Terminology used in the engraving’s techniques

Terminology used in the engraving’s techniques by Antoni Gelonch-Viladegut, for the GELONCH VILADEGUT COLLECTION.




An artist’s proof is, at least in theory, an impression of a print taken in the printmaking process to see the current printing state of a plate while the plate (or stone, or woodblock,…) is being worked on by the artist. A proof may show a clearly incomplete image, often called a working proof or trial impression, but in modern practice is usually used to describe an impression of the finished work that is identical to the numbered copies. There can also be printer’s proofs which are taken for the printer to see how the image is printing, or are final impressions the printer is allowed to keep; but normally the term “artist’s proof” would cover both cases.

Artist’s proofs are not included in the count of a limited edition, and sometimes the number of artist’s proofs, which belong to the artist, can be surprisingly high at twenty or more. By convention, the artist is not supposed to sell these at once.

Art historians, curators, and collectors view working proofs as especially desirable because of their rarity, the insight they may give into the progress of the work, and because they may well have belonged to the artist. Especially in the case of dead artists, they can be the only evidence of the artist’s incremental development of an image, something not usually available with drawings, paintings or sculpture.

An artist’s proof has special value because of its extra rarity and its possible differences from the standard print, factors that are often reflected in its price.

Since printmaking is a very technical area, and many processes require expensive equipment, most artists choose to work with specialist printers. The print shop provides technicians skilled in the process; the artist provides the art. It is customary in these cases to pay the technicians with a signed artist’s proof, in addition to his wages. The print shop will also retain a proof, normally signed off as “bon à tirer” (“good for printing” in French) to use as a control example against which the other impressions are compared. This has resulted in some very impressive collections of prints owned by printmakers themselves.

An artist’s proof is also known as a “comp” or “complimentary” if given to printers.


When a master image may be printed, against which the members of the edition are compared for quality; these are signed-off as “bon à tirer”, or BAT (“good to print” in French).

Block books, also called xylographica, are short books of up to 50 leaves, printed in Europe in the second half of the 15th century as woodcuts with blocks carved to include both text and illustrations. The content of the books was nearly always religious, aimed at a popular audience, and a few titles were often reprinted in several editions using new woodcuts. Although many had believed that block books preceded Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in the first part of the 1450s, it now is accepted that most of the surviving block books were printed in the 1460s or later, and that the earliest surviving one may date to about 1451. They seem to have functioned as a cheap popular alternative to the printed book, which was still very expensive at this stage. Single-leaf woodcuts from the preceding decades often included passages of text with prayers, indulgences and other material; the block book was an extension of this form. Block books are very rare, some editions surviving only in fragments, and many probably not surviving at all.

Some block books, called chiro-xylographic contain only the printed illustrations, with the text added by hand.

Block books were typically printed as folios, with two pages printed on one full sheet of paper which was then folded once for binding. Several such leaves would be inserted inside another to form a gathering of leaves, one or more of which would be sewn together to form the complete book.

The earlier block books were printed on only one side of the paper (anopistographic), using brown color or grey, water based ink. It is believed they were printed by rubbing pressure, rather than a printing press. The nature of the ink and/or the printing process did not permit printing on both sides of the paper –damage would result from rubbing the surface of the first side to be printed in order to print the second. When bound together, the one sided sheets produced two pages of images and text, followed by two blank pages. The blank pages were ordinarily pasted together, so as to produce a book without blanks. In the 1470s, an oil based ink was introduced permitting printing on both sides of the paper (opistographic) using a regular printing press.

Block books often were printed using a single wood block that carried two pages of text and images or by individual blocks with a single page of text and image. The illustrations commonly were colored by hand.

The use of woodcut blocks to print block books had been used by the Chinese and other East Asian cultures for centuries to print books, but it is generally believed that the European development of the technique was not directly inspired by Asian examples, but instead grew out of the single woodcut, which itself developed from block-printing on textiles.

See BAT.


Chiaroscuro in art is characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for using contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body.
Further specialized uses include chiaroscuro woodcut, for colored woodcuts printed with different blocks, each using a different colored ink.

Chiaroscuro originated during the Renaissance as drawing on colored paper, where the artist worked from this base tone towards light, with white gouache, and dark, with ink, bodycolour or watercolor. These in turn drew on traditions in illuminated manuscripts, going back to late Roman Imperial manuscripts on purple-dyed vellum. Chiaroscuro woodcuts began as imitations of this technique. When discussing Italian art, the term is sometimes used to mean painted images in monochrome or two colors, more generally known in English by the French equivalent, grisaille. The term early broadened in meaning to cover all strong contrasts in illumination between light and dark areas in art, which is now the primary meaning.

CMYK means cyan, magenta, yellow and key (printing terminology for black). That’s the primary colors used in different types of printing press, for example, a rotogravure printing press has one printing unit foe each color, typically CMYK.

Collector’s edition may just be another term for Special edition. It may also refer to books in special limited and numbered editions, sometimes hand-bound, and signed by the artist and containing one or more original works or prints produced directly from his work and printed under his supervision.

These small marks, usually composed of an initial or initials but sometimes a device, are stamped or applied by some other means at the corner or some other unobtrusive area of drawings or prints to indicate ownership. Originally they were often applied posthumously by executors. They are usually written or stamped in ink, but are sometimes embossed into the paper without inking (blind stamps). Such marks do not denote authenticity, but a work with a provenance from one or several important collections can often be of high quality.



The question of whether a work on paper is a copy or an original is a problem which is likely to confront the amateur and the specialist alike, and it is often a difficult one to resolve. Copying of drawings and watercolors for the purposes of record or study is a long-established and entirely legitimate activity.

The only rule that can be offered is to err on the side of caution: a work which appears too good to be a true or a ludicrous bargain should be examined with care and a healthy suspicion.

Print techniques which give the effect of drawings or watercolors include aquatint, crayon manner and soft-ground etching. These are not intended to deceive but they can catch out the unwary. For example, a delicately hand-colored aquatint framed with the lettering obscured or removed looks much like a watercolor, but the aquatint grain should be discernible with the help of a magnifying glass. Prints which reproduce paintings or drawings can, in the hands of a master, be remarkable works of art in their own right and should not be despised. Their intention was frequently to make the work of artists available to people unable to afford oil paintings or drawings.

Countermarks are smaller, subsidiary watermarks often found in addition to the main watermark on papers after about 1670. They generally consist of the maker’s initials and are usually placed parallel to the main watermark in the centre of the opposite half of a double-folio sheet.

An impression made by running a print, before the ink has dried, through a press against another sheet. The resulting image is in reverse to the print but in the same direction as the engraving on the plate, and often helps the artist in making corrections. Counterproofs can be recognized because the image is flatter and weaker than an impression taken directly from the plate. The term is sometimes also applied to offsets of drawings.




In printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time.

Because of the variation in quality, lower-numbered prints in an edition are sometimes favored as superior, especially with older works where the image was struck until the plate wore out. However the numbering of impressions in fact may well not equate at all to the sequence in which they were printed, and may often be the reverse of it.

In later times, printmakers recognized the value of limiting the size of an edition and explicitly numbering the prints (e.g., a print numbered 15/30 is the 15th print in an edition of 30). The printing of editions with tight controls on the process to limit or eliminate variation in quality has become the norm. In monotyping, a technique where only two impressions at most can be taken, prints may be numbered 1/1, or marked “unique”. Artists usually print an edition much smaller than the plate allows, for marketing reasons and to keep the edition comfortably within the un-degraded lifespan of the plate; or specific steps may be taken to strengthen the plate, such as electroplating intaglio images, which uses an electric process to put a very thin coat of a stronger metal onto a plate of a weaker metal.

The conventions for numbering prints are well-established, but there are other marks to indicate that the print exists outside of an edition. Artist’s proofs are marked “A.P.” or “P/A”; monoprints and uniquely hand-altered prints are marked “unique”; prints that are gifted to someone, or are for some reason unsuitable for sale, are marked “H.C.” or “H/C”, meaning “hors de commerce”, not for sale – usually a print that is generally reserved for the publisher like an Artist’s Proof. The printer is also often allowed to take some impressions for them; these are marked with “PP”. Finally, a master image may be printed, against which the members of the edition are compared for quality; these are signed-off as “bon à tirer”, or “BAT” (“good to print” in French). Sometimes the number of the main, public, edition can be rather misleading – representing 50% or less of the total number of good impressions taken.

Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations; these images are also called engravings.

Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper, both in artistic printmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines. It has long been replaced by photography in its commercial applications and, partly because of the difficulty of learning the technique, is much less common in printmaking, where it has been largely replaced by etching and other techniques.

Traditional engraving, by burin or with the use of machines, continues to be practiced by goldsmiths, glass engravers, gunsmiths and others, while modern industrial techniques such as photoengraving and laser engraving have many important applications. Engraved gems were an important art in the ancient world, revived at the Renaissance, although the term traditionally covers relief as well as intaglio carvings, and is essentially a branch of sculpture rather than engraving, as drills were the usual tools.

Other terms often used for printed engravings are copper engraving, copper-plate engraving or line engraving. Especially in the past, engraving was often used very loosely to cover several printmaking techniques, so that many so-called engravings were in fact produced by totally different techniques, such as etching or mezzotint.

Engravers use a hardened steel tool called a burin to cut the design into the surface, most traditionally a copper plate. Gravers come in a variety of shapes and sizes that yield different line types. The burin produces a unique and recognizable quality of line that is characterized by its steady, deliberate appearance and clean edges. The angle tint tool has a slightly curved tip that is commonly used in printmaking. Florentine liners are flat-bottomed tools with multiple lines incised into them, used to do fill work on larger areas.

In traditional engraving, which is a purely linear medium, the impression of half-tones was created by making many very thin parallel lines, a technique called hatching. When two sets of parallel-line hatchings intersected each other for higher density, the resulting pattern was known as cross-hatching. Patterns of dots were also used in a technique called stippling, first used around 1505 by GiulioCampagnola. Claude Mellan was one of many 17th century engravers with a very well-developed technique of using parallel lines of varying thickness (known as the “swelling line”) to give subtle effects of tone.

The engraving’s Anglo-Saxon codes are:
C1= Intaglio printing
C2= Copper engraving
C3= Etching
C4= Dry point
C5= Aquatint
C6= Soft ground
C7= Mezzotint
C8= Steel engraving
X= Relief printing
X1= Woodcut
X2= Wood engraving
X3= Linocut
X4= Plaster cast
X5= Zinc engraving
X6= Cardboard engraving
L= Lithography
S= Silkscreen
H= Photogravure
M= Monotype
O= Offset
Tm= Mixed media
Comp= Computer

The Etching Revival is the name given by at the time, and by art historians, to the renaissance of etching as an original form of printmaking during a period of time stretching approximately from 1850 to 1930.




Prints that are gifted to someone, or are for some reason unsuitable for sale, are marked H.C. or H/C, meaning “hors commerce”, not for sale –usually a print that is generally reserved for the publisher like an Artist’s Proof.


In the printmaking process each piece produced is not a copy but considered an original since it’s not a reproduction of another work of art and is technically known as an impression.

Any handwriting on a print or drawing is not a signature; if an artist’s name is said to be ‘inscribed’, the inference is that it has been added by someone else. An inscription may be a note by the artist, or by a later owner; or it may have been on the sheet before the artist used it.


In the 1860s, just as the Japanese themselves were becoming aware of Western art in general, Japanese prints began to reach Europe in considerable numbers, and became very fashionable, especially in France. They had a great influence on many artists, notably ÉdouardManet, Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Félix Vallotton and Mary Cassatt. In 1872 Jules Claretie dubbed the trend “Le Japonisme”.

Though the Japanese influence was reflected in many artistic media, including painting, it did lead to a revival of the woodcut in Europe, which had been in danger of extinction as a serious art medium. Most of the artists above, except for Félix Vallotton and Paul Gauguin, in fact used lithography, especially for colored prints. See below for Japanese influence in illustrations for children’s books.

Artists, notably Edvard Munch and Franz Masereel, continued to use the medium, which in Modernism came to appeal because it was relatively easy to complete the whole process, including printing, in a studio with little special equipment. The German Expressionists used woodcut a good deal.



The Little Masters is a term for a group of several printmakers, who all produced very small finely detailed engravings for a largely bourgeois market, combining in miniature elements from Dürer and from Marcantonio Raimondi, and concentrating on secular, often mythological and erotic, rather than on religious themes.


Any area outside the plate-mark of an intaglio print, or outside the printed border of other types of print. Before the 18th century single-sheet prints were almost invariably trimmed to their borders or plate-marks by collectors. A print trimmed just outside the plate-mark is often referred to as having ‘thread margins’.

Prints are usually measured in centimeters or millimeters, height preceding width. Normally the entire sheet is measured, but occasionally the term ‘sight size’ may be encountered. This means that the person measuring the print was unable to see the full extent of the sheet (perhaps because of a mount or frame) and so only what could be seen was measured.

Intaglio prints are measured to the plate-mark, but if this has been trimmed away the sheet is measured instead. Woodcuts, lithographs and screen-prints are measured to the widest point of the image.

Is a character usually composed of the initial letters of a name, frequently interwoven. Monograms are often found in the place of signatures on prints.



An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition (European or New World). A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term. The main techniques concerned are woodcut, engraving and etching, although there are others. With rare exceptions, old master prints are printed on paper.

An open edition is a printmaking work limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears.



Paper is a thin material mainly used for writing upon, printing upon or for packaging. It is produced by pressing together moist fibers, typically cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses, and drying them into flexible sheets.

Popular Prints is a term for printed images of generally low artistic quality which were sold cheaply in Europe and later the New World from the 15th to 18th centuries, often with text as well as images. They were the firs mass-media.

The printer is also often allowed to take some impressions for them, these are marked with PP.

In the printmaking process, this is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print.

An artist’s proof can also be printer’s proofs which are taken for the printer to see how the image is printing, or are final impressions the printer is allowed to keep; but normally the term “artist’s proof” would cover both cases.

Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing, normally on paper. Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints with an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a “print”. Each piece produced is not a copy but considered an original since it’s not a reproduction of another work of art and is technically known as an “impression”. Printmaking (other than monotyping) is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple copies, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to.

Prints are created from a single original surface, known technically as a matrix. Common types of matrices include: plates of metal, usually copper or zinc for engraving or etching; stone, used for lithography; blocks of wood for woodcuts; linoleum for linocuts; and fabric plates for screen-printing.

Works printed from a single plate create an edition; in modern times usually each signed and numbered to form a limited edition. Prints may also be published in book form, as artist’s books. A single print could be the product of one or multiple techniques.

A true proof is an impression taken before work on the block or plate is complete. These are known as ‘working’ or ‘trial’ proofs, or, if corrected by hand by the artist, ‘touched’ proofs. The term proof is also often loosely and misleadingly used as a synonym for impression.



Originally a sketch made by the artist on the margin of an etched plate and often unrelated to the main composition. The practice was begun in the 17th century as a means of testing the strength of etching acid on a plate before risking the biting of the main design, and was normally burnished out before printing the final edition. In the 19th century, ‘remarque proofs’, in which the Remarque served no purpose at all, were specially created as a method of multiplying artificial rarities for collectors.


The terms special edition, limited edition and variants such as deluxe edition, collector’s edition and others, are used as a marketing incentive for various kinds of products, originally published products related to the arts, such as books, prints or recorded music and films, but now including cars, fine wine and other products. A limited edition is restricted in the number of copies produced, although in fact the number may be very low or very high. A special edition implies there is extra material of some kind included.

A state, in printmaking, is a different form of a print, caused by a deliberate and permanent change to a matrix such as a copper plate (for engravings) or woodblock (for woodcut).

Artists often take prints from a plate (or block, etc.) and then do further work on the plate before printing more impressions (copies). Sometimes two states may be printed on the same day; sometimes several years may elapse between them.

States are usually numbered in Roman numerals: I, II, III…, and often as e.g.: “I/III”, to indicate the first of three recorded states. Some recent scholars refine the work of their predecessors, without wishing to create a confusing new numbering, by identifying states like “IIa”, “IVb” and so forth. A print with no different states known is catalogued as “only state”.

Most authorities do not count accidental damage to a plate – usually scratches on a metal plate or cracks in a woodcut block – as constituting different states, partly
because scratches can disappear again after being printed a number of times.

In modern prints, a distinction is made between proof states or working proofs, which are produced before the print is regarded as finish, and other states. This is usually possible because modern prints are issued in editions, usually signed and numbered. In the case of old master prints, before about 1830, this was not usually the case, and proof state is only used when the print is clearly half-finished. However, most “artist’s proofs” are impressions of the main state which are not counted in the main limited edition numbers, and are taken by the artist; they are therefore from the same state as the main edition.


Is the degree of lightness or brightness (as well as darkness) of a color.

A proof may show a clearly incomplete image, often called a working proof or trial impression, but in modern practice is usually used to describe an impression of the finished work that is identical to the numbered copies.



A small ornamental engraving or design chiefly used in book illustration. Its essential feature is that it has no defined border (the edges shading off into the surrounding paper). When a vignette occurs at the end of a passage, it can be called a ‘tail-piece’ or a ‘cul-de-lampe’.


Devices used by paper manufacturers, the earliest being found in Italian paper of the late 13th century. The device is made of wire and sewn onto the mould; it leaves an impression on the paper by making it thinner and hence more translucent. Watermarks can usually be easily seen when the sheet is held up to the light. Indications of the date and area of origin of the paper can often be deduced from the watermark by consulting one of the many dictionaries of watermarks that have been compiled.