Limited edition prints come in a variety of forms which involve different forms of reproducing an image of an original artwork. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist which forms an edition. The size of limited print-run is determined by the artist and can range from very low numbers to hundreds, or more.
The edition may include a smaller number of artist’s proofs (AP), or a printer’s proofs (PP). Traditionally, an APs and PPs were something an artist or the printmaker would hold onto as test proofs or for personal value, however this practice is no longer as common as printmaking techniques have vastly advanced in the past century. These APs and PPs now more commonly form a part of the print run but are not a part of the numbered edition.
Below we explore the various printmaking techniques:
Also known as a digital print, it is a truly modern process. Using purpose-built machines using archival quality inks and paper, this process produces a finely detailed, high-quality fine art print of an original artwork. The word giclée comes from French verb ‘to spray’ and is pronounced jee-glay.
Pictured below are Sara Langdon’s giclee prints from her 2021 original works.
Screenprints are often referred to as a ‘silkscreen’ due to the material traditionally used in the process. Screenprinting is a printmaking technique that was widely adopted by artists in the 1950s. Generally, ink or paint is forced through a screen with a squeegee onto non-blocked regions of high-quality paper, such as 100% cotton or rag paper. In a successive layering process, different areas of the print surface are expertly covered or exposed, and a new colour is forced though the screen to create the desired composition. The effect produces a bold and defined print.
Michael Smither, Oranges in a Seagrass Basket (2019), Screenprint.
An etching is produced by incising lines with a stylus into a thin metal sheet (traditionally made of copper, zinc, or iron) that has been coated in an acid-resistant wash, known as the ‘ground’. Once the composition has been etched into the surface of the sheet, it is immersed in an acid bath, with the acid eating away only at the lines which have been etched, thanks to that acid-resistant ‘ground’. This process can be repeated several times, and the amount that the sheet is exposed to acid equates to how much of the metal will be ‘bitten’ away, allowing for more ink to flood the recesses. Once the artist is happy with the composition, they can wipe away the chemical ground and rub inks or paints upon the surface of the metal sheet. This then gets pressed upon paper with force through a press, and the image is transferred to the surface of the paper, creating a print.
An excellent description of this process is provided by The MET Museum.
Mary Taylor, Kea Portrait, etching.
Polymer Photogravure Etching
An image is transferred onto a printing plate which is etched and inked. The image is exposed to UV light which enables the transfer from the plate and onto the paper. Polymer photogravure etching is essentially a modernised method of the traditional intaglio printing process (see etching above), however in present day, non-toxic materials are used which differs from the traditional method involving highly toxic substances. Like most printmaking methods, is a hands-on and labour intensive process. The print is of archival quality and as a result would be expected to last hundreds of years.
The process is the similar for solar etchings.
Gretchen Albrecht, Ebb Tide (2016), polymer photogravure etching.
Lithographs are another printmaking technique where traditionally, the artist would draw upon a stone surface with a specialised lithographic pen (the term ‘litho’ is derived from the Greek word for stone). Chemicals are then applied to the surface which reacts with the medium which the artist created their image, enabling the image to remain and attract ink. In the present day, artists will generally draw upon an aluminium plate. Lithographs tend to be monochromatic, as any other colour incorporated requires the use of a new plate. The modern process of lithography for print reproductions is similar to the above polymer photogravure method, using a photograph which is then exposed to a light-sensitive surface for image transfer.
Grahame Sydney, Dee Standing (2010), stone lithograph.
The image that is to be reproduced is transferred onto a wooden block which allows for the negative space within composition to then be carved away, like a relief carving or a rubber stamp. The printer or artist then applies paint or ink to the raised area of the woodblock which when pressed onto the prepared paper transfers the image.
Same as above, but with linoleum, opposed to wood.
Annie Smits Sandano, Fantail Wreath (n.d.), Woodcut print on paper.