up is called a burr is excellent for retaining ink. A velvet black line is the result. Drypoints have been used since the tim,e of Durer.
DUOTONE Black and white photograph reproduced using two halftone negatives, each shot to emphasize different tonal values in the original.
EDITION A limited number of impressions of a print.
EMBOSSED PRINT (glyptographie, cerographie, stereotype,gauffrure, Blinddruck, Blindpressung) Those which contain areas of three dimensions either below or above the surface of the paper.
ENGRAVER'S PROOFS Print taken from the printmaking process that is used by both the artist and engraver to assess the work.
ETCHING A printmaking method of incising a metal plate with acid through a wax ground.
FOXING Fungal spots or stains on prints caused by excess humidity. Many of these unfortunate marks are rust colored and sometimes are from the iron contained in the paper itself.
GICLEE Type of color copy print produced with the aid of a computer on a large, special ink jet printer. Like other color copies they can be printed in quantity or one at a time. Giclee's are printed with a water based ink, and if any water ever gets on them they will be ruined.
INTAGLIO To incise. All forms of etching are intaglio prints and display a plate mark.
INDIA PAPER A very fine, silky paper which produces fine impressions and usually used primarily for early impressions.
LAID DOWN When a print has been pasted to paper, card, or canvas. A common practice before 1980.
Line engraving of Berkeley Castle from A Collection of Gloucestershire Antiquities by Samuel Lysons, F.R.S. & F. A. S. published by T. Cadell and W. Davies of the Strand, London 1804. Author's collection.
LINE ENGRAVING (gravure en taille douce, gravure au trait, gravure sur cuivre, Linienstich, Kupferstitch, Grabstichelarbeit) Earliest of the intaglio methods. Printmaking method utilizing a graver or burin to incise lines on metal.
LAID PAPER (papier verge, Buttenpapier) A type of handmade paper made out of rags and laid on a screen. All early European paper is of this type. Hold it to the light and you can see the laid lines.
LINOLEUM CUT Just like a woodblock except a piece of linoleum replaces the block of wood.
LITHOGRAPH (lithographie, lithographe, Steindruck, Polyautographie) Originally an impression taken off of a limestone slab. Stones were replaced by zinc plates in the late 19th century. Process invented by Aloys Senefelder in 1798.
MARGINS The unprinted portion surrounding a print. On early prints this is usually minimal because of scarcity of paper and the habit of cropping in the 19th century.
Mezzotint of King Henry VIII engraved by John Chapman and published in London by J. Wilkes in 1804. Author's collection.
METAL CUT (Metalschnitt) Also called relief print, because metal plates are used like a wood block and printed in relief.
MEZZOTINT (maniere noire, Schabkunst) Intaglio engraving process popular in England and primarily developed for portaits. A wheel with teeth is used to pit the plate resulting in graduations of tone, ideal for reproducing paintings.
MONOTYPE Process where a single print is pulled off of a flat, nonporous inked surface.
OLEOGRAPH A 19th century process in which an ordinary color lithograph was varnished and impressed with a canvas grain to make it look like an oil painting.PHOTOMECHANICAL PRINTS Includes those types of prints intended to be used as posters. It also includes the common processes used in book, magazine, and newspaper printing. It can be identified by the use of dots upon closer inspection. A lot of cheap framed prints are photomechanical.
PLASTER PRINT Can refer to an intaglio print made on plaster instead of paper or a relief print on paper from a carved block of dental plaster.
PLATE A term which describes both an illustrated item as well as a printing plate (i.e. copper, zinc, steel).
Pochoir by Italian artist Eduardo Benito, one of the greatest illustrators of the Art Deco period featuring a Napoleonic military parade. c. 1920. Author's collection.
POCHOIR French for stencil. The term is applied to a class of print usually hand-colored through a series of carefully cut out stencils. This process was much used in Paris during the early decades of the 20th century.
PRINT An inked impression made on silk, paper, or other suitable material from a hand carved block of wood, plate or stone.
Two proof copper plate engravings by Jacques Callot published in Florence in 1616. The Life of Ferdinand Medici. Author's collection.
PROOF An early impression taken when the plate was in pristine condition.
RELIEF PRINT (impression en relief, Hochdruck) A print made from a raised printing surface (i.e. woodcut, wood engraving).
REMARQUE A small decorative design usually inserted beneath the print in the lower margin. This was particularly popular with engravers in the 19th century (see Henry VIII example above).
Butterfly Serigraph by Edouard Dermit, adopted Son of Jean Cocteau. III/X. Paris, France. Author's collection.
"Desert Icon VII", Serigraph on mounted paper (c.1969) limited edition (25/100) Roy B. Ahlgren (1927), American. Author's collection.
SERIGRAPH (serigraphie) A stencil process. Silkscreen print whose color areas are paint films rather than printing ink stains.
STIPPLE (estampe pointille, Punktiermanier) Prints developed in eighteenth century England that display a dotted pattern.
STATE There is the original printing and then all of the future alterations made to the plate or "states". For more information, please see the eBay guide States of the Art.
WOODCUT (gravure sur bois, taille d'epargne, Holzschnitt) The earliest of the relief processes. Ages ago, the artist made the design with a quill pen directly onto a block of wood that would be cut by a craftsman (Formschneider). Today the designer would undertaqke both tasks.
XYLOGRAPH An engraving on wood or a print from the same.
These abbreviations are sometimes found on antique prints and are often in Latin (L.).
ad vivum: L. From the life, usually follows the name of the engraver and means that the portrait was taken from a live sitting rather than a painting.
after: If you see this it indicates that the engraving was copied or after the work of someone else.
chez: at the house of. Refers to the french publisher.
c., circa: L. about, the period or time of printing.
This intaglio line engraving by Mixelle celebrates the bravery of The Guise family of France. created Avec Privilage du Roi (A.P.D.R.--Louis XVI). Author's collection.
cum privilegio: privilege to publish from some authority (i.e. King). Also noted A.P.D.R. in France.
del., delineavit: L. he drew it, from a drawing or
exc., exud., ecudit: L. he did it in Latin. Usually follows the engravers name on the print.
f., fec., fecit: L. has made it and often used by W. Hollar.
fl. flourished. The period of greatest activity.
formis: in the stock of the publisher.
H. C., hors commerce: not for sale.
imp., impressit: L. has printed it, usually written in pencil on modern prints.
inc., incisit: L. has engraved it.
inv., invenit: L. has designed it.
lith.: drew or printed on stone, doesn't differentiate betweeen draftsman and printer.
pinx., pinxit: L. has painted it. Usually follows the artist's name.
sc., sculp., sculpsit: L. has engraved it, usually follows the engravers name on a print.
Note: Unfortunately, Ebay only allows ten photos per guide. Please write to me and provide your e-mail and I'll be happy to share examples from my collection of most terms described in this guide. \