Friday, March 27, 2009

What is a print? Part I

In a series of posts I will discuss the question of "What is a print?" This is about original, antique prints and these posts will talk about different types of prints and how they are made.

In the most general terms, a print is a piece of paper on which a design has been imprinted from a matrix made of some selected medium, usually stone, wood, or metal. In an original print the matrix is made by hand, not by a mechanical reproductive method. Any print issued prior to 1900 is considered an antique, though non-mechanically made prints published before World War II are sometimes considered to be antiques.

Prints fall into three general categories depending on their method of production: relief, intaglio, and planographic.

  • In a relief print the image is printed from a raised surface on the matrix, so that the printmaker creates the matrix by cutting away that part which he does not want to show in the image. To create a relief print the ink is applied to the raised surface of the matrix, which is then pressed onto a sheet of paper. Examples of relief prints are woodcuts and wood engravings.
  • In an intaglio print the image is printed from a recessed design in the matrix, so that the printmaker creates the matrix by cutting into it the design he wishes to imprint on the paper. To create an intaglio print the ink is pressed into the design cut in the matrix, the surface is wiped, and the ink is then transferred to the paper under pressure. This process creates the platemark which is the hallmark of an intaglio print. Examples of intaglio prints include engravings, etchings, aquatints, and mezzotints.
  • In a planographic print the image is printed from a flat matrix, where the image was created on the surface by use of a grease crayon or with a greasy ink. To create a planographic print, water (which is repulsed by the greasy image) is washed onto the surface, and then ink (which is held by the greasy image) is applied to the surface. A press is then used to transfer the image to the paper. Lithographs are planographic prints.

More information can be found on The Philadelphia Print Shop on-line reference library.

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