10 Fascinating Facts about Prints

Do you know exactly what you are looking at when you see a vintage or a contemporary print for sale? There are multiple types of prints involving all sorts of processes which take expert skill, care, and attention. We often assume that a print is a quick process that certainly doesn’t involve the artist's hand and this often far from the truth.

Here we look at 10 different types of prints, many of which are available at Collins & Green Art.

1. Lithography

‘Beach at Deauville’, lithograph by Georges Lambert (1919-1998),an affordable lithographic print available at Collins & Green Art

Traditionally made using a flat stone called a lithographic limestone, or a zinc or aluminium plate, the complex process of lithography relies on the fact that oil and water repel each other. A design is drawn on the stone or metal plate with an oil-based crayon, then a layer of powdered rosin and talc is added on top to prepare the stone. Gum arabic is then brushed onto the stone so that the areas drawn with the crayon retain ink, and the blank areas of the stone repel it. Once the original drawing is washed away with a solvent, water is added to dampen the plate and ink rolled on top, which only sticks to the areas drawn with crayon. Paper is then placed on the plate and then put in a press. 

2. Chromolithography

‘La Rochelle Lithograph’ by Georges Lambert (1919-1988), available at Collins & Green Art

Developed in the 19th century, this was used in the Victorian era for children’s book illustrations and for advertising. Like lithographs, chromolithographs encompass  all colour lithographs, and is also sometimes referred to as an oleograph or, in a photographic context, a photochrome. Often, chromolithographs are simply labelled as lithographs, but this is the technical term. These can take months to produce and require expert knowledge, using different coloured inks to create the desired image.

3. Silk Screen Printing

‘Flowers On Pink’ by Juame Muxart (1922-2019), vintage serigraph available at Collins & Green Art

Also called serigraphy, this involves a tightly stretched mesh or screen on a wooden or metal frame with each shade requiring its own mesh. A squeegee is then pressed down over the mesh to push the ink onto the canvas. Some of the most famous silk screen prints are by Andy Warhol, as he used this serigraphy to produce the characteristic repeated images so distinct in his work. This is a much faster process than lithography and is over 100 years old.

4. Engraving

‘Melancolia I’ by Albrecht Durer, 1514

Using a copper or zinc plate, engraving involves cutting an image, using a sharp tool called a burin, directly onto the plate. The burin is held with the wooden handle against the palm of the artist's hand and the shaft held by the third finger and thumb. Dots and lines are often added to the image to create tone. Ink is then pressed onto the plate, wiped off so as to leave ink in the grooves, and placed in a roller. Famous engraved prints include those of Albrecht Durer during the Northern Renaissance. In principle, engraving is very similar to drypoint printing.

5. Hand Coloured Printing

Very decorative hand-coloured prints from the Haynes Medical Botany by Guimpel (1853), available at Collins & Green Art.

A process also known as overpainting, hand coloured printing involves simply painting colour over an often monochrome, readymade print. Useful for botanical identification, they are often found as illustrations for scientific journals and encyclopaedias of the 19th century. They were also used as illustrations for comics and magazines. Incredibly fashionable right now for interior designers, they can be a less expensive way of owning a piece of art still with the mark of an artists’ hand. 

6. Heliogravure

‘Wet Day on the Boulevard’ by Alfred Stieglitz, 1897

Also called photogravure, this involves printing photographs on a copper plate covered with a light-sensitive tissue which is then etched. Etching is similar to engraving but uses a strong acid or fixative to draw the image on the plate. This process is not often used now,but is common in antique and vintage artworks. The method can produce beautiful and highly detailed images including incredible portraits.

7. Wood Engraving

 ‘Sussex Landscape’ by Eric Ravilious, 1931

Wood engraving, which includes woodcut and woodblock printing, involves engraving a wooden surface with metal tools and inking the block with a roller, which is then pressed. A more traditional way of printing, reminiscent of folk art, wood engravings produce beautiful pieces of often natural, pastoral landscapes. The wood used affects the print, so often a hard wood like boxwood is used to create crisp artworks.

8. Lino Cut

‘Tête De Femme’ by Pablo Picasso, 1962 

This method is very similar to wood engraving, with both processes involving relief printing. An image is cut into a piece of linoleum, which is slightly more effective than woodcut printing as lino, when etched, splinters and splits less than wood. A more modern invention than woodcut print, colour can be added in various ways, such as the reductive technique used by Picasso, where separate sections of the block are coloured and then cut away piece by piece until the desired effect is reached.

9. In-Text Illustration

‘Fleurs’ from a Larousse encyclopaedia, (1930s). An affordable and decorative print available at Collins & Green Art.

Book illustrations are a popular form of printing where we do not always appreciate or understand the variety of methods used. Books such as reference books and vintage encyclopaedias used nearly every type of printing including intaglio (etching into a printing plate), relief (when a block is in contact with paper), and planographic (printing from a flat surface). Before the invention of photography, expert illustrators were employed and often still are to capture the minute details needed to identify flora and fauna. Botanical plates in particular are much prized as decorative and affordable art for the home by interior designers and home owners alike.

10. Aquatint

‘The Barefooted Child’, c.1896, by Mary Cassatt

A descendent of etching, aquatint prints focus on tone rather than line to create an atmospheric effect. This method uses acid to erode the surface of the copper or zinc plate. The plate is then put through a printing press to transfer the ink onto a piece of paper. Often, aquatint is used in conjunction with etching to create definite outlines. Typically used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, aquatint was the preferred printing method of famous artists such as Francisco Goya and Mary Cassatt.

Final Thoughts


The artistic merit of prints is often undervalue owing to the misconception that they involve less artistic skill than ‘original’ paintings. Hopefully, this has unravelled some of these thoughts by showing you how different printing methods produce original,  detailed, and captivating artworks. I hope I have given you a better understanding  of these different processes and you now see the skill that goes into these artworks.

By Eloise Saggers, Collins & Green Art