print processes

 

There are all sorts of ways we can make prints, but they generally boil down to four ways to transfer the ink: intaglio, lithography, relief printing, and stencils.
Beeline 1 by Heather Page, etching, wood engraving, and drawing on mulberry, 12 inches x 12 inches
We make intaglio prints from textured plates that we have wiped with ink–meaning that we’ve pushed the ink into the plate’s crevices and wiped its surface clean.
 
To print the plate, we place it on an etching press and align a piece of softened paper (paper that’s been soaked in water and blotted) on top. We place backing papers and a set of wool blankets on top of the paper and crank the pile through the press. The press pushes the blankets and the softened paper down into the printing plate, transferring the ink and the texture of the plate to the paper, making a mirror image of the plate.
 
Aquatints, collagraphs, drypoints, engravings, etchings, mezzotints, and even relief blocks can be printed in intaglio. Beeline, above, is printed from three etched steel plates and one engraved wood block.
 
Here’s a video of Alfons Bytautas of Edinburgh Printmakers, Scotland demonstrating different types of intaglio platemaking methods as well as how a print is made: Etching at Edinburgh Printmakers

Madrid by Heather Page, lithograph on paper, 15 inches x 11.25 inches
We make lithographs from stones, grained metal plates, and polyester plates.
 
Lithography is a chemical process that happens on the surface of the stone or plate (the matrix). We use water-repellant materials like greasy crayons to create the image and then treat the rest of the matrix with cellulose gums and acids to make the non-image areas attract water.
 
To ink a lithograph, we moisten the surface of the stone or plate with a sponge and then roll over it with a greasy ink. The ink sticks to the image, but is repelled from the rest of the matrix.
 
To make a print, we place the stone or plate on a lithographic press and align a piece of paper to it. We then place backing paper and a plastic sheet called a tympan on top, spread some grease on the tympan to make it slide, and crank the pile through the press. The pressure transfers the ink to the paper, making a physically flat mirror image of the matrix.
 
Madrid, above, is a five plate lithograph made from photographic and hand-drawn metal plates.
 
Here’s a video of Phil Sanders of Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York, New York discussing the lithographic process: Pressure + Ink: Lithography Process
Women's Work by Heather Page, wood relief print and silk screen on pink gingham, 15 inches x 15 inches
Relief printing is printing the surface of an object, so pretty much anything can be a relief plate. We can print objects, flat cut-out shapes, as well as printing plates that we’ve carved, collaged, etched, etc.
 
To ink a relief plate, we can roll ink over the surface, paint ink on the surface, or push the plate into the ink.
 
Relief prints don’t tend to need as much pressure as intaglio and lithographic prints to transfer the ink. We can print them by hand, on etching presses, lithographic press, and letterpresses. And we can print them face up or down. When the printing paper is under the block, the print tends to have less texture to it. When the paper is on top of the block, much of the plate’s texture can transfer to the paper, along with the ink.
 
Women’s Work, above, was printed by hand on pink gingham from one woodburned and carved wood block, two silk screens, and a nicely scarred worktable.
 
Here’s a video on relief printing by Phil Sanders of Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York, New York: Pressure + Ink: Relief Process
Tectonic by Heather Page, silk screen and pochoir on paper, 15 inches x 15 inches
A stencil is something that blocks ink from reaching the thing we’re printing on–paper, fabric, a wall…
 
Stencils can stand alone, such as a design cut into a sheet of plastic, or be affixed to a mesh, like a silk screen or Japanese stencil, to allow for greater detail in the image.
 

We can print stand-alone stencils in a few of different ways:

  • As a pochoir print.
    • A pochoir print uses a stencil with the design cut out of it. We place the stencil directly on the thing we’re printing and brush, roll, spray, spatter, and/or sponge ink or paint through the stencil’s holes. The resulting print faces the same way as the stencil and carries the texture of the printing surface as well as the paint application method we use.
    • Tectonic, above, is a nine color print made from eight silk screens and one pochoir stencil.
    • Here’s a website from a pochoir exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library that goes into the particulars of the process: Vibrant Visions: Pochoir Prints in the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library
  • As a transfer.
    • By transfer, I mean that we apply paint, ink, etc. to the stencil itself, place it either on a printing plate or on the thing we’re printing, and then apply pressure to transfer the image to the printing surface. The resulting image is a mirror image of the stencil and can have a little texture, depending on the materials we use.
    • This is technically a relief print method, but we still call them stencils because we usually use cut-out shapes as our plates, and those shapes can be used to block ink AND print a shape at the same time.
  • As a blockout
    • In this case, we use a cut-out shape to prevent ink from reaching the printing paper. We can use this kind of stencil while printing any of the other print processes. Blocking stencils can also be made of materials that don’t totally block the passage of ink, like a loose-woven fabric, so that a pattern transfers to the printing paper in the shape of the stencil.
  • Here’s a video on transfer and blockout stencil printing in action: Pochoir printmaking tutorial, Mesa Arts Center, with David Manje

 
Daily Dose by Heather Page. Silk screen on vellum, 24 inches x 18 inches
Silk screen stencils can be more intricate than stand-alone stencils because the mesh of the screen holds the image together. Stencils can be cut out of paper and then stuck to a screen, hand-drawn or painted directly on a screen, or exposed on a screen using a photosensitive emulsion.
 
To print a silk screen, we usually start by fastening it to a printing table. Sometimes we use hinges and sometimes the screen fits into brackets on the table. We lift the screen and align our printing paper (or fabric, etc.) face-up underneath it. We also coat the screen with ink using a squeegee while the screen is up. This is called flooding the screen. We then lower the screen onto the paper and squeegee ink through the mesh with a little force. The ink squeezes through any part of the mesh that’s left uncovered, transferring a flat image onto the paper that faces the same way as the screen.
 
Daily Dose, above, is an eleven color silk screen print on vellum.
 
Here’s a video of Jimmy Nguyen making a silk screen at Supergraphic Studio in Durham, North Carolina: Screen Printing Basics

In addition, all of the above techniques for transferring ink can be used to make the following kinds of prints:

XII / Twelve by Heather Page, monotype on paper, 11 5/8 inches x 11 inches
Monotypes and monoprints are unique prints. We can make them using just one or a combination of the techniques mentioned above.
 
We make monotypes by drawing or painting on a surface (usually something non-porous like a blank printing plate or a piece of mylar) and then transferring the artwork to another surface with pressure.
 
XII/Twelve, to the left, is a monotype that started as a water soluble crayon drawing of fall leaves on Plexiglas. I printed multiple layers of thin ink washes on top of the transferred drawing and finished the piece with some drawing on top.
 
Here’s a video on monotype printing with Susan Rostow: Monotype Printing with Akua Inks

L'Électrisation du Nuage by Heather Page, woodburning, collage, silk screen, and relief print on silver-gilded paper on panel, 11 13/16 inches x 11 13/16 inches x 2 inches
We make monoprints when we include a printing plate or screen in a work of art. Monoprints can be prints that we draw on, thus making them unique. They can be created mostly through monotyping or mostly with printing plates.
 
L’Électrisation du Nuage, to the left, is a monoprint that began as a fragment of a silver-gilded relief print glued to a wood panel. I silk screened lichens in a variety of reds over the relief print and collaged digital prints of lichens on top. I then woodburned the digital print designs into the panel and finished with a little drawing and painting.

Here’s a video of the making of a series of Claerwen James monoprints at the Print Studio in Cambridge, England: Claerwen James Monoprint Screenprints at The Print Studio

Every kind of print plate or screen can be made photographically.

Key block transparency for High Peeks by Heather Page, digital print on frosted mylar, 24 inches x 18 inches
Almost all of the photographic methods we use start with what we call a transparency–an opaque image on a translucent sheet, like a negative. Unlike a negative, our transparency images must be the same size as the print. Transparencies can be hand-drawn, printed digitally, or created photographically. We can also just place objects directly on a photosensitive plate.
 
To the left is the transparency I used to make the key block for High Peeks. It’s a digital print on frosted mylar.

Key block for High Peeks by Heather Page, Solarplate, 24 inches x 18 inches
To transfer the image to a plate, we place a transparency face down on a photosensitive plate or screen and expose the two to ultraviolet light.
 
The simplest way to do this would be to put a piece of glass on top of the transparency and plate and stick the pile in the sun. Most of us, however, use an exposure unit, which vacuums out the air between the transparency and the plate (thus making the image sharper) and shines a bright, consistent light over the plate.
 
After we expose the plate, we develop it. Positive photo plates end up with an inking area that looks just like the transparency image, like the Solarplate to the right, which is the key block for High Peeks. Negative photo plates end up with an inking area that is the opposite of what is on the transparency.
Laser-engraved wood relief plates for Reverb by Heather Page, pine plywood, 24 inches by 18 inches by .5 inch
Some photographic processes don’t need a transparency.
 
Laser engravers and CNC routers work from digital image files like computer printers. We can use the former to make relief and intaglio plates and the latter to make relief plates.
 
To the left is one of the laser-engraved blocks I used to make Rondo.

Polyester lithographic plates for Reverb by Heather Page
Polyester lithographic plates can be printed on laser printers from digital image files.
 
To the right are polyester plates I used to create Aubade.

Below are videos showing how we use photographic techniques in a range of print media:

There are also some techniques that I commonly add to prints, but aren’t print types themselves:
Wedding Party by Heather Page, aquatint on paper, 11.25 inches x 15 inches
À la poupée (to the doll in French) is inking a printing plate, usually intaglio, in more than one color at a time. The poupée is the little ball of tarlatan we use to wipe each color into the plate.
 
Wedding Party, to the left, is an aquatint in four colors printed from one etched zinc plate.
 
Here’s a video of a printer wiping a plate à la poupée: Inking and wiping of Julie Mehretu’s “Unclosed” at Crown Point Press
I/Twelve by Heather Page, monotype on paper, 10 ½ inches x 9 ½ inches
Chine collé is collaging and printing at the same time. The collage papers are usually thin and add color and/or texture to a print.
 
We cover the collage paper in glue, place it on an inked plate glue side up, then place the printing paper on top, and run the pile through the press.
 
I / Twelve, to the left, has a piece of kinwashi (a thin asian paper with fibers scattered over it) glued over the top portion of the print. I/Twelve is a monotype created with watercolor crayons, oil-based inks, chine collé, and some drawing on top.
 
Here’s a video of Mark Lunning of Open Press in Denver printing with chine collé: Ken Elliott: Printing a two color etching with chine collé
Con Fuoco by Heather Page, wood relief print on copper-gilded mulberry paper, 60 inches x 26 inches
Gilding is the application of very thin sheets of metal to a surface. I use gold, silver, aluminum, brass, and copper leaf (the sheets of gilding) in my work. The leaf is so thin that it will float away if there are any air currents in the studio while I’m gilding.
 
The kind of gilding I do is called oil gilding, which means that I use a special adhesive to stick the leaf to my paper.
 
Leaf is really fragile. If I touch it, the texture and oil of my fingertips will mar it. If I breathe too hard, it will skitter away. If I brush it too hard while sticking it down, I’ll rip it. So, after I apply the adhesive to the paper I’m gilding, I don cotton gloves and go into what I call “zen mode”—a slow, methodical dance–while I gild.
 
The dance involves sliding a sheet of leaf onto my gloved palm and floating it over to where I want it. I then gently tap the leaf in place with a clean brush. As the adhesive dries, I go over the leaf I’ve placed again to make sure it’s completely adhered, and then burnish it once the adhesive has dried.
 
I like that gilding my papers makes them incredibly strong, that the metals reflect the colors around them, and that they react to their environment. Con Fuoco, above, is a monoprint made by gilding a sheet of mulberry in copper, printing a relief plate over the top in a clear ink, and then leaving the print in the acid room at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The exposed copper leaf reacted to the acid gasses in the room, turning the metal the darker copper color you see above. I then stopped the reaction by coating the entire print with gloss medium.
 
Here’s a video from www.gildedplanet.com on oil gilding: How to gold leaf, silver leaf and metal leaf with 3 hour oil size
Aubade by Heather Page, relief print and rubbing on copper-gilded paper, 77.5 inches x 20 inches
We make a rubbing by placing something hard and textured (in my case, a carved relief block) under a piece of thin paper and then rubbing drawing material like a crayon or a pencil over the paper. The drawing material picks up the high points of the object, making an image on the paper that faces the same way as the image or pattern on the object.
 
The darker copper color you see on Aubade, to the left, is a crayon rubbing over a large relief block. In addition to the rubbing, there are spots of relief printing on the front side of Aubade and a large relief print on its back made by printing the burnt wood from a set of laser-engraved plates.
 
Here’s a video from TJ Johnson on making a graphite rubbing of a leaf: Texture Rubbing Tip
Fantasie by Heather Page, relief print, wax grattage, rubbing, and drawing on aluminum-gilded mulberry paper, 60 inches x 11 inches
Grattage (from the French verb gratter, meaning to scratch) is a technique that involves scratching away layers to reveal what’s underneath.
 
In my case, I start by coating a sheet of gilded mulberry paper with a mixture of various waxes, ink, paint, and pigments. The gilding makes the paper nearly indestructible and makes it easier to scrape away the wax.
 
Next, I place a relief block under the paper and then carefully scrape away the wax with a razor blade. Any raised areas on the plate (including wood grain) get scraped away, leaving the parts of the plate that I’ve carved out.
 
The resulting image sits on the surface of the paper and displays the texture of the wax coating (I like leaving brush marks in my wax). It also faces the same way as the plate, unlike most print processes, and is considered a multiple, but not a print.
 
The wax grattage on Fantasie is all of the black areas you see in the image above. Fantasie is a monoprint on aluminum-gilded mulberry made with wax grattage, rubbing, relief printing, drawing, and painting.
 
Here’s a brief explanation of grattage and a little of its history: Modernist Encaustic: The Art & Science of Encaustic
Queen's Lace key block by Heather Page, detail image, woodburned and carved cherry, 16 inches x 16 inchesL'Électrisation du Nuage by Heather Page, detail image 1, woodburning, collage, silk screen, and relief print on silver-gilded paper on panel, 11 13/16 inches x 11 13/16 inches x 2 inches
Woodburning, also known as pyrography, is a method of drawing, cutting, and gouging using a heated metallic tool. 
The tip of the tool is interchangeable and comes in a variety of shapes, which make a range of different marks.
 
I use woodburning in my work both as a way to create texture on the surface of my pieces, as in L’Électrisation du Nuage to the right, and to carve or gouge my relief plates, as in the key block for Queen’s Lace to the left.
 
Here’s a video from TreelineUSA about woodburning pens and the marks they make: Razertip Wood Burning Basics from TreelineUSA.com

editions

An edition is a group of identical or nearly identical prints pulled from the same plates printed in the same sequence.

One set of printing plates may be used to print more than one kind of edition, which should be noted in the documentation that comes with a print. Likewise, the type and number of proofs made from the plates should be noted on the print documentation. Why is this important? It affects the price of the print. Less prints = a higher price.
 

Types of editions:

This is the standard edition which is usually numbered using Arabic numerals, such as 1/25. The number above is the number of the print. The number to the right is the number of prints in the edition.
 
As I mentioned above, there might be a second group of prints made from the same plates, usually numbered with roman numerals. Sometimes this denotes a restrike (the edition sold out and they made more). Sometimes this marks a split edition (see below).
Also known as a Varied Edition, this kind of group tends to use Arabic numerals followed by e.v. or v.e., depending on which language the printer likes to use, so it looks like 1/25 e.v.
 
A varied edition is a group of prints made from all of the same printing plates in the same order with slight variations. Variations may be in color…or maybe the artist tweaked a plate a little while printing…or there are bits of chine collé thrown in, etc.
 
Beeline is a varied edition. Even in these thumbnails, you can see the range in inking.

A split edition is two edition groupings with some major change between one group and the other. One set is usually numbered in Arabic numerals (1/25), the other in Roman (I/XXV).
 
Sometimes the artist likes two different palettes for the print and editions both. Other times, the artist likes two different papers so much that she editions both. Me, I push it a bit and tend to do both, plus add a print layer.
 
Lichens is a split edition.

Lichens by Heather Page, silk screen on paper, 6 inches x 6 inches
This is from the regular edition, which I made for a portfolio exchange.
Lichens by Heather Page, silk screen on paper, 6 inches x 6 inches
This is from the other edition, which I played with a little more. I varied the range of tones in the inks and also used a variety of papers–some handmade, some already printed.
Monoprints and monotypes are unique prints, so their edition numbers are always 1/1. However, both processes can make more than one print, the primary print and then subsequent ghost prints (anything printed from the plate after the first print). So you can often find groupings of monoprints and monotypes that are based on a shared plate, a shared theme, etc.
 
My Parlour Games series share a set of silk screen stencils and a limited palette:
 

proofs

Proofs are prints outside of the edition. Sometimes they look like the edition, sometimes not. It depends on the proof.
Working Proof A Working Proof, marked as #/# WP, is a print that the artist draws on in order to resolve the image.
 
Trial Proof A Trial Proof, marked as #/# TP, is a test print.
 
Color Trial Proof A Color Trial Proof, marked as #/# CTP, is a series of prints made to try out different color temperatures and combinations
 
State Proof A State Proof, marked as #/# 1st state (#/# 1er état in French), is a group of prints pulled from the printing plates before they are completed. You’ll see these marks on etchings quite often because the artist can easily ink and print the plate to check her progress. There’s no limit to the number of states one can print.
 
Bon à Tirer A Bon à Tirer (a.k.a. BAT or Good to Pull), marked as BAT or GTP, is the standard for the edition. When I print for other artists, the BAT is our contract acknowledging that the edition should look like this print and may have some notes on the back.
 
Artist’s Proof An Artist’s Proof, marked as #/# AP, is a print that is set aside for the artist. This practice makes more sense when the artist is working with a publisher and a printer. In such cases, the artist usually gets paid an artist’s fee up front and maybe a percent of the edition sales. Setting aside some prints as artist proofs is a way to give the artist some of the prints of her artwork without cutting into the edition.
 
Printer’s Proof A Printer’s Proof, marked as #/# PP, is another proof having to do with the print publishing industry. Often, artists don’t print their own work. Printers proofs are set aside for the folks who either printed or assisted in printing the artist’s work.
 
Publication Proof A Publication Proof (Hors de Commerce in French), marked as #/# HC, is a print that looks like the edition that is set aside to show to prospective buyers. These prints tend to get ruined by repeated touching and traveling and are meant to be destroyed once the edition is sold out.
 
___ Proof We also make up names for proofs when we are required to set aside prints for donors, community printshops, assistants, etc.