Glossary: From the 60 Years of North American Prints book.

A la poupée: A method of intaglio color printing in which different colors of ink are applied to the same plate surface and worked into the grooves and marks using cotton daubs called dollies, or in French, poupée.

Aquatint: An intaglio technique in which a porous, acid-resistant ground is applied to metal plates for tonal effects.The plate is covered with a dusting of rosin or lightly sprayed with enamel. When immersed in the weak acid bath, the acid removes bits of the plate around the small spots of resist, creating a tiny hill and valley pattern. This method can produce very delicate tonal transitions in an image.  The amount deposited, along with the length of time the plate is etched, determines the final tone. Areas can be stopped out and re-etched for different tonal effects(WC) (BP)

Artist’s Proof: Artist’s Proofs are part of an edition of prints that are numbered, signed and recorded. Often marked “AP”, these impressions are equal to an edition in quality and are usually set aside specifically for the artist.

Asphaltum: Asphaltum is compact native bitumen. When applied to etching plates it dries to a hard surface and protects them from corrosion and scratching, and can be used as a stop out for etching.

Baren: A handheld burnishing tool traditionally used in Japanese printmaking. Constructed of bamboo and lacquered paper, this slightly convex tool is about five inches in diameter and is used to apply pressure to the paper when using woodblock and other relief techniques. Rubbing the baren over the back of the paper transfers the ink from the block to the paper. (RS)

Block: This term refers to the printing surface in relief printing, whether wood, linoleum or metal. (BG)

Bonà Tirer: Also indicated by “BAT”, this phrase means “good to pull” and designates the proof that is used as the standard for the edition quality.

Carborundum: An abrasive powder made of carbon and silicon which when mixed with a glue or medium can be applied to a plate to create a painterly image.  The phrase “Carborundum Print” seems to have evolved to cover all methods of collagraphic printmaking which involve what may be loosely termed “liquid” materials, i.e., materials which are painted onto the plate or applied in a liquid or semi-liquid form, often with a brush, palette knife or squeegee, as opposed to materials which are cut-out and glued down.  Carborundum powder is also used as the abrasive to re-grain and polish lithography stones.

China Paper: China paper is a very thin paper, originally made in China, which is used for chine appliqué prints (also called “chine collé” prints).  (PPS)

Chine Collé: A method for adhering a thin sheet of paper to a stronger, thicker sheet of paper.  Sometimes referred to as “chine appliqué”.

Collage: Added elements of a finished print that has been glued onto the surface.  The result can be described, for example, as “screenprint with collage.”  Not to be confused with Collagraph, in which the collage element is an integrated part of the construction of the printing surface itself.  (BG)

Collagraph: In a collagraph, the surface of the plate is built up by adhering various materials to a substrate.  The specially constructed plate is produced in a collage manner, resulting in high and low surfaces that hold ink differently during printing.  These plates are inked and printed in the Intaglio manner.  When printed, the paper will generally be embossed due to the thickness of the materials in the plate.  (BP) (WC)

Copper relief cut: Historically, original wood engravings were often cut but only proofed.  The final printing was completed from electromagnetically produced copies of the wood.  Copper relief plates were formed by electroplating a thin copper foil on the surface of a graphite impregnated wax impression made from the original wood block in a hydraulic press.  The graphite would conduct the electricity in the wax, depositing copper in the exact form of the woodcut.  (MM)

Digital prints: These images are printed using current computer printing technology.  Images, either all or in part, are created on the computer and stored as a file.  The file becomes the printing matrix, equivalent to a wood block, stone or plate.  Images are manipulated by special software and then printed onto paper or a similar surface.  The term “giclée” is often used to refer to digital reproduction prints.  “Iris print” indicates the type of printer used to create the impressions.

Drypoint: An Intaglio technique similar to engraving; however, a sharp needle is used which creates a burr along the cut line.  Ink caught in the burr leaves a characteristically soft, velvety effect.  The plates also wear out faster as the burr is worn down with successive printings.  Drypoints are rarely printed in large editions.  (BP)

Editions: An edition is a set of impressions that are basically identical.  There are often tiny differences within an edition due to the nature of hand printing.  Consistency within an edition is achieved by comparing each print to the BAT, the print that sets the standard for the edition. A limited edition is usually numbered, using a fraction to indicate its designation.  The numerator indicates a designation within the set of the edition; the denominator indicates the number in the complete set. For most forms of printing, the decision to limit the edition is a personal one made by the artist as opposed to a technical limitation.

Edition Variable or Variée: Sometimes an edition is produced with more variation within the set than usual.  This variation is deliberate, not due to poor printing.  These prints are often signed as an “edition variée” or “E. V.”

Embossing: Also called blind printing, embossing is a method in which a raised design is impressed into the paper.  Embossing can often be found on Japanese woodblock prints and Intaglio prints.

Engravings: The two main classes of engravings are intaglio and relief.  In intaglio engraving, the line engraved has a positive value: the line which is engraved on the plate is the line which appears on the print.  Heavy pressure is applied to the plate to extract the ink from the plate to the paper.  In relief engraving, the lines engraved are negatives, leaving the design in relief.  Relief printing, or surface printing, transfers ink from the areas left on the surface of a plate. Printing from type is an example of relief printing.  (AHPCS)

Etching: An intaglio technique in which acid is used to incise lines or tones into a metal plate.  The specific techniques can include aquatint, lift grounds, soft ground, hard ground, and the like.  In general, a metal plate is covered with an acid-resistant ground (a wax-based coating).  The image is drawn through the ground using a sharp tool that breaks through the ground to the metal plate surface.  The plate is then immersed in a weak acid bath.  The acid attacks the plate through the open lines of the drawn image.  The longer the image lines are exposed to the acid, the deeper the lines become, the more ink the lines hold and the darker those lines will print.  (WC)

Frottage: A technique of obtaining textural effects or images by rubbing lead, chalk, charcoal, etc., over paper laid on a granular or relief surface.  (RH)

Impression: A single piece of paper (or other surface) with an image from a matrix.

Intaglio: Intaglio prints include any process in which ink is transferred from depressions in a plate to the printed surface. This category includes etchings, aquatints, engravings, drypoints, mezzotints and more. These classifications indicate the method used to create the depressions in the printing plate, which can be from chemical means (acids) or from physical means (scratching into the plate).  To print, the plate is covered with a film of ink.  The ink is pushed into all lines and crevices of the plate.  Excess ink is removed by wiping the surface repeatedly with a cloth called a tarlatan.  When properly wiped, the plate is placed on a press and covered with a dampened piece of paper.  After covering with backing paper and several felts, the plate is run through the press.  The paper is forced to conform to the plate surface, creating an embossment or “plate mark.”  After printing, the prints are placed between blotters to dry.  Often, each color is drawn or created on a separate plate and registered (or aligned) for printing.  Sometimes, a plate will be inked with several colors at once, a method called “a la poupée.” (BP) (RL)

Japan paper or Washi: The first paper in Japan was imported from China around 610 A.D.  The skill of papermaking was quickly adopted by the Japanese and perfected over the last 1300 years.  Washi is traditionally made by hand, using the finest quality fibers from plants indigenous to Japan, such as the inner bark of kozo (mulberry). The long plant fibers are intertwined during the papermaking process to produce a sheet that is durable and tough yet possesses a warm, soft texture. (SH)

Kento: Kento is a Japanese method of registering paper for multiple blocks and color woodblock printing.  A shallow groove is cut into the block(s) on the lower right and lower center in which to align the paper. (RS)

Laid Paper: Laid paper is made by hand in a mold, where the wires used to support the paper pulp emboss their pattern into the paper.  The closely laid wires running the length of the frame make “laid lines”; these are crossed at wider intervals by “chain lines,” which are made by the wires woven across these long wires to hold them into place.  The pattern of crossing lines can be seen when the paper is held up to light.  Laid paper often has a watermark.  (PPS)

Letterpress: Letterpress is a relief method of printing text with movable type, in which the raised surface of the type is inked and then pressed against a smooth substance to obtain an image in reverse.

Lift ground etching: A general term for an etching process in which the artist paints directly on a plate with a water solution containing either sugar, soap, or salt.  Changes can be made by simply wiping the solution off the metal plate and redrawing.  When the final drawing is established, it is dried and then covered with a solvent-based ground, which is in turn dried.  The plate is then immersed in water, dissolving the initial drawing material.  The substance used in the water solution lifts off the plate, leaving that area exposed.  The plate is then bitten in an acid bath, usually after an aquatint is applied.  (KQ)

Linocut: A relief print, much like a woodcut, but using battleship linoleum rather than a woodblock.  The linoleum is somewhat easier to cut and prints more evenly because it lacks the grain.  The background areas are removed, leaving the image areas raised, which are then inked and printed.  (BP) (CLA) (KQ)

Lithography: A planographic (flat) printing technique in which an image is drawn directly onto a lithographic stone or metal plate using a variety of grease-based drawing materials.  The surface of the stone or plate is treated with a mildly acidic solution.  This causes the drawn areas (image) to become grease loving (accepting ink and repelling water), and the blank (non-image) areas to become water-loving (repelling ink and accepting water).  Each color must be drawn onto a separate stone or plate and registered to align with all of the other colors.  During printing, the stone or plate is dampened with water.  Then an oil-based ink is rolled over the stone or plate, depositing ink only onto the drawn image.  The dampened non-image areas repel the ink.  When sufficient ink is on the stone or plate, a sheet of paper is placed face down over the image and run through a press.  The paper is removed, the stone is dampened again, and rolled with ink, and the printing continues until the edition is completed.  This process is repeated for each color.  When the printing is completed and the edition is signed, the stones are re-ground for a new image and the plates destroyed.  Photo-based images can also be used with this method. (BP)

Matrix: An object upon which a design has been formed and which is then used to print an impression onto a piece of paper or another surface.  Can refer to a block, plate, stone, screen, or computer file.

Monoprint: Monoprints are made with one or more fixed plates as a base or constant to which non-repeatable imagery is added to create a series of unique prints. The artist might add monotype elements or might paint or draw on the sheet. (BP)

Monotype: This term indicates a unique print.  Ink or paint is applied to a smooth plate or screen and then transferred to paper, often using a press.  Because there is no fixed matrix, only one strong impression can be printed.  A secondary, lighter image pulled from the same plate is referred to as a “ghost impression”.  (BP) (CMA)

Okawara paper: Japanese paper handmade of kozo fibers and sulphite.  It is soft, supple and strong, which makes it an excellent printmaking paper.  Laid lines are almost invisible. (SH)

Photoetching: Using photo stencils and conventional intaglio presses and inks, new trademarked films and coatings can be used to generate photo-based imagery.  Any material may be the original source of the image, from high quality halftones to computer-generated images or simple photocopies, to create a photo-intaglio print.  Painting and drawing techniques can also be used by working with drafting Mylar to create the necessary film positive.  A large range of subtle ink and gouache washes can also easily be transformed into print.  (PW)

Plate: This term refers to a metal or plastic plate that is used to create either a print matrix for intaglio, lithography or relief, or a base for monotype printing.

Plate mark: The rectangular ridge created by the edge of the matrix when printed with sufficient pressure.

Proof: Originally this term referred to any impression of a print pulled before the plate, block or stone was finished, and therefore before publication of the edition.  The purpose of the proof is for the artist to check on its progress.

Relief Printing:  On a base material such as wood, linoleum or plaster, the non-image areas are cut away.  The image remains as a raised surface.  This surface can be inked with a roller or brushes.  The paper is laid over the image, which is then transferred by burnishing the back of the paper by hand or by running the block and paper through a press.  Both hand work and photo-based imagery can be used with this method.  (BP)

Reproduction: A copy of an original print or other work of art, often by photo-mechanical means.

Reduction woodcut: Color prints are often made using the reduction method.  A single block is used to create the image.  After printing the first color, more of the block’s surface is removed.  The second color is then printed, and so forth until the image is completed and the majority of the block has been carved.

Screen print: Also known as silkscreen or serigraphy, screen printing was developed around 1900-1910.  It is an elaboration of stenciling.  In stenciling, a masking material such as paper, fabric, or plastic, is cut or perforated to allow ink or paint to pass through and print on another surface.  With screen prints, the stencil is applied to a fine mesh of silk, nylon or polyester stretched around a wood or metal frame.  The image is not reversed.  A rubber blade called a squeegee is used to force ink through the open areas of the screen onto the paper below, or onto a wide variety of printable materials.  Photographic images can easily be manipulated to work on the screen.  Multicolor prints are produced using a reduction method or by using multiple screens.

Serigraphy: See Screen print.

Sheet: In printmaking terminology, a single full piece of printing paper, as produced by the papermaker.

Siligraphy: A waterless printmaking process based on the repellence of ink and silicone. The image is created using water soluble materials on ground glass.  The surface is then coated with silicone, covering the non-printing areas of the image and leaving the exposed areas to be coated in ink applied with a roller.

Soft ground etching: This method became popular in the late 18th century.  The plate is covered with a ground that is given a softer consistency by adding some form of grease, such as tallow.  The etcher is then able to make his lines with a pencil or similar blunt tool.  The usual method is to lay a sheet of thin paper over the ground and draw on top of the paper.  Each stroke causes a line of the ground to attach itself to the paper.  When the drawing is complete and the paper lifted, the results are soft-edged, fluid lines for the acid to bite.  (CP)

Spit bite: The artist paints a mordant (nitric acid or Ferric Chloride), mixed with something to keep the mordant from beading up (such as liquid dish soap or gum arabic), directly onto an aquatinted plate.  The results are subtle tonal drawings that are fluid and soft.  (HP)

State: A state of a print includes all the impressions pulled without any change being made to the matrix.  A first state print is one of the first groups of impressions pulled.  Different states of a print can reflect intentional or accidental changes to the matrix.  States of a print should be distinguished from the final impressions of an edition.  There can be several editions of a print that are the same state, and there can be several states of a print leading to the printing of an edition.  (AHPSC)

Stop out: An acid-resist material used to block portions of an etching plate that should not be bitten when metal plates are placed into acid baths.

Sumi:(Japanese) Black ink made from a mixture of plant soot and glue solidified into sticks or cakes. The stick of ink is rubbed into a few drops of water on a grinding stone to liquefy the ink for use by calligraphers and painters. (RHD)

Unique prints: Prints are not always produced as an edition.  This can be the artist’s decision after working on the matrix and seeing the proof, or the result of the process chosen.  “Print” implies transference from one surface to another.  Sometimes the initial surface is transitory (not repeatable), preventing the printing of a consistent edition.  The terms Monotype andMonoprint are used to designate these types of prints.  A monotype contains no repeatable element, while a monoprint utilizes at least one plate, creating a repeatable element.  Both terms indicate that the print is a unique impression. (BP)

Vitreography: A vitreograph is a print from a glass matrix. Developed by glass artist Harvey K. Littleton in 1974, vitreography uses inexpensive materials and is relatively non-toxic. Glass plates are inert to the chemicals in inks, resulting in brilliant color that is free of oxidation contamination.  Intaglio vitreographs are achieved by abrading the surface of the plate by blasting with sand or carborundum or by frosting and etching with hydrofluoric acid or grinding with diamond tip tools or other hard points or wheels. These techniques create recessed areas in the glass surface that will hold ink. Planographic vitreographs are made using a stencil of silicone over water-soluble drawing materials. After the silicone is cured and the drawing is washed out, the plates are rolled up and printed like a traditional lithograph, but without water. The silicone layer repels ink in non-image areas. (KP)

Wood engraving: A relief print made on the end grain of a block of wood.  The raised relief areas are inked and printed.  (WC)

Woodcut: A relief print made on the plank side of a block of wood.  (WC)

Wove Paper: Wove paper is made by machine on a belt and lacks the laid lines of laid paper.  False laid lines can be added to machine-made paper.  Though wove paper was invented in the eighteenth century and laid paper is still produced, the majority of prints made prior to 1800 are on laid paper and the majority of prints made subsequently are on wove paper.  (PPS).

Credits as follows:

(AHPCS) American Historical Print Collector Society, “Dictionary of Printmaking Terms,”, (accessed March 10, 2007).

(BG) Bamber Gascoigne, How to Identify Prints: A complete guide to mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet, 2nd Edition, NY:  Thames & Hudson, Inc., 2004, pp. 202-208.

(BP) 2007 Boston Printmakers North American Print Biennial Catalogue.

(CMA) Cleveland Museum of Art, “Glossary of Terms,” (accessed March 10, 2007).

(CP) Antique Prints and Vintage Art, (accessed March 10, 2007).

(HC) Highpoint Center for Printing, Minneapolis, MN, “ALLSOMENONE,” Todd Norsten

(KP) Petrie, Kevin, Glass and Print, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

(KQ) KQ Fine Art, (accessed March 10, 2007).

(MM) Michael Morin, Sun., 18 Jan 1998, e-mail to Book Arts, (accessed March 10, 2007).

(PPS) Philadelphia Print Shop Ltd., Dictionary of Terms, (accessed March 10, 2007).

(PW) PrintWorks Magazine, (accessed March 10, 2007).

(RHD) Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, New York: Random House, Inc., l967.

(RL) Leaf, Ruth, Etching, Engraving and Other Intaglio Printmaking Techniques. Watson Guptill, New York, 1976.

(RS) Salter, Rebecca, Japanese Woodblock Printing. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i, 2002, p. 78.

(SH) Hughes, Sukey, Washi:The World of Japanese Paper, University of Michigan, 1978.

(WC) Wellesley College, “Printmaking terms,” Wellesley College, 2007)