Printmaking is one of the most misunderstood of the art mediums. ‘Prints,’ ‘originals’ and ‘reproductions’ are confusing terms for artists as well as for collectors and patrons of the arts.

So, what is a print? Photographs, posters, etchings and multiple others are referred to as ‘prints.’ In simple terms of printmaking we will limit our definition of a print being a sheet of paper on which an image has been imprinted from a matrix created from some material like metal, wood, screen or stone. An original print is typically a piece of artwork made by an artist/printmaker who, 1) conceives an image, 2) creates the matrix (or directly oversees its creation) which will print that image, and 3) has orchestrated the process through to the final print. Original prints are then often editioned, signed, numbered, and may contain different types of labels and marks on each print. The artist decides the total number of prints that will be included in the full edition of that print. Each of the prints are numbered in relation to that total quantity (first of 50 total prints, second of 50 total, through to the fiftieth of 50 total and is written 1/50, 2/50…50/50) There are many prints that are created during this entire process that are not destroyed and are kept by the artist, printer or are sold as part of the total edition. These include: color proofs, state proofs, artist proofs, printer’s proofs, hors commerce, bon à tirer, and many others.  There are many stages (states, proofs) in the creation of an edition, but the print labeled bon à tirer (B.A.T) is the final version. The artist labels it B.A.T and this print becomes the standard against which the entire edition is matched. There is every attempt to make EACH print of the edition look exactly like the B.A.T., however, because this is a hand-made process, slight variations will occur. Fuller explanations may be found in the myriad of books, websites, and other abundant resources (see our resource list below).

Reproductions were usually created with a photomechanical method of offset reproduction, but today most reproductions are created utilizing some form of digital printing. ‘Offset’ refers to the type of lithographic press used to create copies (reproductions) of an original piece of artwork. No matter which method is used, limited editions are often signed and numbered by the artist and are beautiful copies of the artist’s original artwork. Typically, reproductions only have investment value in the signature of the artist..

Many processes, variations and combinations exist in the world of printmaking (including 3D printing) are being used in the fine arts. In the following processes of 2D printmaking note the green is the location of the ink in reference to the matrix:

  1. Intaglio – Below the Surface – A printmaking technique whereby ink is transferred onto the surface of the paper from the lower levels of a plate, including: etching, engraving, aquatint, mezzotint, drypoint, and collagraph. Commercial methods utilizing intaglio are used for printing currency, fine stationery and invitations.

  2. Relief – Above the Surface – Printmaking method whereby the uppermost surface of a material is inked-up and transferred in a rubbed or stamping technique, including: wood cut, wood engraving, and linocut. Commercial relief printing is produced on a letterpress.

  3. Lithography – On the Surface – Planographic method discovered by Alois Senefelder in 1796, which is based on the fact that oil and water do not mix, including: stone, plate, paper and offset lithography. Offset lithography was the most widely used form of commercial printing before digital printing became the norm.

  4. Serigraphy – Stencil Method – Ink is dragged across a mesh allowing it to print onto a material in selected areas only, including: Screen printing, sometimes referred to as silkscreen because it originally utilized silk, today uses a monofilament polyester mesh. Commercially, it is used for textiles, signage and ceramics.

  5. Digital – Computer Generated – A printmaking method utilizing computer technology with pigmented archival inks, including: giclée (Iris), and digital pigment prints. Commercial applications include: outdoor signage, billboard and banners (utilizing inkjet and large format plotters) and low-volume, quick printing projects (utilizing laser copying technology). Digital has become the norm for most all commercial printing processes.

  6. Monotypes – One Unique Print – Monotypes (monoprints are a subset with a reproducable element to the work) are essentially printed paintings that do not necessarily require a press. This painterly process produces one unique print and often a ghost image as well. There is currently no commercial application of monotypes.


Monotype: Mediums and Methods for Painterly Printmaking by Julia Ayres
How to Identify Prints by Bamber Gascoigne
Complete Printmaker by John Ross
Printmaking in the Sun by Dan Welden
Relief Printmaking by Ann Westley

ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73104-2205
(405) 815-9995
Workshops, demonstrtions, studio rental, memberships & exhibitions

Dick Blick art supplies –
Digital Printing supplies –
Graphic Chemical –
Presses (Fine art intaglio and litho) –
Relief printmaking –
Solarplate Etching –
Daniel Smith art supplies –

Terms, examples, editioning:
Giclée Printmakers –
Manneken Press –
Philadelphia Print Shop –
Tamarind Institute –
Universal Limited Art Editions –

For more information about Printmaking or about this site, contact – marc at marcbarker dot com