What is an original print?
Generally, “original” implies that a print has been made by the artist’s hand, as opposed to a reproductive printmaker or a photomechanical process. It is the printed impression produced from a block, plate, stone, or screen on which the artist who conceived the idea has worked. Because the artist has chosen to render the idea in “print,” it is possible to produce a number of identical images, each one an original work by the artist. After the total number of prints in the edition has been “pulled,” the blocks, plates, stones or screens are defaced or recycled so that no further impressions may be taken. In the past when great artists such as Dürer and Rembrandt were working, the prints were unnumbered. In fact, it is only a modern convention to limit the edition — initiated by Whistler — thus creating an increasing demand for the limited number and making them more desirable. Even as new technologies (digital, for example) are introduced, printmaking remains an invaluable tool for creative expression producing innovative and evocative artwork.
The earliest major category of printmaking. The printing surface, usually a wooden block, but sometimes a linoleum block or even metal plate, is carved so that the top surface holds the ink and the lower surface remains clean. Unlike intaglio prints, relief prints do not require high pressure in printing. Relief prints are compatible with letterpress printing and are therefore frequently used in book illustrations.
One of the basic categories of printmaking, including the individual graphic media of etching and engraving. The key trait of intaglio printmaking is that the ink rests in linear incisions or areas beneath the upper surface of the plate, which must be wiped off before printing. Intaglio prints are printed in roller presses under great pressure, which forces the paper into the incisions and produces an indented border or platemark around the image. Forms of intaglio printing include aquatint, drypoint, engraving, etching, and mezzotint.
The chief planographic technique, invented by Alois Senefelder in the late eighteenth century. An image is drawn or painted with a greasy medium on a flat surface, usually fine-grained limestone, but also zinc or aluminum plates. The medium may range from chalk-like to liquid (tusche). The plate is treated with nitric acid and gum arabic to set the image, dampened, inked, and printed, traditionally using a press with a bar that scrapes across the back of the paper laid face down on the stone.
A printmaking medium based on the simple idea of the stencil. Using a variety of substances, the artist blocks out a design on a screen of silk, cotton, nylon, or other material. Ink is forced through the screen with a squeegee. “Screenprint” is synonymous with “serigraph” and “silkscreen.”
A hybrid of printmaking and painting (or, less typically, drawing) in which the artist produces a unique impression from a painted or drawn surface. Impressions taken subsequently from this surface are called “cognates.”
Refers 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.
Types of prints
An ‘edition’ of a print is a limited set of identical prints made from the same plate. Editioned prints must be identical. If there is a discrepancy in quality, ink color or even with a change of paper, these prints should not be considered part of the edition. Editions are typically labeled with a particular print number then a slash (/) then the number of total prints in the edition, eg. 1/10 (print #1 from a total of 10 identical prints).
In addition to printing a numbered edition, there are several other conventions that allow artists to label their prints conveying different purposes in the process. Some of these are listed below:
A/P (artist’s proof). Originally the artist was able to pull a number of prints out with their edition for personal use (e.g. if the edition was being retained by an agent). These are normally printed at the same time as the edition, are of the same high standard, and number up to 10% of the regular edition size.
B.A.T (bon à tirer). The first perfect print to be pulled from the matrix is signed as the B.A.T. (good to pull). The edition and artist’s proofs are then matched up to this as it is printed. The B.A.T. usually remains the property of the editioning studio.
T/P (trial proof). These prints are pulled to assess the development of an image. They are marked as trial proofs as they indicate the unfinished progress of a work. They can be worth large sums if they land on the market as they show an insight into the artist’s working methodology.
S/P (state proof). This is the general term covering all working proofs. It can refer more specifically to trial proofs being reworked after an image has been editioned.
H/C (hors commerce). These prints are not for sale but are marked for commercial/business use such as display or promotion. They need not be signed by the artist.
C/P (cancellation print). When the edition has been printed, the plate is defaced in such a way that it cannot be reprinted in the original manner. Often a print is pulled with a large score across the plate and is signed as the cancellation print.
U/P (unique print), U/S (unique state), V/E (variable edition). These labels all refer to the print being unique or containing unique elements that cannot be exactly reproduced in another pulling. These three labels are probably best replaced with using the simple convention 1/1 (edition of 1).
Eichenberg, Fritz, The Art of the Print, New York: Abrams, 1976.
Gascoigne, Bamber, How to Identify Prints, New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004. Second edition.
Hults, Linda C., The Print in the Western World, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1996.
Ivins, William, How Prints Look, Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.
Tallman, Susan, The Contemporary Print: From Pre-Pop to Postmodernism. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.