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Antique Print Terminology

Basic Print Techniques:

  • Engraving is the practice of incising a design onto a hard, usually flat surface (plate) by cutting grooves into it with a burin. Engraving is done with a burin, which is a small bar of hardened steel with a sharp point. It is pushed along the plate to produce thin furrowed lines, leaving "burr" or strips of waste metal to the side. This is followed by the use of a scraper to remove any burs, since they would be an impediment during the subsequent inking process. The result provides an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations.
  • Copper Engraving - Copper plates were the common medium up to about 1820 used for engraving. Copper, being a soft metal, was easy to carve or engrave and the plates could be used to strike a few hundred copies before the image began to severely deteriorate from wear. Engravers then reworked a worn plate by retracing the previous engraving to sharpen the image again. Another advantage to using copper is that it is a soft metal and can be corrected or updated with a reasonable amount of effort. For this reason, copper plates were the preferred medium of printing. 
  • Steel engraving is a technique for printing illustrations based on steel instead of copper. It was principally used in the 19th century. It is normally a combination of etching and true engraving, with etching becoming dominant in later examples, after the technique became popular in the 1830s. 
  • Mezzotint is a printmaking process of the intaglio family, technically a drypoint method. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line- or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. Mezzotint achieves tonality by roughening a metal plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth, called a "rocker". In printing, the tiny pits in the plate retain the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. This technique can achieve a high level of quality and richness in the print.
  • Stipple engraving is a technique used to create tone in an intaglio print by distributing a pattern of dots of various sizes and densities across the image. The pattern is created on the printing plate either in engraving by gouging out the dots with a burin, or through an etching process. Stippling was used in addition to conventional line engraving and etching for over two centuries, before being developed as a distinct technique in the mid-18th century.
  • Chromolithographybecame the most successful of several methods of color printing developed in the late 19th century. The initial technique involved the use of multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, and was still extremely expensive when done for the best quality results. Depending on the number of colors present, a chromolithograph could take even very skilled workers months to produce.
  • Aquatint is an intaglio printmaking technique, a variant of etching that only produces areas of tone rather than lines. For this reason it has mostly been used in conjunction with etching, to give outlines.[1] It has also been used historically to print in color, both by printing with multiple plates in different colors, and by making monochrome prints that were then hand-colored with watercolor. It has been in regular use since the later 18th century, and was most widely used between about 1770 and 1830, when it was used both for artistic prints and decorative ones. After about 1830 it lost ground to lithography and other techniques. There have been periodic revivals among artists since then. An aquatint plate wears out relatively quickly, and is less easily reworked than other intaglio plates. 
  • Hand-Coloring is used to achieve vividness. Prints after engraving were often hand colored. Intaglio prints are sometimes over-painted to add color. One can identify a hand-colored, or hand painted, work by looking at the borders between colors. A hand-colored work will demonstrate small flaws, such as color overlaps or imprecise lines. Prints done in color will have more accurate borders and solid edges.
  • Pochoir is a stencil-based printing technique which became popular from the late 19th century through the 1930's, with its center of activity in Paris. It was primarily used by illustrators and designers to create expensive prints.
  • Giclee, is used to describe a fine art digital printing process combining pigment based inks with high quality archival quality paper to achieve an inkjet print of superior archival quality, light fastness and stability, Original prints out of copyright can be reproduced using Giclee printing at little cost. Since there is no limitation to the amount of copies that can be reproduced there is no collectible value associated with Giclee reproduced prints. 
  • Print Paper Quality is very important. Up to the nineteenth century, paper was almost exclusively made from cotton or linen rags. The rags were soaked and stirred in vats until the fibers separated into a pulpy mixture. The mixture was used to make sheets of paper. In the nineteenth century, wood pulp paper was developed, which used wood fibers. Paper made of wood pulp is easier and less expensive to produce. However, rag paper  is superior. The fabric fibers are longer and makes rag paper stronger. Wood pulp paper is usually acidic, and contains significant amounts of lignin, which reacts to light and oxygen by yellowing. Rag paper is naturally non-acidic. Prints that are hundreds of years old are frequently found in pristine condition, while prints that are less than a century old are often brown and brittle.
  • Foxing is an age-related process of deterioration that causes spots and browning on old prints. It is reddish-brown color of the stain or the rust chemical ferric oxide which may be involved. Paper so affected is said to be "foxed". Although unsightly and a negative factor in the value of the paper item for collectors, foxing does not affect the actual integrity of the paper. Other types of age-related paper damage include destruction of the lignin by sunlight and absorbed atmospheric pollution, typically causing the paper to go brown and crumble at the edges, and acid-related damage to cheap paper such as newsprint, which is manufactured without neutralizing acidic contaminants.
  • Print Release - Antique prints were typically issued in monthly issues or fascicles by subscription. It later became popular to bind them into leather book covers