Printing Terms

I love words. I like the way they look and the way they sound. I like to know their history and their definitions, so without further ado, I present to you my Lexicography of Printing Terms. I'll add to this as I come across new and delicious words.


Artist’s Proof
Marked “A/P” on the left of a print. This is one of the artist’s test prints to check that the plate, paper and ink are all working as they should. Artist’s Proofs usually make up 10% of the edition. As they are test prints, they can be different colours or experimentally printed when compared to the rest of the edition.


A tool used to rub the back of the paper by hand when it is placed over the inked-up block. The bare helps transfer the ink to the paper. These used to be covered in bamboo leaves in Japan, but these days are just as likely to be a plastic disk filled with many small ball bearings. My baren is a wooden spoon with a completely flat back that came from a Scandinavian shop!
This is the rigid flat surface of the press that holds the plate during the printing process.
Woollen blankets that are placed over the paper as it travels through the rollers in the press. The blankets spread the pressure of the rollers and help transfer the ink from the raised areas of the plate onto the paper.
The material into which a design is carved for relief printmaking. I use linoleum floor tiles.


Chine Collé
Areas of thin coloured tissue or rice paper glued to the surface of a print (this is the collé part). Typically made using a press as the ink of the plate glues the thin paper to the substrate as the print is run through the press.


Deckled edge
A rough, irregular edge on a piece of printmaking paper. Sometimes torn, sometimes a product of the paper making process.
Lines are scratched into a metal or plastic plate using any sharp instrument with the same freedom as a pencil drawing. The plate is inked and wiped, then passed through the press with paper on top. Drypoint produces distinctive prints as small ridges of metal, the burr, displaced in the drawing process also accept some ink and give the darker ink held in the incised line a soft fuzzy look.


A set of identical prints taken from the same matrix or matrices (printing surfaces). Editions can either be limited or open. Limited editions mean that no more of the same prints will be made.
To pass an un-inked plate through the press to create an impression in the paper.
Lines are incised into a highly polished metal plate with a burin or graver. This is a sharp-pointed instrument which works by cutting a line into the metal. A stronger line can be made by cutting deeper. The plate is inked and the surface wiped so that the ink remains only in the incised lines which then transfer to the paper in the press.



A digitally printed archival fine art print. Always a reproduction of an original photograph or image.
Tool used to carve material out of a block for relief printing. Gouges have V or a U shaped cutting blades that can be very small (I started with a 0.5mm U gouge)—often known as a “veining tool”—or so wide they’re almost flat, which is great for clearing large flat areas of lino that are to remain white when printed.


Hand Pulled
Creating a print by hand instead of using a press. Paper is placed over the inked block and rubbed with a hand, baren, wooden spoon or similar to transfer the ink to the paper.
Maintaining a sharp edge on a cutting tool.


The image is incised or etched into a metal plate using a variety of techniques and tools. Ink is wiped or dabbed (or both) onto the recessed areas of the printing plate. The ink transfers to the dampened paper from the incised marks, not the top surface of the plate. However, depending on how the ink was applied, a thin film of ink can be left on the surface to produce a variety of tonal effects.



Key block
The layer in a print that gives the main detail or outline of an image. Usually printed first or last in a multi-layered print.


Exposure to light can cause changes to paper and inks. As a result their lightfastness is an important consideration when making archival quality fine art prints.
Limited Edition
A finite number of identical prints, each numbered as part of the total. A print with 11/40 written on the left-hand side is the eleventh print in an edition of forty identical impressions. The lower the number on the right, the more desirable the print as there are fewer of them in the world!
Lino or Linoleum
Traditionally made of cork dust and linseed oil with a hessian backing, although vinyl is now also available. Carved to create relief prints.
A design drawn or painted with a greasy crayon or ink onto the polished (usually, though the grain can be left for a different effect) flat surface of a limestone. The design is chemically fixed on the stone with a weak solution of acid and gum Arabic. To print the design, the surface is flooded with water which the stone absorbs everywhere except where it’s repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled onto the stone which is in turn repelled by the water-soaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. The paper is laid onto the stone and they pass through the press.


The lino plate from which the image is printed.
A print made using any printmaking technique from which only one print can be made. Monoprints can be made using a single or multiple printmaking techniques and usually is made using some form of matrix.
A monotype is a print that is unique. Unlike monoprints, monotypes are not made using a matrix such as a cut block or plate.
A relief print made using two or more blocks that print on top of one another to create a multi-coloured final print.


Areas of a block that have been carved away can still be just raised enough to pick up ink from the roller. These marks can be left to add character or movement to a print.
See "Limited Edition" above.


Inks that use oil (usually linseed oil) to bind the pigment to transfer it from the plate to the paper.
Refers to inks that do not allow any of the paper colour or previous print layers to show through.
Open Edition
A set of identical prints taken from the same matrix or matrices (printing surfaces). There can be many prints in an open edition which can be printed for as long as the block survives.
Original print
Prints in the medium the artist originally used. This is not the same as a reproduction which is usually digitally printed (see giclée, above).
Over printing
Colours that are printed on top of another.


The coloured particles in an ink.
A flat sheet of linoleum used as a matrix for a print.
The platemark is the indentation in the paper caused by the plate being pressed into the paper as it is pulled through the press.



The recessed hole in a picture frame that holds the glass in place.

Reduction printmaking creates a multicoloured print from a single block. As the printmaker cuts, inks and prints the image appears while the block is destroyed. A reduction print can therefore never be reprinted.
Registration in relief printmaking ensures that the paper is always placed on the inked plate in exactly the same place. This is especially important when using more than one colour so that all the layers are printed precisely on each print.
Relief print
A printmaking process where the areas of a block that should remain white (or unprinted) are carved away. The raised areas of the block are charged with ink (usually using a roller) and printed onto a substrate such as paper or fabric. E.g. linocut and woodcut.


A water-resistant coating added to paper.





Japanese paper: literally, wa (和) meaning Japanese and shi (紙) meaning paper. Washi contains long fibres, including kozo (mulberry) and mitsumata (both cultivated shrubs), and gampi (from wild plants). These are harvested in winter and the branches are steamed to soften them so the bark can be removed. The dry bark is boiled and any impurities removed before it is beaten by hand to loosen the fibres which are then spread onto a mat. The mat is shaken to bind the fibres together. More bark is added for thicker paper before the water is poured off and the paper is allowed to dry a little. The sheets are given a final press to remove any extra water and brushed to remove any larger textured pieces before being left to dry completely in the sun.




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