A print is any work of art made in multiple iterations, created through the transfer of an image from one surface to another.
The printing press was invented in the mid 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany and revolutionised how information was shared and disseminated. This introduced a wave of mass communication that altered society drastically.
Artists adopted and developed the technology in many different ways to create fresh methods of artistic production which were more repeatable. Instead of having a single artwork, artworks could be produced as 'editions', making them more affordable to produce and also buy.
Johannes Gutenburg - Printing Press - Image Source - Publishistory
At its most basic, a print is an image that is not directly produced onto a canvas, but imprinted or transferred from one surface to another, usually onto thick paper. Prints can be either 'original' or reproductions'.
Traditionally, up until about the 1980's - prints could only be manufactured using mechanical techniques. Artists would create an image on a physical template such as a metal plate or a woodblock, and then work with a skilled printer or printing studio to transfer the image to paper producing the editions. Only a limited number would ever be produced as the template began to deteriorate, thus original prints only came, and continue to come in 'limited editions'.
While all the editions come from the same template, they are not necessarily identical. For each edition, paint or ink is reapplied to the template before being pushed through the printing press, and so each comes out slightly differently. This makes them fundamentally unique. Each print is usually signed by the artist and also given an edition number, typically written as a fraction — for example, 12/40 - indicating this artwork is the 12th edition in a limited edition size of 40.
Some of the most famous artists of the 19th/20th Century used traditional printmaking techniques to produce their iconic artworks. Take for example Pablo Picasso's cubist portraits, Andy Warhol's screen-prints of Marilyn Monroe or even Edvard Munch's 'Scream'.
Andy Warhol - Collection of Marilyn Monroe Screenprints.
With the advancement of digital technology in the late 20th Century, artists began to produce artwork digitally - using computer programmes or blending photography. This meant that the resulting prints were also produced digitally through inkjet printers, rather than being hand-pulled. Because the intention of the artist was always to create a print - these are now also considered 'original prints'.
Example from Chuck Elliot - Quad Turquoise Aegis - Metallic Lambda photographic print on a laser cut circular metal mount.
Reproduction prints are always produced digitally because they are in essence copies of original artworks. Using high resolution scanners and advanced inkjet printers, good-quality reproductions of original artworks can be produced in limited editions or unlimited editions - called 'open editions'.
You'll often find reproductions of famous works available to buy for very affordable prices because they are part of an open edition. Contemporary artists may also produce reproductions of their work - but will often limit production to 100 or 200 editions to maintain the value and exclusivity of the work. Depending on the mixture of print and paper quality, you'll find prices varying quite significantly.
A common printing method is Giclée (pronouced gclay) - a fine art printing process which combines pigment based inks with high quality paper, often cotton rag paper, bartya paper, or canvas. The combination of the paper and the printing process give the print a textured feel which gives it a feel much closer to an original. Giclée's are normally limited edition prints, rather than open edition prints.
Example from Iain Faulkner - A break in the Journey - Giclée print - Signed limited edition of 150.
Now you know the difference between an original print and a reproduction it's now time to talk about the different types of original print! Traditional original prints can be made using a wide variety of techniques, but you'll likely encounter 5 main types.
The most common relief processes are woodcuts or linocut. In this process, artists will carve a design into a wooden or linoleum panel and then roll ink onto the surface. The canvas or paper is then placed on top of the panel, and pressure is applied. The image that transfers comes from the raised parts of the design on the panel, and not the gauged parts.
The Malignant Moon of the Palouse by Patrick Siler, Woodcut.
Born in the Soviet Union by Peeter Allik, Linocut. Photo credit: Studija
This form of printmaking is one of the true originals and oldest forms of printmaking. Originating in China after the invention of paper around 105 AD, relief printing didn’t appear in Europe until the 15th century, coinciding with the importation of paper. One of the first widespread uses of relief printing in Europe was actually through typewriters, where embossed letters rolled in ink created stamp marks on paper.
Despite being one of the simplest and oldest techniques, woodcut is still very popular with contemporary artists today such as Robert Mangold, Frank Stella and Helen Frankenthaler. Below are some further examples of linocut and woodcut prints we represent, if you would like to see the full collection, click here.
Intaglio prints are in essence the opposite to relief prints. An image is cut into a surface and ink is then washed over. The areas that were cut will retain the ink, whereas the untouched surface (the most raised part of the surface) will be clean. Paper is then placed on top of the plate, and together they are squeezed through a printing press. The ink that was trapped in the incised areas will be pushed onto the paper, creating an image in reverse.
The different forms of intaglio printing all use this same basic technique but with subtle differences.
The Soldier and his Wife by Daniel Hopfer, Intaglio. Photo credit: History Wars
Transmigration by Ralph Slatton, Intaglio. Photo credit: Ralph Slatton
Intaglio printmaking emerged in Europe considerably later than other forms of print such as woodcut. One of the earliest known examples of this print is a design for playing cards in Germany. Using drypoint technique, these were probably created around the late 1430s. In modern day, intaglio is still used as a printmaking technique in niche commercial areas. For example, some currencies feature this method of printing in their bank notes. The lengthy process and unique outcome acts as a ploy to make them harder to duplicate.
The most famous artists to use intaglio printing were Rembrandt, Dürer and Brueghel the Elder. Later, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, amongst others, experimented with the medium. Contemporary artists continue to create prints in this manner, the most famous being Wayne Thiebaud. Check out a selection of the available intaglio prints below, if you would like to see more, click here.
Rather than carving into a physical medium such as a metal plate as with relief prints and intaglio prints, lithography is more similar to traditional drawing or painting processes. With this technique, an artist draws onto a stone (or also now aluminium) with a grease-based medium such as lithographic crayons or a greasy ink known as tusche. The stone is then treated with a chemical solution which ensures the areas which have been drawn upon attract printing ink, whilst the blank areas repel ink and instead attract water. The stone surface is then covered in a solvent that ‘fixes’ the image. When an oil-based ink is applied to the wet stone with a roller, the ink adheres only to the drawn image. As with the other printing techniques the paper and stone are placed in a press to transfer the image in reverse - here damp paper is used.
Offset lithography is similar to the traditional lithographic process, but involves further steps which preserve the quality of the plate. It involves printing the image onto an intermediate surface before the final sheet. The process is ‘offset’ because the plate does not come in direct contact with the paper. With offset lithography, the image is reversed twice, and appears on the final sheet the same way round as on the stone or plate.
Bulls by Pablo Picasso, Lithograph. Photo credit: Artyfactory
Afternoon Swimming by David Hockney, Lithograph. Photo credit: ARCHEUS / POST-MODERN
Lithography was invented in 1796 by German actor and author Alois Senefelder, initially using Bavarian limestone as the printing surface. Its original purpose was to cheaply publish theatrical works. The transferred ink onto the blank paper easily created a printed page. It was quickly adopted because it was possible to print a much wider range of marks and areas of tone than was possible with the earlier printmaking methods of relief or intaglio discussed above. It also made colour printing easier: areas of different colours can be applied to separate stones and overprinted onto the same sheet to create more complex results with more interesting results.
Lithography opened up printmaking to artists otherwise reluctant to learn the technical skills needed to create woodcuts or etchings, since many of the same tools, such as brushes and pencils, can be used.
Lithography was first made famous by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in the 19th century, but has been embraced by many of the major artists of the Post-War period, including Pablo Picasso, March Chagall, David Hockney, Pierre Bonnard, Jasper Johns and Joan Miró.
Below are some wonderful lithographs, view the full collection here.
Screenprinting is form of stencilling. An image is cut into a sheet of paper or plastic film, creating a stencil. The stencil is then placed on the paper and a meshed screen is placed over both. Paint is pushed through the porous fabric mesh onto the paper below using a rubber tool called a squeegee. The artist covers areas of the paper which they don't want to be covered with paint with the stencil whilst the exposed areas are painted with a desired design.
In addition to stencils, a photographic image can also be reproduced on the screen using light-sensitive gelatins. This innovation became the backbone of the work of Andy Warhol and other members of the Pop generation, who would appropriate commercial photographs and popular images and adapt and alter them with the technique.
Artists typically use paint rather than ink with this technique leading to more colourful results. It can be repeated over and over to achieve differing layers and colours to the work making it quite versatile and popular with many artists still to this day.
Big Electric Chair by Andy Warhol, Screen Print. Photo credit: Lets Explore Art
The Oval Office by Roy Litchenstein, Screenprint. Photo credit: Sothebys
Along with woodcut, this is one of the oldest printmaking techniques. This particular form of printing can be dated back to China in 221-618 AD where stencils were mainly used for the reproduction of images of Buddha. The Japanese developed this type of printing into an art form, refining the entire process they chose to stretch silk over a frame to serve as a hand cut stencil. This is why the phrase silkscreen is used interchangeably with screenprint, especially in America. In wasn't till the 15th century that the process made its way to the West however, and not till the 1950's that it became widely adopted and popularised by various pop art legends.
Artists who used this process include some of the most famous pop artists – Andy Warhol and Roy Litchenstein. In more recent times the process has been adopted by other Royal Academicians such as Barbara Rae and Bruce McLean. It is also favoured by textiles surface designers as the process works well when printing onto different materials.
Below you'll find a selection of contemporary screenprints, to browse the full collection click here.
Unlike most prints, this technique produces unique copies each and every time. It is favoured by artists because of the organic results and also offers unique textural quailties unlike other printing techniques. A downside is that is it only yields one print per prepared screen, making it a lengthy process.
Artists can either work positively or negatively. In the positive process - the artist paints or draws a design in ink or oil paint onto a flat polished surface such as glass or metal. The image is then transferred simply onto another material such as paper by pressing the two together by hand or through a printing press. In the negative process - the surface is entirely covered in ink and using cloths and rags ink is removed from desired areas, thus creates depth and differing tones in an image.
A monotype impression is typically features less vivid colours than other techniques of printing. However if a lighter impression is desired by the artist, maybe a more delicate image is their goal, then this technique is favoured.
Three Ballet Dancers by Edgar Degas, Monotype. Photo credit: MoMA
More Ugly More Self by Tracey Emin, Monotype.
One of the earliest artists who explored this type of print was Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (c. 1610-65). He made monotypes from copper etched plates. In the 19th Century, artists such as William Blake and Edgar Degas also experimented with this technique, this is turn further increased its popularity. In more recent years, YBA Tracey Emin has experimented with this technique, propelling its position in contemporary printing styles.
As mentioned above, Edgar Degas was one of the most famous proponents of this technique. Exploring themes such as ballet dancers, the monotype technique complimented his subjects leading to delicate outcomes. Also known for his monotype landscapes he embellished the prints with oil pastels to bring more colour and movement into the artworks. Jasper Johns, one of the greatest living print makers (87 at the time of writing this) also experimented with monotypes throughout his career enjoying their transient and almost painterly nature, instead focusing on everyday objects in still life-esque creations.
Below is a collection of contemporary monotypes, if you would like to view the full collection click here.
In modern day society where our world has shifted from pen and paper to digital platforms, methods of creating art as well as producing it have changed. Prints can now be produced digitally, rather than only through hand-pulled techniques and the results are improving year on year.
La Vida Sigue by Emilio Zurtuche, Digital. Photo credit: ArtsHaus
Wave (XL) by Dan Hillier, Digital. Photo credit: ArtsHaus
Digital printing has a relatively short history compared to other traditional techniques of printmaking. The first digital printing presses came onto the market in the early 1990s alongside the more widespread use of computers. They developed from a model of printing press which enabled mass production, created by german businessman Johannes Gutengerg in 1439.
With many artists adopting this method of production, it has raised issues regarding what is considered original prints. With the ease of printing multiple copies there has been much discussion as to whether these prints should be considered originals, especially given they can be printed en masse without much human intervention.
Contemporary artists such as Dan Hillier or Bonnie and Clyde create digital photo montages from clippings and cutouts which are then printed using digital techniques. Here the original artwork is created digitally before being printed digitally also and so they are regarded as original works.
In contrast, the famous duo known as The Connor Brothers produce original paintings which are then reproduced digitally using glicée printing. These prints cannot be given the title of 'originals' as they are reproductions of an original painting, however, given the scarcity and rareness of the originals, the prints have become a more affordable way of collecting their works. Given their production is limited to an edition of 100 or 200 works, they still retain their value and are signed by the artist for authenticity.
View the full collection digital prints here.
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