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What is Printmaking?

The idea conceived in an artist's mind can be translated into a work of art through an appropriate technique. Printmaking is a technical medium that allows expression through a language of marks and tones of infinite variation. The process is based on the principle of transferring an image from a base matrix onto another surface, allowing the artist to create multiple productions of a work. 


These are not copies or reproductions; rather each print is a unique piece guided by the artist’s hand and temperament. Every such print produced is considered as an original work of art, and is referred to as an ‘impression’ rather than a ‘copy’. An ‘edition’ is a collection of prints made at the same time. A first edition would be the first round of productions made- once these sell, to meet demands or on commission- the artist 


may choose to make a second edition, and so forth. 


Printmaking is believed to have originated in China in the first century AD during the Han dynasty. The methods and mediums have evolved with time, offering a spectrum of tones and techniques that have inspired and influenced artists, as well as commercial spheres such as graphic design and book publishing. 


Artists in particular have driven the medium forward by experimenting with the various processes in which ink is transferred from one surface to another. Different methods are also combined to arrive at stunning effects and results. Traditional printmaking techniques include woodcut, etching, engraving and lithography, with screenprinting finding favour in more recent times.

What is a Limited Edition?

Limited edition prints are special editions, where the artist produces only a fixed number of impressions of a work. These works offer the collector greater access to the artist’s work at much more affordable prices, but also hold the added advantage of increasing in value over time offering a sound investment. When you acquire a limited edition print, therefore, you are collecting a valuable work of art but with a more nominal initial 



Historically, artists have produced limited runs of their artwork from as far back as the 18th century. For example, the printmaker Francisco Goya (1746–1828) deliberately published small quantities of material that wore out over time, partly as a means of creating scarcity of his artwork. 


The popularity of limited edition artworks has grown significantly in recent years, driven by the rising popularity of alternative investments more generally. In 2018, revenues from art auctions reached $1.9 billion worldwide, with some art pieces selling for tens of millions of dollars.

Should you invest in Limited Edition prints and works?

Definitely ! Limited edition works and prints offer a unique opportunity and a sound investment for the seasoned collector as well as the occasional art enthusiast. The value of a work of art depends on many things- the artist's profile, the work itself, the medium, its genuineness and originality, the material longevity, and so on. As the price of art appreciates, the search for unique, original works that will stand the test of time physically and aesthetically becomes the decisive factor. For an art spectator, one of the primary questions that come to mind the present value of the work and its potential value in future. 


Investors have started realizing that prints have realized in value. Prints that are signed, numbered, and audited are a great investment as they are original, authentic works that are affordable for most collectors. In recent auctions, prints by Somnath Hore and Chittoprasad have fetched a few lacs. Further, prints of well-known artist such as Bhupen Khakkar are rarely available, adding value to them that is well appreciated by collectors.

Do certain kinds of prints hold additional value? 

During the printmaking process, the artist often creates certain prints to check for quality and output, adding tweaks as they move through the printing process. These trial proofs are sometimes made available for sale, and hold additional value, such as with artist proofs, bon à tirer proofs,  and trial proofs.


An artist proof is a print that the artist makes and keeps for themselves. This proof can then be used at galleries and art museums later on, even if all the copies in the limited edition are sold to private collectors. These proofs are not numbered but rather labelled AP (artist’s proof) or EA (épreuve d’artiste meaning artist’s proof). As these are less common and fewer in number and are not originally created for sale, these can be valued above other prints in the edition.


What techniques do printmakers use?

Fine prints can be made by different techniques- the matrix or the plate, the method of creating and preparing the matrix, the inking, and the transfer of the image onto paper is distinct for each technique. A printmaker chooses a particular technique for its unique characteristics, the process, and the output. Broadly speaking, the principal methods of 

printmaking techniques can be divided into the following four categories:

  1. Relief

  2. Serigraphy

  3. Planography

  4. Intaglio

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Through this simplest and oldest printmaking technique, prints are made from woodblocks (woodcuts and wood engravings), linoleum (linocut), or cardboard/matboard (collograph). A part of the matrix surface is carved out leaving a raised area that is inked and printed. For a multiple color print, each color is printed at a time. 


Though technically woodcut and linocut are similar, the resulting prints are quite distinctive. Woodcut prints reflect the grainy effect of blocks; wood engravings give more refined and precise result as the block is cut in the end-grain. Linocuts are smoother and allow a greater variety of effects compared to woodcuts. In a collagraph, the surface is built up by glueing materials, such as leaves, bits of lace, jute, string, snake skin, etc. onto a cardboard block; PVA glue is applied to lighten the tone, and gesso to draw textures. Ink is incised into the deep lines or rolled on the flat surface to give a variety of tones and textures.

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Silk screen or serigraphy is a stencil process. A screen made of a fine mesh of silk and nylon is used as the matrix. Parts of the screen are ‘stopped’ with glue or varnish to create a stencil. Screen printing allows innumerable colors. Effects in line and halftone are also possible through photographic transfers with a light-sensitive emulsion. The technique itself is not new and was used commercially, but it gained popularity in the 1950s among artists for printmaking.


Planography or lithography takes the advantage of oil and water repulsing each other, with the grease attracting oil based ink to create the image. The image is drawn directly on a flat limestone slab or a grained zinc plate. The artist uses grease based litho pencils and crayons or a liquid called ‘tusche’ to draw the image. On drying, the image is processed with acid and solvents to “fix” it and ensure that the antipathy of grease and water is retained. Then, the image is inked and reproduced on paper. 

Multiple colors prints are more time consuming as each color needs a different stone.


Intaglio can be done on various metal surfaces like zinc, copper, or aluminum or even on perspex. Basically, the first step is to create the image on the plate. Then, the plate is inked. The final step is printing in which a dampened paper is placed on the plate and passed under a cylindrical press. The pressure forces the dampened paper into the inked grooves and transfers the inked image onto the paper. There are several techniques in intaglio, such as etching, aquatint, sugarlift, drypoint, mezzotint, soft varnish, viscosity, and monotype. Colour in printmaking was explored beginning the 18th century with the invention of more suitable tone processes. The techniques differ in the following ways:

Etching : Etchings are done on copper or zinc metal plate. The plate is coated with an acid-resistant ground. Then, a sharp needle is used to draw lines on the plate. This exposes the metal so that when the plate is immersed in an acid bath the acid etches these areas.


Aquatint : In aquatint, prints look like watercolor or wash drawings. This is possible as the plate is covered with a fine layer of acid resistant rosin powder. The image is developed by blocking and immersing the plate in different acid concentrations for different exposure times.


Mezzotint : In mezzotint, the image emerges from a black background. First, a dense black surface is created on the plate with a roulette wheel or a sharp rocker. Then, the black areas are gradually scraped away or burnished into grays and whites. Mezzotint produces soft, subtle gradations of tones.


Drypoint and Engraving : In drypoint, the image is drawn directly onto the plate with a sharp pointed instrument. In engraving, grooves are engraved into the metal surface with an engraver or burin.


Soft Varnish : Soft varnish is a method of drawing or transferring designs and textures directly onto a plate. The metal plate is covered with a soft, sticky ground, covered with paper, and drawn on. This method also reproduces textures directly from lace, leaves, flowers, burlap, woven material, etc on the plate.


Sugar Lift : In sugar lift, a sugar-ink solution is used to draw with a pen or pencil on a surface treated with resin. The resulting print has a soft, painterly look.


Viscosity : Viscosity exploits the resistance between inks of various viscosities. First, lines are etched to

develop the image. Then, the plate is inked with separate colored inks of different viscosity. The first ink is highly viscous. Then, a less viscous ink is rolled on to the surface with a soft rubber roller. Finally, a third color of very thin viscosity is applied with a hard rubber roller. The plate thus inked can print multiple colors in a single go.

Monotype : Monotype is a one-off technique in which a flat surface such as a metal or acrylic sheet is painted with oil colors or ink and then passed through the etching press. The process permits only one copy.

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