What is an original print?

An original fine art print is the creation of a work of art, by an artist, in the print medium. What distinguishes it from printed reproductions is the artist’s direct participation in the creation of the image. Prints are produced by carving or drawing into a hard surface such as a wood block, metal plate or stone. This is known as the matrix. The surface of the matrix is inked and the image is transferred to the paper by applied pressure, creating an impression. The printed image that results is the exact reverse of that on the plate.* 


Lithographic Print

The Greek root of “Lithography” means writing on stone. Lithography is a process in which the printed and non-printed areas exist on the same plane. This type of print is made by drawing or painting with a grease crayon or liquid on to a limestone. The stone is chemically treated which fixes the image and makes the open stone areas receptive to water. When oil based ink is rolled onto the stone it will only adhere to the image areas. Because lithography is planographic the ink lies on the surface of the paper and appears smooth and uniform in tone. It is possible to use multiple colors in a lithograph, each color requiring it’s own stone or aluminum plate.


Intaglio Print

Intaglio printing requires that an artist’s drawing be incised into a metal plate. In this technique, acid or a pointed tool is used create the lines and tonal effects. After the image is drawn and etched, the plate is covered in ink which fill the incised lines and the surface is then wiped clean. Dampened paper is place on top of the plate and it is run through a press. The pressure forces the paper into the incised lines where they pick up the ink resulting in the slight raised character of the lines of the impression. The paper is often larger than the plate and the pressure from the press will often create an indention of the plate edges, or platemark. The different types of intaglio prints are distinguished by technique used: etching, aquatint, photogravure, engraving, drypoint and mezzotint.


Relief Print

Relief printing is a form of printing, such as woodblock or linoleum, in which the artist cuts away areas of the block. Ink is applied to the remaining, raised areas, paper is placed on top and pressure transfers the ink to the paper.



Monotype is a unique print made without the use of a fixed matrix, usually by painting and drawing on an unmarked metal or acrylic plate, which is run through the press. Though the process transfers most of the ink from the plate to the paper, second impressions called “ghosts” can be printed or used as ground for further invention.



Monoprints are essentially unique variants printed from a fixed matrix, adding ink to an already etched or carved plate, and printing an impression. By manipulating the ink on the plate in each successive printing, the artist creates a series of unique impressions.


The information on this page has been taken from several sources Chris Byrne Original Print , Susan Tallman The Contemporary Print and the International Fine Print Dealers Association definition of techniques.