When you find an attractive image in a gallery, and they tell you it's a "print", there's something you should know.

You may want to ask, "Is it a print or reproduction?" Because, odds are, it's a reproduction. A?reproduction?is?an image produced by printing a digital photograph of an original work. Most "prints" currently on the market are reproductions, and for good reason. They can be produced cheaply and in abundance. Unfortunately, to call them "prints" (or, in some cases "giclee prints") is misleading, and unfair to the consumer.

On the other hand, a true artist's print is an original work.

A print is more authentic, durable, and valuable than a reproduction. The artist has produced it by hand, using one of a number of techniques, some traditional and some modern. He or she?(sometimes assisted by a master printer) will?usually print a?limited edition, using high quality materials that can last for centuries with careful handling.

Most artist's prints are printed on a press. However, designs carved in linoleum and wood?can be printed by simply burnishing, or rubbing the paper against the inked surface. To do so, the artist uses a flat tool, such as the back of a spoon, or a disk called a "baren." Wood and linoleum blocks can also be printed on a press.

Here is a woodblock print from my college days.

I carved, pounded, and scratched the wood to create the design. Then I inked it and printed it on a press.


A few decades later I created this multicolored print using a linoleum block, plus many cut-out pieces of mat board, which I inked individually. I fit them together like a jigsaw, printed the colors first , and then printed the lines (carved into linoleum) second.

Later still, I got interested in etching.

Here is one of my first efforts, produced in 1987 at the University of Alaska. Etchings are produced by creating a design on a piece of metal by scratching the surface, or by immersing the plate in a?chemical bath to "bite" the design into the metal. Then the artist inks the plate and prints it on a press. This process is also known as "intaglio." (It means "carving" in Italian, and refers to the fact that the ink goes into the scratches or the grooves?where the chemical bit into the plate.)
This etching. titled "Family Portrait", commemorates my time living on a boat in Kodiak with my young son, husband, and our dog. If it looks a little grim, well, it was!


Most etchings go through several "states" before the artist declares them finished. For example, ?I developed?this little etching by means of?several?revisions. For each revision, I re-immersed the plate in the bath of etching chemicals.


State 1


A state midway along the process, after a few trips back to the acid bath and the press


The seventh and last state.



Finally, here is the plate.

(The dark spot at upper left is my shadow, its 's hard to take a photo of such a reflective material.) I love working with copper.

I have written more about etching in other posts.

Here are some links for more examples and explanations:

About Prints, Collecting, Soft Ground Etching
Intaglio Printmaking at Crown Point Press
Soft Ground Etching Explained
A Return to Printmaking
Drypoint Etching, Simple and Direct
I also recommend the following paperback guide to artist's prints, available through?Amazon sellers or Crown Point Press:
Ink, Paper, Metal, Wood: How to Recognize Contemporary Artists' Prints, by Kathan Brown
You can find?online?videos on linoleum block printing. This one gives a good demonstration of the process:?Printing a Linocut with Maggie Stein
I hope this will give you some idea of the process of a genuine "print" made by a human printer, by hand or on a real mechanical press.


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