Ways of Making Fine Art Prints

Printing is the process of transferring ink from matrix to paper. Commonly, matrices are made by cutting wooden blocks, incising or chemically processing metal plates, but a matrix can be almost any surface that accepts ink the same way each time it’s applied. To make each impression—each individual print—the matrix or plate is inked and printed by pressing a sheet of paper against it. In some types of printing a press must be used, in others, hand pressure is enough.

There are only four ways of printing mechanically (as opposed to electronically): relief, intaglio, planographic, and stencil. Relief and intaglio printing are done from three-dimensional matrices. In intaglio, the ink fills grooves of varying depths and is pulled out by damp paper under the pressure of a printing press, and in relief the ink is taken from the top surfaces. In planographic and stencil printing, the matrix is flat, two dimensional.


Robert Bechtle in the Crown Point studio, 2011


Intaglio is the printmaking method in which Crown Point has specialized since its founding in 1962. The unique beauty of this type of printing lies in its capacity to allow ink films of different thickness to be deposited on the paper at the same time. All other methods of printing deposit ink in uniform layers. A plate made for intaglio printing has grooves, or incisions, which can be of varying depths, and the printer fills these grooves with ink. He or she then wipes the plate surface clean, first with a cloth, then with the palm of the hand. Finally the printer covers the plate with a moist sheet of paper, and runs it through a press. The press forces the paper into all the depressions of the plate, and pulls the ink out to make the print.

At Crown Point Press, artists work with printers to develop plates for original works of art printed in editions. We call these multiple originals. Though the prints in an edition all look the same, they are not copies of one another any more than a twin is a copy of his brother. Artists often combine many different techniques on the same plate, and at Crown Point our printers use their skills to guide this complicated process. The printers help the artists to realize their best possible work in the medium of printmaking.

Etching, aquatint, engraving, and drypoint are the primary ways an artist marks the copper plates in intaglio printing. To learn more about these techniques and others, visit our printmaking website Magical Secrets.

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