A Complete Guide to Prints

In the simplest terms, prints are multiple iterations of a work of art. But there are so many kinds of prints, and their history is no less intriguing. Here’s our complete guide to prints!

What Is a Printmaker

Original prints can be extremely valuable and many famous artists were also prolific printmakers: Warhol, Chagall, Lichtenstein, Munch, Picasso, Dali, Matisse, even Rembrandt. Today, we have Banksy whose prints fetch outrageous prices. If you’re lucky, you may even get your hands on one of those some day! So what are prints?

What Is a Print?

Oh, the wonders of printing. Today, we take the process for granted. Technology has come such a long way, especially now that paper is no longer our go-to medium. But the history of prints is long, rich and fascinating. 

The earliest known printing dates back to the 11th century in China, where wooden blocks were used to create textiles and paper prints. Before the invention of the printing press in Europe, medieval munks put painstaking effort into copying books. The first known printed book was made in 1450 by Gutenberg using movable type. Over the next few centuries, printers began producing books more quickly and efficiently as they perfected printing processes and technology.

By the early 19th century, newspapers had become commonplace throughout Europe and America thanks to advances in printing technology. Books continued to be produced during this time but at a much slower pace than newspapers due to the labor-intensive processes involved with creating them.

Modern printing technology has enabled us to create books in a fraction of the time it once took. Digital printing has also allowed for higher quality prints than ever before and at significantly lower costs. This has revolutionized the publishing industry by making books more accessible than ever before.Since the dawn of time and the birth of art, artists have been using various printing techniques to create copies of their work, which can be distributed more easily and widely than the original. In the digital era, prints have become even more popular, as they offer a quick and easy way to produce professional-looking artwork without expensive equipment or materials. But let’s rewind.

What Is a Printmaker?

A printmaker is an artist who engages in printmaking, which is an artistic process of transferring images from a matrix onto another surface, most often paper or fabric. The most popular traditional printmaking techniques include woodcut, etching, engraving, and lithography. Screenprinting is a popular modern printmaking technique.

Centuries ago, artists were producing large and complex compositions that required painstaking work, but it was not until the invention of the printing press that the fruits of artistic production became available to the public. The first successful prints, known as woodcuts, were created in Germany in the 15th century. These prints were intended to be printed on woodblocks, which would then be carved into print blocks to be used for the printing process. The woodcut medium developed slowly over time, in and out of Europe, until it arrived in America where it found a new home with some of the earliest settlers. Woodcuts also paved the way for engraving which was expensive to create so they only found some use as illustrations or book plates. 

The Basics


You may have seen a few numbers on a print that read something like 21/25. This number is called the edition, and it means that there are only 25 copies of this print in existence. The first number (in this case, 21) is the number of the specific print you own out of those 25.

The smaller the edition, the more exclusive and, therefore, the more expensive it is. You may also see an E.E. (or an A.P.) instead of a number on some prints. These stand for l’épreuve d’artiste (Artist’s Proof) and Artist’s Print, respectively, and usually make up 10% of the edition.


In the printing world, the matrix is the term for the original artwork that is used to create prints. This can be a painting, a drawing, or any other type of image. The matrix is usually destroyed after the prints are made, so each print is unique.


The type of paper that is used for prints can also affect their price and quality. Heavier, higher-quality papers will typically cost more than thinner paper types. Some artists also experiment with different types of paper to create unique textures or effects in their prints.

Printmaking Techniques

There are many different printmaking techniques that can be used to create prints. Some of the most popular techniques include lithography, etching, screen printing, and digital printing. Each technique has its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to choose the right technique for each individual project.


Framing is an important part of displaying prints and can add a lot of value to them. A well-framed print can really enhance its appearance and make it look like a piece of art rather than just a piece of paper. Of course, framing also adds to the cost of a print, so it’s important to factor that in when considering your budget.


A press is a machine used to print text or images on paper. There are many different types of presses, each with its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Some of the most popular types of presses include offset presses, letterpresses, and digital presses.

Types of Prints

What Is a Print


Drypoint is a type of printmaking that involves carving into a metal plate with a sharp tool. The lines that are carved into the plate will hold ink, which can then be transferred to paper. Drypoint prints tend to be more delicate than other types of prints, so they are usually framed under glass.


Relief prints are an artistic form of printmaking that has been used for centuries. They were popularized by artists like Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, who preferred the medium to other methods because it allowed them greater control over how their work would look when printed on paper; black-and-white reliefs can be very striking visually if done correctly. Ink is applied directly onto the matrix (engraving). After someone presses materials down into the mount below, the print is complete.


Which process best describes intaglio printing? Intaglio is essentially engraving or etching. Intaglio is a printmaking type involving carving lines into the metal plate. The ink is then applied to the plate, and the paper is pressed onto the plate, resulting in a print. Intaglio prints tend to be very detailed and have a lot of depth.


Engravings are an incredibly detailed form of printmaking that was first used in the 16th century. They utilize metal plates to produce images with exceptionally intricate details, unlike reliefs which only have raised parts on top but do not go into every valley or crevice as these ones did here because they require more time and skill when making them as well!

The first step in the engraving is to sketch out your design onto the metal plate using a sharp tool called a “burin.” Next, the artist will use this burin to carve lines into the metal following their original sketch. The deeper the carving, the darker the line will be when printed.


Etching is a process in which an artist uses needle-like tools to create drawings on metal plates covered with wax. The artist then scratches through this ground, exposing its underlying material – usually silver or copper but sometimes other metals too! When you press down hard enough during the etching process (which can take anywhere from 10 minutes up to 2 hours), different shades will appear depending on how long it has been left there when done successfully; these varying colors represent what type of acid was used as well at least two levels: basic white representing sodium chloride solution(sodium + chlorine)

Spit bite

Spit bite is a variation of etching that was developed in the late 19th century. It allows for greater control over the depth of the etching by using a mixture of acid and saliva instead of just acid alone.

The artist applies this mixture to the metal plate with a brush, working it into the grooves they have carved out. The longer the plate is left in the mixture, the deeper the etching will be.


The aquatint is a printmaking technique that creates tonal effects by etching tiny pits into the surface of a metal plate. It was first developed in the 18th century and has been used by artists such as Goya and Rembrandt.

The first step in aquatinting is to coat the metal plate with a fine layer of rosin dust. This will create resistance when the plate is placed in an acid bath. The artist then etches their design into this resist before the plate is dipped in the acid.

The longer the plate is left in the acid, the darker the tones will be. Aquatinting is a very versatile technique that can be used to create a wide range of effects, from soft gradations of gray to deep, rich blacks.


Lithography is a printmaking technique that was invented in the late 18th century. It is a planographic process, which means that the image is drawn on a flat surface. In lithography, the drawing is done on a stone or metal plate with a greasy substance.

The artist then covers the entire plate with oily ink and runs it through a printing press. The ink only adheres to the drawing and not the rest of the plate, resulting in a high-quality image. Lithography was the first printmaking technique that could be used to mass-produce prints.

Offset print

Offset printing is a variation of lithography that was developed in the late 19th century. It is a planographic process, which means that the image is drawn on a flat surface. In offset printing, the drawing is done on a metal plate with a greasy substance.

The artist then covers the entire plate with oily ink and runs it through a printing press. The ink only adheres to the drawing and not the rest of the plate, resulting in a high-quality image. Offset printing was the first printmaking technique that could be used to mass-produce prints.


The use of screens to print multiple images simultaneously is a technique that was invented by pop artists. This type of printing involves pressing ink through stencils which are placed directly onto a blank canvas, usually in order to produce movement or depth when viewed up close; however, these same effects can also be achieved using other mediums such as charcoal drawings and oils on canvas without any physical contact at all! The Andy Warhol group particularly favored this style because they degraded their image slightly with every transfer–a perfect technology for today’s fast-paced world where things tend not to stay around very long before being replaced.

Linocut prints


A woodcut is a relief printing technique in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the raised areas corresponding to the parts of the image that will print in black. The woodblock is then inked and pressed onto paper, resulting in a print. This type of print was among some of the earliest. 

So what is a woodblock print then? It is sometimes used as the term for the East Asian principle of relief printing on wood, whereas a woodcut is sometimes referred to Western relief prints. However, the terms can also be used synonymously. 

Wood printing is an age-old art form that involves carving and engraving an image into a woodblock. Once the image has been carved, ink is applied to the woodblock, and then transferred onto paper using a press or by hand. The result is a unique and textured print with an organic feel that can be used for a wide range of artistic expressions.

Woodblock printing is a versatile technique that has been used to make prints of varying formats and sizes, from small prints that can be used for greeting cards to larger-scale prints that are used to make book illustrations or wall art.

Wood printing can be done on a variety of materials, including traditional paper or specialty paper such as rice paper or handmade paper, which allows for endless experimentation with printing techniques and materials.

Modern technologies have also made it easier to produce woodblock prints. Today, digital software and laser cutting have allowed for the creation of precision carvings on woodblocks, making the process easier, more efficient and more accessible for artists and printmakers.


Linocut prints or linoleum prints sure are pretty. If you ever saw linocuts for sale, you already know what a linocut is. Maybe you even wanted to learn how to do linocut yourself. So what is linocut printmaking? It is a relief printing process in which art is transferred to a print surface by the application of pressure to ink that has been soaked into paper or other fabric. Linocutting is a popular technique. So how does linocut art differ from woodprinting? Linocut printing uses linoleum, whereas woodcuts are made using wood. However, linocuts are much easier to pull off, and they can yield a far greater variety of effects than woodcuts can.


Which printmaking technique was commonly used to translate oil paintings to printed form? A mezzotint uses finely-ground metal as an abrasive agent, so the pigment’s surface can be abraded more quickly than with smooth watercolor paper, but not so quickly as with an etching.


These are made by transferring an image onto a copper plate, which is then etched

Digital print

They are created using a digital printer, which prints directly to the paper instead of using a printing plate and offset

Inkjet print

A color inkjet printer uses small jets positioned within each of the printer’s color cartridge heads to spray fine droplets of ink onto the paper.


A gicle is an inkjet print created with a high-quality inkjet printer and archival inks. It may also be known as an ‘art print,’ though that term usually refers to etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, or other fine art prints which have limited editions and are hand-pulled. The quality of inks has improved dramatically over the last decade.

Laser print

This is created by the use of a laser beam instead of ink and printing plates. The laser beam strikes a photosensitive drum that heats up and turns black in the areas where it is struck.

Tools & Techniques 

What is a woodblock print


A brayer is a cylindrical tool that is used in screen printing to apply ink to the screen. It is made of rubber or plastic and has a beveled edge that is used to spread the ink across the screen. The brayer is also used to help remove any air bubbles from the screen.


A burin is a tool that is used in intaglio printing to make marks on the metal plate. It is a sharp, pointed tool that is pushed or pulled across the surface of the plate to create lines. The burin can also be used to create texture on the surface of the plate.


Linoleum is a type of material that is used in relief printing. It is made from linseed oil, resin, and wood flour. Linoleum is soft and can be carved into with a sharp knife. It is also easy to print from because it does not require a lot of pressure to transfer the ink onto the paper.

Movable type

Movable type is a system of printing that uses individual pieces of type that can be rearranged to create different text. The movable type was invented in China and was later adopted by Johannes Gutenberg in Europe. Movable type allowed for the mass production of printed materials.


A pochoir is a tool that is used in intaglio printing to create lines or textures on the metal plate. It is a small, sharp-pointed tool that is dipped in ink and then used to make marks on the plate. The pochoir can be used to create different line thicknesses depending on how much pressure is applied.


A stencil is a template that is used to create an image or design. Stencils can be made from paper, plastic, or metal. They are placed on the surface to be printed, and ink is applied through the openings in the stencil. Stencils are often used in screen printing.

Viscosity printing

Viscosity printing is a type of intaglio printing that uses a viscous liquid to transfer the ink onto the paper. The liquid is applied to the surface of the plate with a brush. The paper is then placed on top of the plate and run through a press. The pressure from the press forces the liquid out of the pores of the plate and onto the paper.