Most people remember the potato prints of their childhood with delight – cut out a shape, dip in ink and just like that, the same pattern is repeated a hundred times. Most art print techniques are about just that: in a hard surface – the equivalent of the childhood potato, in art printing called the matrix – creating surfaces where paint will stick and others where it will not stick, resulting in a pattern when the hard material has been coated with printing ink and is subsequently pressed against paper.
The names are derived from where the ink sticks to the matrix. If it is on the raised areas of the matrix, it is a relief print. If it is in the depressions of a matrix, it is an intaglio print.
In recent years digital printing has become an accepted method for making art prints.
The log of a linocut by Ulla Wennberg
Relief printing is the technique of the childhood potato – removing material where you want to leave the surface white and then adding ink to the raised surfaces that are left.
Woodcuts and linocuts are examples of this technique The printing plate is called the log and in this, the image is carved by removing excess material. The artists who work with woodcuts today are often keen to keep the specificity of the wood in the final print. In older woodcuts however, the wood structure is often difficult to make out.
Classical letterpress printing, where old-school lead types are used to print, belongs to the group of relief printing.
Intaglio works in the opposite way. The artist uses a copper plate or another hard material to create the image in. The recessed parts are the ones that later will be filled with ink, contrary to the relief print where the raised parts carry the ink. When the plate and paper are pressed together in the printing press, the paper absorbs the color from the depressions of the plate. Etchings and drypoints are today the most common methods.
Etchings gets the name from etching with acids in a plate. First, the plate is covered by an acid-resistant foundation. Subsequently the artist removes the foundation in the places where he or she wants the acid to bite. This can be done with a plethora of different ingenious tools that give their own kind of expression. "Hard ground" means that the plate is treated with a mixture of wax, resin and asphalt, and then scraped away to bare the metal plate in the places where the artist wants the ink to adhere.
In drypoints, the artist uses a sharp needle to scrape the image in the surface of the plate. When the plate is coated with ink, it will stick to the tracks that the needle has left but also to the small traces of metal formed around the cuts, called the ”burr". This creates one of drypoint's characteristics, the softness of the lines.
In planographic prints the white and the inked surfaces are on a plane surface. Instead, other methods are used to determine where the ink will stick and where the paper will be left white
Lithography is the most common planographic printing method. Lito means stone in Greek, and lithographies are still today sometimes printed with stones. However, they have mostly been replaced by aluminum plates. The method is based on the fact that oil and water does not mix. When the printing ink is applied to the stone or plate, it will only adhere to the parts where the artist's motif has been fixed.
Stencil printing means that the ink is pressed through a material that allows the ink to pass through in some places, and prevents it from passing through in others.
Screen printing, called serigraphy when it comes to art prints, is the most common method. A mesh, traditionally made of silk but these days often made from synthetic material, is stretched on a frame. Stencils cover the part of the fabric that should not be letting ink through. Today stencils can be prepared photographically, which gives extremely precise results
Times are changing. The artist who 200 years ago etched with a sickle in a plate, is perhaps today clicking with a mouse on a computer. Digital high quality printing has become a way for artists working primarily digitally to get their works out into the real world. These prints go by many names, but ed. art has chosen to use the term "digital pigment prints". This is to emphasize that they have a digital origin and are printed using high quality, long-lasting pigments.
Almost all prints sold by ed. art are numbered. The numbering consists of two numbers, eg 23/45. This cryptic code means that the image you are looking at has been produced, or is planned to be produced, in a maximum of 45 copies. The copy you are looking at is the twenty-third in order.
Sometimes numbers are replaced by codes such as EA, AP or PP. Outside of the numbered edition, print rules offer the possibility to make copies for the artist and the printer. EA stands for épreuve d'artiste, the English equivalent is AP, artist's proof. These two abbreviations mean that the work you are looking at is part of the share that went to the artist. If it says PP, it comes from the sheets allotted the printer, the printer's proofs. These prints should not exceed 10 percent of the numbered edition.
A few prints sold by ed. art are not numbered. This is because the artists in these cases for ideological reasons have chosen not to. In the seventies the practice of numbering prints was out of fashion, art should be free and not bound by bourgeois shackles. Today, things have changed, but some maintain the practice of not numbering. However, these prints are produced in a technique which in itself guarantees that what you buy is handcrafted and cannot be multiplied infinitely.
Is an artwork earlier in the edition better, i.e. is 2/50 better than 45/50?
No. It is true that, for example, copper plates can wear, but today they are either reinforced to keep for a larger edition, or the size of the edition is adapted to the longevity of the plate. Neither is it always the case that the print signed no 1 was the first print to be printed. It might very well be the other way around.
Monotypes - unique prints
Some prints are unique and are not made in an edition. These are often called monotypes, where mono gives us a hint of what kind of prints we're talking about. Monotypes are often produced using an untreated plate or sheet of plexiglass, which is tworked on by the artist and then run through the printing press, to transfer the colour to the paper. The artist can not repeat this image in exactly the same way, which makes the print unique. Sometimes the artist chooses to number the prints 1/1 to emphasize the uniqueness.
Varied editions- E.V.
Many artists who print their own editions, instead of working with a printmaker, like to experiment during the printing process, thus varying the print within an edition. Prints that are made from the same medium (i.e. plate, stone or silkscreen frame) and are similar to each other but not identical can be numbered with the edition number and the letters E.V. This is short for the French édition variable, variable edition.
Works sold in editions should be signed by the artist to ensure that the artist has actually been involved in the process of making the artwork. The signature, which should be on the actual artwork, front or back does not matter, shows not only that the artis controls the size of the edition, but also that the artist has seen each individual print and approved it. When printing editions, it is often a printer that produces the edition, based on a proof that the artist and the printer have jointly developed. But after the printing is complete, the artist should sign all the works, to ensure that each print meets the artist's expectations.