What is a limited edition print?

A Limited Edition Print is derived from an image produced from a block, a plate, a stone, on zinc, copper or some similar surface on which the artist has worked closely with a print maker or master printer. Unlike paintings or drawings, prints exist in multiples. The total number of impressions an artist decides to make for any one image is called an edition.

Each impression in an edition is numbered and personally signed by the artist.

An image may be based on an original painting, ‘after an oil’, or the artist (as in the case of Arthur Boyd) may paint ‘maquettes’ specifically for prints. The artist may also create an image directly onto the plates, depending upon the chosen medium.

Each of the various methods of printmaking yields a distinct appearance. Artists choose a specific technique in order to achieve a desired result. The choice made by the artist to produce an image ‘in print’ is the same as choosing to work in oil or any other medium. The only difference in print lies in the possibility of producing a number of near identical images.

The following are some of the principle printmaking techniques and terminology.

À La Poupee

A pad or cloth is used to apply printer’s ink to the printing surface. This can be applied over the entire surface or to various parts of the plate.

Acid-free

A designation for paper and paperbased materials with a pH value of 7 or greater (based on an acidityalkali scale of 0 to 14). Using acid-free matboards, backing and printmaking paper prevents acid burns (yellowishbrown burn lines) and discolouration from appearing on your artwork over time.

Aquatint

This is an etching process in which the artist is principally concerned with tone rather than line. For this technique a plate is covered with particles of acid resistant material such as resin, then heated to make the particles stick. The treated plate is then placed in an acid bath which bites into the copper which is exposed between grains of resin, yielding composition marked by texture and tone.

Archival Inks

Specialised inks used in fine art print-making that have been optimised for the relevant printmaking techniques, desired colour saturation and image longevity.

Archival Paper

Papers used in fine art printmaking that are acid-free and specifically made to last over time. These papers, which often have textured surfaces and extra heavy weight, are particularly conducive to accepting printmaking inks for contrast, colour saturation and image longevity.

Artists Proof

Artists Proof or A/P is part of the edition but signed as a proof for the artist.

Blind Stamp

A Blind Stamp is a colourless impression that is embossed without ink onto a print. It is a distinguishing mark for the artist, printmaker or publisher and is usually placed at the bottom of the print on either the left or right side.

Bon a Tirer (BAT)

Before a publisher starts printing an edition, the artist will mark the proof ‘BAT’ or ‘Bon a Tirer’, as the image that the printer uses as a guide for the edition. It is marked Bon A Tirer (French for ‘good to pull’) or abbreviated to Bon or BAT in the lower left, beneath the image. These remain the property of the print workshop.

Collagraphs

Collagraphs can combine the techniques of both Relief and Intaglio printing and provide the opportunity to achieve wonderful colours and textures. Collagraphs are created by building up the texture on the surface of the plate which is then inked in relief and printed. A multiple of colours is then applied to the surface of the plate and reprinted until the final image is captured. The textured surface more closely simulates the painterly effects of the original artwork.bbreviated to Bon or BAT in the lower left, beneath the image. These remain the property of the print workshop.

Edition

The total number of identical prints decided by the artist that she or he has decided to make from the plate, stone, screen is called the ‘edition’ and is matched to the Bon a Tirer (BAT).

Engraving

Engraving involves the artist cutting the design into a copper plate with a steel tool called a “burin” or “graver”. The surface of the plate is then cleaned and polished and ink rubbed into the incised lines. A sheet of dampened paper is placed over the plate and then run through a roller press.

Etchings

Etching begins with a metal plate, usually of copper, that has been covered with a waxy surface called a “ground”. The artist creates a composition by drawing through the ground to expose the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath that chemically dissolves the exposed lines. The ground is then removed, ink is introduced into the incised lines and the plate is wiped clean. The plate is then covered with dampened paper and run through a press under great pressure in order to force the paper into the lines, resulting in the raised characteristic of etching.

Intaglio Printing

In intaglio printing an image is incised with a pointed tool or “bitten” with acid into a metal plate usually made of copper or zinc. The plate is covered with ink and then cleaned so that only the incised grooves contain ink. The plate and dampened paper is then run through a press to create the print. The intaglio family of printmaking techniques includes engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, etching, and aquatint.

Linocuts

Linocuts are made on heavy duty linoleum, usually backed with wood for reinforcement. The printed surface of a linocut has less texture than a woodcut because of the supple nature of linoleum that takes all types of lines but is most suited to large designs with contrasting tints.

Lithography

Lithography is based on the chemical principle that oil (or grease) and water don’t mix. A print is obtained by placing a sheet of paper on the drawn, carved or inked stone or metal plate which sits on the bed of a lithographic press and then running the stone and paper under the scraping pressure of the press. Linear and tonal values of great range and subtlety characterise lithographs because of the freedom possible when making the original drawing on the plate.

Photogravure Prints

Photogravure printing is a form of intaglio printing, in which a photographic image is chemically etched into a copper plate. When the plate is inked, then wiped clean, the ink remains in the pits of the plate and is transferred to a sheet of paper during the printing process. This is a very complex and exacting photo process which produces great longevity.

Publisher

A publisher is one who underwrites the printing and marketing of an artist’s prints. An artist may be his own publisher but this is no longer as common as it was. A publisher brings together artist and printer (assuming the artist does not do his own printing). The printer may also himself be a publisher. This is not a new idea. There were print publishers already in the sixteenth century and the great majority of original prints made in the nineteenth century were commissioned and brought to market by publishers.

Relief Printing

Here the artist sketches a composition on a wood block or other surface and then cuts away pieces from the surface leaving only the composition raised. Ink is then applied to the surface with a roller and transferred onto paper with a press, or by hand burnishing or rubbing. Since the recessed cut away areas do not receive any ink they appear white on the printed image. Relief prints are characterised by bold dark-light contrasts.

Silkscreens

Screenprinting is a technique was made famous in the 1960s when artists such as Andy Warhol exploited its bold, commercial look to make ‘Pop Icons’. To make a screenprint, an image that has been cut out of paper or fabric is attached to a piece of tautly stretched mesh. Paint is then forced through the mesh (or screen) onto a sheet of paper beneath it by means of a squeegee. For works with more than one colour, a separate screen is required for each colour. This technique is often referred to as ‘serigraphy’, a term coined to distinguish between commercial and artistic screenprinting.

Woodcuts

The primary relief techniques are woodcut, wood engraving and linocut. Woodcuts were first seen in ninth-century China however Western artists have also been making woodcut prints for hundreds of years, most notably in the sixteenth, late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Wood engraving is made from the end grain surface of blocks – an area that has no grain and consequently lends itself to great precision and detail.