A Primer on the Various Types of Prints
My wife and I own some prints and we have just acquired a giclée. We are curious what is giclée and what the difference is among the different types of prints – monotype, lithograph, reproduction, etc?
Seeing the Fine Print
Dear Fine Print,
Essentially there are four traditional ways in which a print can be created and several modern applications. The traditional methods are Relief, Intaglio, Lithography, and Stencil. The modern methods include Offset Lithography and Computer Inkjet.
The earliest form - Relief – is simply the cutting away of a flat surface and then inking the remaining areas which are then transferred to paper by pressing, rubbing, or rolling. These prints include: engravings, woodcuts, and linoleum cuts (lino-cuts). As a child you may have cut a design into a half potato using the same principle.
Adapted in the 16th century in Europe came the next form – Intaglio. This is the reverse in which lines or areas on a metal plate (copper, zinc, or aluminum) are either etched away with a sharp stylus (drypoint etching) or cut away by acid (Engraving). Many people are familiar with Rembrandt’s etchings. Since his original copper plates created four hundred years ago have long ago been worn out, many additional editions have been recut by the hands of others over the last few centuries. So depending upon what a collector wants to spend, you can find “Rembrandt Etchings” made in every century following the 17th century.
Lithography was invented in the late 18th century and is based upon the premise that oil and water do not mix. A grease crayon is used by the artist to draw on thick limestone slabs or zinc plates. A sealer secures the image before it is washed with water, then inked and then pressed onto the paper. Offset Lithography, used for commercial printing is also used by artists who simply want to reproduce an exact copy of a painting they have created. These are not any different from “museum posters” of artwork except that they are signed in pencil by the artist and numbered in a somewhat limited edition.
The final traditional form is stencil which is typically called Silk Screen or Serigraph. A different stencil is cut for every color desired by the artist and the ink is squeezed through the open areas of the stencil onto the paper.
Since the advent of the computer and more recently highly detailed ink jet printers, artists can now use digital images of their creations to create “limited editions” of any size printed on paper or canvas. The result is often called a “fine art digital print” and the term coined in the early 1990s for these prints created with computer inkjet printers is giclée, pronounced “Gee Clay” or “Zee Clay”. This is a French word that loosely translates as "to spurt or splash" which describes the process of ink jet printer spurting ink on a canvas or paper.
The exact opposite of giclée is the Monoprint or Monotype. This is where the artist creates a unique image with ink on a thick piece of glass or Plexiglas and while the ink is still wet, places the paper over it gently and then runs both through a large rolling pin press. If the artist then touches up or adds more ink to the finished print then it is called a Monotype. The glass is wiped clean ready for whatever the artist wishes to create next.