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This glossary provides a summary of terms commonly used in the catalogue entries on our web site. It is adapted from the following sources:

  • American Historical Print Collectors Society "Dictionary of Terms" (
  • Geoffrey Ashall Glaister, Encyclopedia of the Book. Second Edition. Delaware & London, 1979.
  • International Fine Print Dealers Assn. "What is a Print" (

à la poupée print: A print created when colored ink is applied directly into a separate area of a plate's surface and worked into the appropriate area of the design using cotton daubs called dollies, or in French, poupée.

Allegorical print: A print representing a universal truth by using imagery. Often using a classical theme.

Antique print: All prints printed and published before 1900 are considered antique prints. A modern reproduction of an old print is not itself an antique. The cut-off date of 1900 is not firmly fixed, however, and in many circumstances original prints made before World War II are also considered to be antiques.

Aquatint: An etching process in which the artist is concerned with tone rather than line. For this technique, a plate is covered with particles of acid-resistant material such as resin and heated to make the particles stick. The treated plate is then placed in an acid bath, which bites into the copper that is exposed between grains of resin, yielding a composition marked by texture and tone.

Bird's-eye view prints: Prints showing their subject as viewed from above at an oblique angle.

Blind stamp: A blind stamp is an embossed seal impressed without ink onto a print as a distinguishing mark by the artist, the publisher, an institution, or a collector.

Block: A (wood) block is a piece of wood used as a matrix for woodcuts or wood engravings.

Catalogue raisonné: A catalogue raisonné is a documentary listing of all the works by an artist which are known at the time of compilation.

Chine applique (chine collé) print: A chine applique or chine collée is a print in which the image is impressed onto a thin sheet of paper, originally China paper, which is backed by a stronger, thicker sheet. China paper takes an intaglio impression more easily than regular paper, so chine applique prints generally show a richer impression than standard prints. Proof prints are often done as chine appliques.

Chromolithographs: Lithographs printed in at least three colors.

Chromoxylograph: A chromoxylograph is an image printed in color from a wood block.

Cityscape prints: Prints depicting cities or towns.

Counterproofs: In printmaking, impressions taken from a print or drawing by passing it through a press against a damp sheet of paper. The image appears in reverse.

Edition: An edition of a print includes all the impressions published at the same time or as part of the same publishing event. A first edition print is one which was issued with the first published group of impressions. First edition prints are sometimes pre-dated by a proof edition. Editions of a print should be distinguished from states of a print. There can be several states of a print from the same edition, and there can be several editions of a print all with the same state.

Engravings: Prints taken on paper from incised plates. The two main classes of engravings are intaglio and relief. In intaglio engraving, the line engraved has a positive value. The line which is engraved on the plate is the line which appears on the print. Heavy pressure is applied to the plate to extract the ink from the plate to the paper. In relief engraving, the lines engraved are negatives to leave the design in relief. Relief printing, or surface printing, transfers ink from the lines left on the surface of a plate (like printing from type).

Etchings: A favored technique for artists for centuries, thanks largely to the ease with which an etched image is created. An etching begins with a metal plate (usually copper) that has been coated with a waxy substance called a "ground." The artist creates his or her composition by drawing through the ground to expose the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath, which "bites" or chemically dissolves the exposed lines. For printing, the ground is removed, ink is introduced into the incised lines, and the plate is wiped clean. The plate is covered with dampened paper and run through a press under great pressure in order to force the paper into the lines, resulting in the raised characteristic of etching.

Fine Art & Historical Prints: Prints can be separated into two general types, fine art prints and historical prints. These types can best be understood through a differentiation of their emphasis. The distinction between the two types of prints is not clear-cut nor is it understood by all experts in the same way. Generally a fine art print is one conceived and executed by an artist with as much or more concern for the manner of presentation of the print as for its content; whereas the concern of the maker of an historical print is focused more on the content of the image than on its presentation.

Genre prints: Prints depicting scenes from everyday life.

Impression: An impression is a single piece of paper with an image printed on it from a matrix. The term as applied to prints is used in a manner similar to the term "copy" as applied to a book.

Intaglio: An intaglio print is one whose image is printed from a recessed design incised or etched into the surface of a plate. In this type of print the ink lies below the surface of the plate and is transferred to the paper under pressure. The printed lines of an intaglio print stand in relief on the paper. Intaglio prints have platemarks.

Lettering: The lettering of a print refers to the information, usually given below the image, concerning the title, artist, publisher, engraver and other such data.

Limited Edition: A limited edition print is one in which a limit is placed on the number of impressions pulled in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are usually numbered and are often signed. Limited editions are a relatively recent development, dating from the late nineteenth century. Earlier prints were limited in the number of their impressions solely by market demand or by the maximum number that could be printed by the medium used. The inherent physical limitations of the print media and the relatively small size of the pre-twentieth century print market meant that non-limited edition prints from before the late nineteenth century were in fact quite limited in number even though not intentionally so. German printmaker Adam von Bartsch, in his 1821 Anleitung zur Kupferstichkunde, estimated the maximum number of quality impressions it was possible to pull using different print media. Engraving: 500 (and about the same number of weaker images).  Stipple: 500 (and about the same number of weaker images). Mezzotint: 300 to 400, though the quality suffers after the first 150. Aquatint: Less than 200. Wood block: Up to 10,000. It was only with the development of lithography and of steel-facing of metal plates in the nineteenth century that tens of thousands of impressions could be pulled without a loss of quality. These technological developments led to the idea of making limited edition prints, by which printmakers created an appearance of rarity and individuality for multiple-impression art.

Lithograph: Prints taken from a drawing done from a polished limestone or zinc or aluminum plate. The drawing is done with greasy crayons, pens, or pencils. A solution containing gum arabic and dilute nitric acid is washed on the stone (or plate). This solution fixes the design in place. The entire plate surface is washed with water and then inked. Print paper is applied and sent through a press, transferring the image of the stone (or plate) to the paper.

Lithotint: A tonal lithograph printed from two stones or plates.

Matrix: A matrix is an object upon which a design has been placed and which is then used to make an impression on a piece of paper, thus creating a print. A wood block, metal plate, or lithographic stone can be used as a matrix.

Mezzotints: In this method, the entire surface of the plate is roughened by a spiked tool called a rocker, so that, if inked, the entire plate would print in solid black. The artist then works from "black" to "white" by scraping (or burnishing) out areas so that they do not hold ink, yielding the mezzotint's modulated tones. Mezzotints have soft tonalities ranging from gray to black.

Mixed Method: A mixed method print is one whose design is created on a single matrix using a variety of printmaking techniques, for example: line engraving, stipple, and etching.

Nature Printing: Originally performed in the 15th century by treating a leaf or plant evenly with oil then uniformly blackening it over a flame. It was then placed between two sheets of paper and rubbed. In 1852 the technique was improved by Louis Auer and Andrew Worring in Vienna. Instead of paper, they used soft lead plates and made an electrotype of the resulting impression. It was later brought to England by Henry Bradbury who subsequently used it create fine prints.

Numbered Print: A numbered print is one which is part of a limited edition and which has been numbered by hand. The numbering is usually in the form of x/y, where y stands for the total number of impressions in this edition and x represents the specific number of the print. The number of a print always indicates the order in which the prints were numbered, not necessarily the order in which the impressions were pulled. This, together with the fact that later impressions are sometime superior to earlier pulls, means that lower numbers do not necessarily indicate better quality impressions. As with signed prints, the numbering of prints is a development of the late nineteenth century.

Offset lithographs: Lithographs printed by transferring an image from a stone or plate to an intermediate surface and then to the print paper.

Oleographs: Chromolithographs printed on a textured surface. Popularly used to produced inexpensive reproductions of oil paintings in the late nineteenth century.

Original Print: An original print is one printed from a matrix on which the design was created by hand and issued as part of the original publishing venture or as part of a connected, subsequent publishing venture. For fine art prints the criteria used is more strict. A fine art print is original only if the artist both conceived and had a direct hand in the production of the print. An original print should be distinguished from a reproduction, which is produced photomechanically, and from a restrike, which is produced as part of a later, unconnected publishing venture.

Paper: Laid paper is made by hand in a mold, where the wires used to support the paper pulp emboss their pattern into the paper. This pattern of closely spaced lines can be seen when the paper is held up to light. Laid paper often has a watermark. Wove paper is made by machine on a belt and lacks the laid lines. False laid lines can be added to machine-made paper. Though wove paper was invented in the eighteenth century and laid paper is still produced, the majority of prints made prior to 1800 are on laid paper and the majority of prints made subsequently are on wove paper. China paper is a very thin paper, originally made in China, which is used for chine applique prints.

Photomechanical prints: Prints made from photographically prepared printing surfaces. A distinctive dot pattern is usually visible.

Platemark: A platemark is the rectangular ridge created in the paper of a print by the edge of an intaglio plate. Unlike a relief or planographic print, an intaglio print is printed under considerable pressure, thus creating the platemark when the paper is forced together with the plate. Some reproductions have a false platemark.

Print: A single print is a piece of paper upon which an image has been imprinted from a matrix. In a general sense, a print is the set of all the impressions made from the same matrix. By its nature, a print can have multiple impressions.

Proof: A proof is an impression of a print pulled prior to the regular, published edition of the print. A trial or working proof is one taken before the design on the matrix is finished. These proofs are pulled so that the artist can see what work still needs to be done to the matrix. Once a printed image meets the artist's expectations, this becomes a bon tirer ("good to pull") proof. This proof is often signed by the artist to indicate his approval and is used for comparison purposes by the printer. An artist's proof is an impression issued extra to the regular numbered edition and reserved for the artist's own use. Artist's proofs are usually signed and are sometimes marked "A.P.", "E.A." or "H.C." (Cf. glossary of abbreviations) Commercial publishers found that there was a financial advantage to offering so-called "proofs" for sale and so developed other types of proofs to offer to collectors, generally at higher prices. Proof before letters (Avant les lettres): An impression pulled before the title is added below the image.  Scratched letter proof: An impression in which the title is lightly etched below the image. Remarque proof: An impression pulled before the remarque is removed.

Relief: A relief print is one whose image is printed from a design raised on the surface of a block. In this type of print the ink lies on the top of the block and is transferred to the paper under light pressure.

Remarque: A remarque is a small vignette image in the margin of a print, often related thematically to the main image. Originally remarques were scribbled sketches made in the margins of etchings so that the artist could test the plate, his needles, or the strength of the etching acid prior to working on the main image. These remarques were usually removed prior to the first publication of the print. During the etching revival, in the late nineteenth century, remarques became popular as an additional design element in prints and were also used in the creation of remarque proofs.

Reproduction: A reproduction is a copy of an original print or other art work whose matrix design is transferred from the original by a photomechanical process. A facsimile is a reproduction done to the same scale and appearance as the original.

Restrike: A restrike is a print produced from the matrix of an original print, but was not printed as part of the original publishing venture or as part of a connected, subsequent publishing venture. A restrike is a later impression from an unrelated publishing project.

Signed: A signed print is one signed, in pencil or ink, by the artist and/or engraver of the print. A print is said to be signed in the plate if the artist's signature is incorporated into the matrix and so appears as part of the printed image. Proof prints were originally signed as "proof" that the impression met the artist's expectation. Later proof prints were signed in order to add commercial value to these impressions. In the late nineteenth century, in response to the development of photomechanical reproduction techniques, fine arts prints were signed by the artists in order to distinguish between original prints and reproductions. Seymour Haden and James McNeil Whistler are usually credited with introducing this practice in the 1880s.

State: A state of a print includes all the impressions pulled without any change being made to the matrix. A first state print is one of the first group of impressions pulled. Different states of a print can reflect intentional or accidental changes to the matrix. States of a print should be distinguished from editions of a print. There can be several editions of a print which are the same state, and there can be several states of a print in the same edition.

Steel engraving: A print from an engraved steel plate. Steel engravings are oftentimes recognized by a stiffness found in their paper, although the engraved lines themselves exhibit a very fine quality. Steel engraving developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was in 1819 that steel engraving gained commercial use when Charles Heath and Jacob Perkins worked together to develop currencies difficult to forgerize. Copper plates were found to be made more durable by facing them with steel. Steel engraving remained a very important method of printing until around 1880.

Stipple engraving combines both of the arts of etching and engraving. The design to be engraved is outlined by a needle on a grained plate. This plate is then etched and dried. Next, a graver is used to make small dots ("stippling"). These small dots give the effect of light and shade. Stipple engraving became popular in the 1700s by an Italian artist, Bartolozzi. The process was later enhanced and improved by the French who used it in a widespread manner during the 1800s.

Stone: A lithographic stone is a slab of stone, usually limestone, used as a matrix for a print. Lithographic stones are used to make lithographs and chromolithographs.

Watermark: A watermark is a design embossed into a piece of paper during its production and used for identification of the paper and papermaker. The watermark can be seen when the paper is held up to light.

Woodcut: The earliest and most enduring print technique. While woodcuts were first seen in ninth-century China, Western artists have made woodcut prints for hundreds of years, perhaps most notably in the sixteenth and the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Wood Engraving: Made from the end-grain surface of blocks. This surface has no grain and can afford great precision and detail.


Frequently Cited References

We have compiled a list of the most frequently cited references used in our catalogue entries. Our researchers consult these works in order to write accurate descriptions about our books, prints, and maps.

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