An original print is the image on paper or similar material made by one or more of the processes described below. Each process and resulting printing surface has a special, identifiable quality, but because more than one impression of each image is possible, original does not mean unique.
The artist's intention to create an original print is the key to the originality of the finished work. For example, if the artist first conceives of a watercolor, then has the result copied in woodcut or another process, the result is not original, but a form of reproduction. The number of impressions printed of the image accrues to make up the edition. This number may appear in the bottom left margin of the print with the individual print number represented as a fraction such as 5/25, meaning the edition was 25 impressions of which this impression is number 5. If intended for use illustrating a written text, original prints will not likely be numbered (or hand-signed) and may be produced in very large editions.
Made by cutting into the broad face of a plank of wood, usually with a chisel or gouge. (The linocut is made by the same method, except that linoleum is substituted for wood). In working the block, the artist cuts away areas not meant to print. These cut away areas provide the negative space in the finished design while the ink covers what remains of the original surface.
Made by engraving a block made up of a piece or pieces of extremely hard, end-grain wood. This hardness allows the artist to engrave (rather than cut) a much finer line than is possible on the softer, plank surface used for woodcuts. Here, again, the remaining surface provides the image information.
The printing surface is built up on the plate or block by applying various materials which in turn may also be incised.
A polished metal plate, usually copper or zinc, is coated with a material which resists acid, called a ground. The artist then draws an image with a sharp needle removing the ground. The plate is then put in an acid bath where the exposed areas of the plate are attacked by the acid. The action of the acid produces the recessed lines which will receive the ink. When printing the plate, the ink is rubbed into the recessed areas and excess ink is then wiped away. The plate, in contact with dampened paper, is passed through a roller press where the paper is forced to receive the ink. The artist etches those parts which will appear as lines in black or some other color in the finished print. White (open) areas are left untouched and uninked. The strength of the line(s) is determined by the depth of the acid etch (which in turn reflects to strength of the acid and the time spent in the bath).
The design is cut into the plate by pushing a sharp tool called a burin. The plate is inked and printed as above.
In this, the most direct process, lines or scratches are produced by sharp tools pulled across the polished plate. The line quality is determined by the amount of pressure applied. Like a plough through a field, this method produces the incisions, but also displaces the metal adjacent to those incisions. When the incisions are inked, the displaced metal also holds ink next to the incision. This blurred edge to the primary incisions is called burr. This gives the drypoint line the characteristically soft, velvety appearance absent in the clean edged lines of an engraving or etching.
A polished copper plate is selectively covered by a porous ground which is partially acid-resistant and accepting of the acid. For the image areas where aquatint is not desired (the white or open areas), are coated with a partly acid-resistant varnish. The plate is then repeatedly immersed in an acid bath where it is etched to differing depths. This contributes tonal areas to the image. Aquatint is usually employed in combination with line etching.
The artist draws directly on a flat stone or specially prepared metal plate (usually with a waxy crayon). After 'fixing' the image with gum arabic and nitric acid, the stone is dampened with water, then inked. The ink clings to the waxy crayon marks but not to the dampened open areas of the surface. When a piece of paper is pressed against the moist stone or plate, the ink on the waxy image is transferred to it.
The artist prepares a tightly-stretched screen, usually of silk, and blocks out specific areas not to be printed, by filling up the mesh of the screen with a varnish-like substance. Paper is placed under the screen and ink forced through the unblocked mesh onto the paper. A separate screen is created for each color making up the final image. Each screen is printed separately onto the same sheet of paper.