What is an original print?

Original prints are hand-made, hand-printed works of art that are created using a range of traditional techniques such as relief, intaglio, planographic, serigraphs and monotypes. Every process, from conception to production, is done by hand; unlike a reproduction, which is essentially a photographic copy of a work of art.

The artist creates an original print by developing an image on a surface such as wood, metal, linoleum, silkscreen, or glass. The image is then inked up and transferred onto another surface such as paper or fabric, by hand or using a printing press. Creating a print is a very ‘hands on’ process as the artist cuts into a block of wood or linoleum or draws into and etches a metal plate; inking and printing the plates in essentially the same way that artists have done for centuries. Even as new technologies are introduced, printmaking remains an invaluable tool for creative expression producing innovative and evocative artwork.


Relief printing is a generic term used to describe the process of printing from a raised surface where the non-image areas have been cut away. Ink is rolled over the “high” areas of the block and the image is transferred to paper. Wood and linoleum are traditional matrices used for relief printing.

    • The linoblock consists of a layer of linoleum, usually mounted on a block of wood. This soft material is easily carved using knives and gouges. The image is then printed as with a woodcut.
    • Woodcut is one of the oldest and simplest forms of printmaking. Various implements (both hand tools and power tools) can be used to cut the image into a block of wood. Paper is placed over the inked block and rubbed by hand or passed through a press to transfer the ink from block to paper to create the image.


The intaglio printmaking method is characterized by an image being cut into the surface of a plate. Traditionally the matrix is copper, zinc or other metal and the cutting is made with sharp hand tools or by using acid. When ink is applied to the plate, it is held in the incised image areas and wiped from the surface, then printed on a press on dampened paper.

    • This process uses acid to bite an image into a metal plate that is coated with an acid-resistant ground. A sharp needle is used to scratch the image through the ground, exposing the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath where the drawn marks are etched. The characteristics of the marks produced depend on the tool used to draw the image, the type of ground coating the plate and the length of time the plate is etched in the acid bath.
    • For this technique, a metal plate is incised with a tool called a burin. Great skill is required to manipulate the burin as it is pushed at different angles and degrees of pressure to produce a characteristic thin to thick line.
    • Aquatint is an etching method used to create a more subtle tonal range than could be achieved with line etching techniques. Tiny “pits” are applied to a plate and exposed to an acid bath for various lengths of time to create a pitted grainy surface. This kind of surface holds various amounts of ink and prints as areas of tone. A plate may be bitten several times for a range of tones.
    • As with engraving, this is a process in which marks are made on a plate using a sharp, pointed instrument. Unlike engraving, in which small amounts of metal are completely removed as the lines are incised, drypoint is characterized by the curl of displaced metal, called the burr, which forms as the line is cut. When inked, the burr creates a distinctive velvety appearance. This technique is usually done on soft copper plates. As the edition is printed, the burr becomes flattened and less distinct.
    • Photopolymer intaglio is a non-etch process of making a photo intaglio printing matrix. Plates are either manually coated with a thick photopolymer film (Imagon) or they are available as pre-coated plates such as Solarplate and Toyobo flexographic plates etc. Plates laminated with film are typically exposed with a very fine halftone positive that has a grain built into the blacks. Pre-coated plates can be exposed with the halftone method or with a continuous tone positive which requires a separate exposure to an aquatint screen. The plates are developed in water or a mild alkaline solution which washes away the unhardened photopolymer creating fine recessed crevices for the ink.


A collagraph is made by creating a matrix from almost any assembly of materials which are collaged into an image, adhered to a base surface and printed either as a relief print or intaglio. Various textures create values. Surfaces may also be textured with acrylic mediums, subtle values created using an organdy or silk like fabric, and intense darks can be created using carborundum grits.


A planographic image is printed from a flat surface; no incised lines or raised areas. Planographic processes include:

    • Lithography involves drawing directly on flat surface with an oil-based implement, then coating it with a water-based liquid. When oil-based ink is applied, it’s repelled by the water allowing ink to adhere to just the image and allowing it to be transferred onto a paper ground.
    • Artists draw, paint, and manipulate ink or paint, to create a composition, on a smooth surface. This surface is then transferred to a ground support by rubbing by hand or using a press to create a one of a kind reversed image.


Stencil involves the process of printing through an opening in a material or a cutout design. Openings are made in a masking material such as paper, fabric or plastic allowing ink to pass through and print on another surface.

    • A stencil is adhered to a material such as synthetic nylon or silk and stretched tightly over a frame. The image areas are open fabric through which ink or paint is forced with a squeegee.
    • The pochoir process is a direct method for hand coloring through a stencil. The stencil itself is usually knife-cut from thin-coated paper, paperboard, plastic, or metal. A stencil and stencil-brush may be used to make multicolor prints or to add color passages to a print.

The artist’s book is seen as a unique object of art. It may the be work of one individual or a collaborative effort using a variety of techniques that range from traditional to non-traditional formats and may even enter into the realm of sculpture.





Digital prints refer to those images generated with the aid of a computer. The computer file is sent to a digital printer and printed on paper using pigment-based archival inks. Digital files may also be used to scribe an image onto a matrix using a plotter and to cut stencils for traditional print processes. The artist’s intent to produce a unique or limited edition artwork is key here, as this printing process is also used to make common reproductions.