3. Collective designation "graphic prints"
The collective designation "graphic prints" denotes all artistic techniques which reproduce a master pattern. A print template or print form is created from the mirror-image of the motif. The process may involve engraving: the forms which are not to be printed must be cut away from the solid surface of the print substrate. If a colouring agent (e.g. ink) is applied to the printing plate and the plate is then pressed against a sheet of paper, the graphic artwork per se becomes visible on the paper. Last but not least: if the print form is not steeled, it becomes increasingly more reduced as the number of printed copies increases. This is why artists, gallerists and collectors prefer smaller editions of graphic artworks, which should, of course, also be signed, numbered and dated.
3.1. Relief printing: e.g. woodcut
In relief printing, the elements of the image lie above the plane of the printing plate. The raised elements are inked, plate is pressed against a sheet of paper, and the print is transferred to the paper. The woodcut is the classical and oldest method: a woodcutter uses gravers and knives to cut from the wooden print plate whatever parts of the image which should not be printed. This negative technique, however, does not allow the graphic artist to correct imperfect cuts.
This technique, which already played a role as a technique for creating illustrations in book printing in the early modern era, was enthusiastically revived in the 20th century by the Expressionists, who loved the woodcut because it was ideal for creating a coarse, angular, visual vocabulary.
3.2. Gravure printing: e.g. etching
The German word Tiefdruck (literally “deep print”) captures the essence of this technique. The elements of the image are scratched into the plate and therefore lie below the plane of its surface. Gravure printing is a positive method: the colouring agent is first rubbed onto the plate and into the incised depressions; the plate is wiped clean, leaving the colouring agent in the grooves; and finally the plate is pressed against the paper.
Etching, which has been used since the 15th century, permits more virtuosic handling than relief printing because the artisan cause allow the tips of the burins “dance” across the metal plate, thus creating the engraving. One problem with this method is that the edges of the incised lines are delicate and suffer a loss of quality after 20 or 30 copies have been printed.
Alongside dry point, which became famous thanks to Albrecht Dürer, there are also warm point and mordant etching. In the latter method, the image is cut into a soft stratum and the plate is then immersed in acid. Halftone prints can be created by repeatedly immersing the plate in the caustic bath. Aquatint, a variety of etching with an especially painterly effect, was preferred by artists such as Francisco de Goya and Pablo Picasso.
3.3. Flat printing: e.g. lithography
In this printing technique, two opposites (i.e. the elements which are to be printed and those which are not to be printed) share the same plane. A greasy chalk is applied to the fine-pored surface of a stone (often limestone) plate. The lithographer then applies a solution which enhances both the grease-receptive and grease-repellent chemical properties of the two components of the pattern.
Many artists regard lithography as a rather complicated method and accordingly prefer to commission specially trained lithographers. The art of lithography, which was first used in the 20th century, served many poster artists (e.g. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) as an ideal method for reproducing monochrome and also polychrome motifs.