Printing techniques

Relief engravings


Woodcut (from the Greek xylographêin composed of ' xilo' and ' grafia '; literally 'writing on wood') is a printing process in which the matrix is made up of a wooden tablet on which the desired image is carved. Known in China since the sixth century. BC, this engraving technique represents the oldest printing process. The artist traces the image on a wooden tablet, then with a sharp tool, the gouge, removes the parts that will be white on the sheet, leaving those that will receive the ink in relief. Very thin and delicate reliefs emerge from the dug grooves: the matrix thus prepared is ready to receive the ink, the paper is laid down and a slight pressure is exerted with a roller or a pad. The operation obviously repeats itself for each copy.

Nishiki-e or Japanese color woodcut

The great masters of Ukiyo-e developed a technique in the mid-1700s that allowed them to obtain color images using multiple matrices. Maintaining a perfect register, several plates were carved, one for each desired color, then inked and printed in succession on the same sheet.


Linocut or linogravure

Appeared around 1900, it is a technique very similar to woodcut, the matrix is linoleum instead of wood. The gouges are the basic tool of this technique which has as an advantage the speed of execution and the flexibility of use.

"Intaglio" prints


It is one of the most used techniques in the art of engraving. The plate can be in copper, zinc, brass or iron, in this technique the groove is not obtained directly as in the burin engraving, but is produced by an acid. After covering the metal plate with a wax, the artist makes his drawing with a pointed instrument, removing the wax in some places. At the end of this work, the plate is immersed in the acid in order for it to affect the metal, this procedure is called etching. If the artist wants some signs to be more marked, he reimmers the plate in the acid after having covered with wax the grooves that he no longer wants to affect. The wax is then removed with a solvent, the artist then makes the ink penetrate into the engraved parts and removes the excess with a piece of cloth. A sheet of cotton paper is placed on top of the matrix thus prepared, and both are passed under the pressure of a press. This operation allows to transfer the ink of the plate on the sheet of paper, the part engraved on the sheet will be a little in relief.


A process similar to etching, to which it is often associated and with which tonal effects similar to watercolor are obtained. The engraver covers the plate with a fine quartz and asphalt powder, which is welded to the bottom when the plate is heated. By immersing the plate in the acid it will penetrate between the grains, slightly corroding the metal. The intensity of the tones depends on the quantity and timing of the etchings.


The tool used to engrave the copper plate is the burin, which is a thin quadrangular steel tool that ends with a sharp point with an oblique section, its handle is made in such a way as to allow the artist to exert strong pressure on the metal. The burin, by engraving the copper, raises thin metal sheets, called barbs. These are carefully removed with the scraper to obtain a sharp and clean mark characteristic of this technique.

Dry Points

This technique is usually combined with etching. The engraver traces the design on the copper with a very pointed steel tool, the groove thus created gives rise to small metal curls, called beards. These remain on the sides of the incision and are not removed with the scraper as in the burin technique. Once the plate is inked, the ink held by the very thin metal beards will give the print those velvety tones that are the merit of this technique. The beards are very delicate and the press presses them quickly so that, generally, after about twenty impressions, the prints lose their characteristic "soft" effect.

"Maniera Nera" or Mezzotint

The surface of the copper is first roughened with a toothed crescent. The steel teeth of the tool in engraving the metal, raise the barbs, exactly as in the drypoint, with the function of retaining the ink. If the plate were inked at this stage, a perfect, velvety and uniform black would be obtained. To obtain different shades, the beards are removed with the scraper in the areas that you want impressed in lighter tones, while with the burnisher you level the metal where you want absolute white. This technique allows to obtain very effective tonal intensities. The beards as in drypoint limit the number of the edition.


Carborundum engraving is a technique - developed by Henri Goetz - which consists in gluing a powder of very hard silicon carbide grains on the matrix by drawing shapes and combining the size of the grains and the density of their distribution before paste them. This technique, which can be used with other engraving techniques, enhances the color and gives a great plastic richness of materials and shapes.

Flat engravings


Invented in 1796 by the German Aloys Senefelder, this printing technique exploits the incompatibility between water and grease on a flat surface of a limestone (from the Greek lithos , stone). This support allows you to perform a drawing with great fluency. The artist draws directly on the plate with a pencil whose lead is made up of a very greasy amalgam. Then the matrix is moistened with water and subsequently inked by a roller: the ink, which is greasy, is rejected by the wet areas and adheres only to those drawn. A sheet of paper is superimposed on the matrix, which when pressed with a roller will absorb the ink. At each subsequent copy, the plate must be wet and re-inked. For color lithographs different plates drawn separately and colored each with a different color are used. For convenience, the stone can be replaced by a zinc or aluminum plate.

Screen printing

Born in China around the year 1000, it is a flat printing technique and is based on the principle of stencil techniques. The matrix is made up of a canvas with a fine and resistant texture like silk (more recently cotton and nylon are also used) which is stretched on a frame by placing a sheet of paper on it.

The ink sprayed or brushed on the surface towards the fabric passes to the paper. To obtain the desired design, special masks can be cut out which, placed on the back of the matrix canvas, will prevent the ink from passing to the other side and therefore from appearing on the paper; or make drawings with waterproof paints and glues that will obstruct the passage where traced. The methods of masking are actually infinite, as are the effects that can be obtained.

The copies obtained will be monochromatic, but using as many matrices for as many colors as desired, the same sheet will be imprinted several times, thus obtaining polychromatic screen printing.

General notes for reading the descriptive cards

Are to be considered original prints (xilography, burin, puntasecca, etching, aquatint, lithography, screen printing, etc.) the proofs drawn in black and in color from one or more plates conceived by the artist himself, whatever the technique used to make them.

In the twentieth century many of the traditional techniques have undergone variations due to the improvement of technology and the desire of artists to experiment with new forms of expression, so in the original prints we encounter techniques with a photographic or heliographic basis, up to the processing of images performed with the aid of computer. These particularities are indicated in the technical sheets of the work.

Japanese prints do not follow these rules: the artist made a drawing on very thin paper, this was then glued upside down on the plate and then engraved by the hori-cho (woodcutter), under the artist's control. A plate for each color was engraved.

Status is a voluntary change to the plate, while the variant is an accidental change to the plate or refers to quality or paper.

The quality or beauty of the impression is independent of the state, conservation, rarity, subject and author (a late proof of last state, if carefully printed, can be of high quality)

The adjectives used internationally to define quality are, in descending order: superb, splendid, magnificent, very beautiful, beautiful, discreet, mediocre, tired and poor. For modern and contemporary prints, when it is not a question of proofs or undocumented runs but of copies belonging to a run, in which the first and last copy have no differences in quality, these are indicated with the term " perfect example ". For Japanese prints, color quality is indicated with the following adjectives in descending order: bright, excellent, good, fair, pale.

The existence or not of the signature is always mentioned. However, please note that this is of no use either in the certification of authenticity or in the attribution. Therefore the assignment of a print to an author, unlike that of a drawing or a painting, being printed in several copies is considered a published work and therefore of a certain and documented author. For antique and Japanese prints it is difficult to speak of circulation as they were generally printed according to demand. In addition to the two large divisions, contemporary and late, the prints were drawn at different times depending on the demand.

By current edition we mean a large edition, sometimes even more than a thousand copies, desired by the author and the publisher, often as an off-text table of books or art magazines. They are not to be considered artistically minor works, many have had a parallel luxury edition. The rarity is due either to the few impressions made, or to the law of supply-demand.

The quality of conservation is indicated with the following phrases in descending order: in exceptional state of conservation, in perfect state of conservation (except for ...), in good state of conservation (except for ...). The margins are classified as follows: very thin up to 1 mm, thin from 1 to 2 mm, small from 2 to 4 mm, good from 4 to 15 mm, broad beyond 15 mm; Uncut is a sheet that preserves the measures in which it was manufactured or printed, editorial means a sheet that was put on the market without margins or with a precise size of paper chosen by the artist in agreement with the publisher. The measurements are all in millimeters, height by base, refer, for “intaglio” prints (etchings, burins,...), to the copper imprint, for the woodcuts to the marginal line and, failing these, to the sheet, for lithographs and serigraphs to the imprinted image and not to the sheet. Sometimes the reasoned catalogs report slightly different measurements, this may depend on the measurement criteria or the elasticity of the paper which, depending on the temperature / humidity of the environments in which it was stored or the pressure of the press, shrinks or widens.

When purchasing each work at our gallery, a guarantee will be issued, which certifies its authenticity and originality.