Art Terms

                                                                                                                                             Art Terms
I have provided definitions for most terms I use on my website. For a more comprehensive resource, I recommend Wikipedia or the Art Glossary on

Aquatint – Like etching, aquatint uses the application of a mordant (eg. an acid) to etch into the metal plate. Where the engraving technique uses a needle to make lines that print in black (or whatever colour ink is used), aquatint uses powdered rosin to create a tonal effect. The rosin is acid resistant and typically adhered to the plate by controlled heating. The tonal variation is controlled by the level of mordant exposure over large areas, and thus the image is shaped by large sections at a time.

Assemblage – An artwork created by combining disparate materials, usually used in reference to sculptural objects.

Block Print – A piece of printed material made using the block printing technique. The printer carves the design to be printed into a solid block such as wood or linoleum.

Chine-collé – A special technique in printmaking, in which the image is transferred to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support in the printing process. One purpose is to allow the printmaker to print on a much more delicate surface, such as Japanese paper or linen, which pulls finer details off the plate. Another purpose is to provide a background colour behind the image that is different from the surrounding backing sheet.
The final image will depend on the design and ink color of the printed image, the color and opacity of the paper to which the image is directly printed (plus any inclusions such as petals or fibers in that paper), and the color of the backing sheet.

Collage – A composition made by gluing bits of paper or other material which have been drawn, painted or printed and are adhered to a substrate.

Digital Photomontage – A composition made by digitally combining photographs. See photomontage.

Digital Print – When artists use computers to create and manipulate their works, a large-scale ink jet printer can be used to print the works. These complex printers use a sophisticated print head to disperse the ink on the paper in a fine mist in order to deliver a consistently toned image. A digital print is only considered to be an “original print” if it was created by the artist to be realized specifically as a print. (International Fine Print Dealers Association). NB: All of my digital prints are original prints.

Edition – The name given to a set number of prints of the same image. In the early days of printmaking, the number of prints pulled from a plate was not limited; as long as there was demand and the plate had not worn out, prints were made. See Limited Edition and Open Edition. Can also be used as a verb, to edition, i.e. to create an edition of prints.

Etching – A print in which the lines of the drawing are incised into a metal plate and bitten or “etched” in acid.

Fine art print – This is a print term without a specific definition but rather a general term that could mean any number of things: a print of a “fine art” image; a print by a “fine artist”; a print on a “fine art” paper; a print made by a “fine art” print studio; etc. When establishing the value of a print, a description that it is a “fine art print” does not give any specific information. In order to properly identify a print, the print method must be indicated as well as whether it is an open edition print or a limited edition print.

Giclee Print – A term coined for use in the art world to refer to a very high resolution inkjet print made with archival inks. Derived from the French word, GICLÉE, loosely translates as sprayed, squirted or spurted, to describe the way an inkjet printer applies a fine mist of ink droplets onto the substrate in printing the image. In my work I use only pigmented inks which have far superior lightfastness than dye-based inks. Giclees have been widely adopted by artists in the last few years as a reliable method of producing archival quality prints. Although first introduced at least ten years ago, materials and methods have vastly improved in recent years to the level that giclees can be found in major museums around the world.
It is important to note that a giclee print is not necessarily a reproduction print. A reproduction is a copy of an artwork that exists in another form. For example, if a high resolution scan or photograph was taken of an oil painting which was then used to make a print, the resulting print would be a “reproduction.” If, on the other hand, a print was made from an original digital artwork that did not exist in any other form, then the resulting print would be an “original”.
Inkjet Print – A print made by an inkjet printer. Inkjet printers are the most common type of consumer printers. Due to vast improvements in recent years to the quality of the printed image and the increased lightfastness of the inks, inkjet prints have been widely adopted by fine artists to print their work. Inkjet technology involves spraying very fine drops of ink onto a sheet of paper, canvas or other substrate. These droplets are “ionized” which allows them to be directed by magnetic plates in the ink’s path. As the paper is fed through the printer, the print head moves back and forth, spraying thousands of these small droplets onto the page. See Giclee.

Lightfastness – Resistance to light and especially, sunlight.
Further Reading:
Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. (WIR) conducts research into the stability and preservation of digital color photographs and prints made with digital technologies. Widely considered to be the global leader in this field, it has a number of articles published on its website. The company’s comprehensive test methods have become the de facto industry standard and have been adopted by Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Canon, and many other leading printer manufacturers. Typically high quality inkjet prints made today have a life expectancy of about 150-200 years.

Limited Edition Print – In the late nineteenth-century, the practice of limiting an edition became commonplace as a marketing tool to create exclusivity for a given image. A total number of prints in an edition would be decided on and the artist would sign and number the prints accordingly: 7/50 denotes the seventh print in an edition of fifty. The plate or block would be destroyed after the edition was complete, an act known as ‘cancelling’. This would assure the collector that no further copies of the image could be made.
Many prints are still created today using traditional printmaking methods that employ the above conventions. However, there are also many artists who produce digital prints where no plate or block exists to be cancelled and there is no physical reason, such as the deterioration of the plate, to stop pulling prints of the image. Conceivably, the computer file used to produce the print could be deleted and efforts could be made to destroy all known copies of the file. Ultimately, however, it is the reputation of the artist and their printer who will guarantee adherence to a limited edition.
In today’s contemporary art market, it is not uncommon for artists and photographers to produce as few as three to five images in an edition.
A limited edition print is typically signed by the artist, dated and numbered. Sometimes a portion of the total number of prints is set aside for the artist’s use — more than ten percent of the total would be irregular. These are called Artist’s Proofs and are labelled A/P. Historically these were the first prints pulled as test prints for the artist to approve with several “good ones” reserved for the artist. When the artist was satisfied with the ink colour, density and so on, the print displaying the correct characteristics was labelled “B.A.T.” from the French bon à tirer, meaning “ready to pull” (print). This provided the printshop with a control print that each subsequent print needed to match. One or two prints were often given to the printshop as well, if the artist had contracted a printers to do their printing for them, and these prints were labelled “P.P.”, Printer’s Proofs. See Open edition.

Linocut (Linoleum Cut) – A printmaking technique, (a variant of woodcut) in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for a relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. The linoleum sheet is inked with a roller (called a brayer), and then impressed onto paper or fabric. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a printing press.

Lithography – Printmaking technique that begins with the artist drawing or painting an image with a grease crayon or ink onto a lith or stone. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798 who wrote a treatise on the subject in his books The Invention of Lithography and A Complete Course in Lithography.
Mixed Media – An artwork in which more than one medium has been employed. Many effects can be achieved by using mixed media. Found objects can be used in conjunction with traditional artist media to attain a wide range of self-expression.

Montage – A composition made by combining pictures or parts of pictures. Also used to describe motion picture effects produced by superimposing images or showing them in rapid sequence. From the French, monter, to mount. See collage.

Offset Lithography – A commercial planographic printing method based on the principle that water and grease do not mix. Widely used to produce posters.

Open Edition Print – An print edition that is not limited in quantity. Many posters and giclee reproduction prints are offered as open editions. See Edition.

Original Print – An original print has been created from a matrix, usually in limited edition, and does not exist in any other form, such as being a painting or drawing. The term original print is used in contrast to Reproduction Print.

Photomontage – A composition made by combining parts of photographs to form a new composite image. In digital photomontage the process occurs digitally using software designed for manipulating and editing photographs. Also known as photocollage.

Printmaking – Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have 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 print produced is not considered a “copy” but rather is considered an “original”. This is because typically each print varies to an extent due to variables intrinsic to the printmaking process, and also because the imagery of a print is typically not simply a reproduction of another work but rather is often a unique image designed from the start to be expressed in a particular printmaking technique. A print may be known as an impression. Printmaking (other than monotyping) is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple impressions, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to.
Prints are created by transferring ink from a matrix or through a prepared screen to a sheet of paper or other material. Common types of matrices include: metal plates, usually copper or zinc, or polymer plates for engraving or etching; stone, aluminum, or polymer for lithography; blocks of wood for woodcuts and wood engravings; and linoleum for linocuts. Screens made of silk or synthetic fabrics are used for the screenprinting process. Other types of matrix substrates and related processes are discussed below.
Multiple impressions printed from the same matrix form an edition. Since the late 19th century, artists have generally signed individual impressions from an edition and often number the impressions to form a limited edition; the matrix is then destroyed so that no more prints can be produced. Prints may also be printed in book form, such as illustrated books or artist’s books.

Relief Printing – A family of printing methods where a printing block, plate or matrix that has had ink applied to its surface, but not to any recessed areas, is brought into contact with paper. The areas of the printing plate with ink will leave ink on the paper, whereas the recessed areas of the printing plate will leave the paper ink-free. A printing press may not be needed, as the back of the paper can be rubbed or pressed by hand with a simple tool such as a brayer or roller.

Reproduction Print – A reproduction print is a copy of an artwork that exists in another form. For example, if a high resolution scan or photograph was taken of an oil painting which was then used to make a print, the resulting print would be a “reproduction.” If, on the other hand, a print was made from an original digital artwork that did not exist in any other form, then the resulting print would be an “original” print. See Original Print.

Substrate – The surface which receives the printed image, i.e. paper, canvas, or any variety of materials that can be printed on. The supporting surface for an artwork.

Tradigital – Art that combines both traditional and computer-based techniques to create an image.

Woodcut – A relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print. The block is cut along the wood grain (unlike wood engraving, where the block is cut in the end-grain). The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.
Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks (using a different block for each color).