Prints and Multiples - Key Information

In fine art, a print or multiple is a work of art by an artist using one or a combination of the many printmaking techniques. While the process of printmaking will produce more than one of the same image (the matrix), the work (or impression) is more than just a copy or reproduction; it is an original artwork.

An artist producing prints and multiples might choose a method based on the individual effects it is capable of producing, or they might be drawn to the way printmaking allows the artist to record the stages in the creative process of their primary working method. 

Sometimes the artist will collaborate closely with a professional printing studio, where experienced printing technicians, or Printers, work with the artist to produce the print. Other artists will carry out the technical aspect of printing themselves.

Prints and multiples are produced in limited numbers, called editions. They are not intended for widespread dissemination, like a poster. Editions, like other works of art, are sold through reputable galleries and auction houses.

Key Terminology

Original: This is the artwork in its first form. A print or multiple by an artist is an original when the print was the initial process of making.

Reproduction: A reproduction is a copy of an artwork, using a different method to that of the original. E.g.: a photographic poster of a painting.

Matrix: The image from which the print is made. This will be made using the artist’s chosen technique.

Impression: The individual printed image. Used interchangeably with print.

Proofs: An impression made at any stage of the making of the print matrix. Includes, but is not limited to: State Proofs (SP), Printer’s Proofs (PP), Artist’s Proofs (AP), Trial or Test Proofs (TP). Can be signed or unsigned by the artist.

Artist’s Proof (AP): A signed impression made by the artist, before the production of the edition set.

Printer’s Proofs (PP’s) are the first prints that are printed when producing a series of prints and they are vigorously checked by the printers for any imperfections before printing the editioned prints. More importantly these prints are checked with the artist too so they are just as valuable as Artist’s Proofs (A/P) and indeed just as valuable as the editioned prints. They are both very significant to the end numbered edition as without these the printers and artists cannot move forward and produce the edition. In some cases the artists consider these more valuable.

Edition/edition set: An edition is the individual numbered work, numbered in order of production; an edition set is the total amount of works made. The work below by John Pule is 1/20. In this case, it is the first impression of 20 produced.

John Pule
When I Came to Your Shore (Second State), 2018

Edition 1 of 20
etching on paper
405 x 500mm

Intaglio: From Italian, meaning ‘carving’. General term for the methods of printmaking which involve incisions into the base surface, either by cutting with a sharp tool, or by ‘biting’ using an acid. The surface is inked, and then wiped clean. The incised areas will remain holding the ink and will, therefore, print the incised image. This is the opposite of a relief print (detailed below).

Relief Print: Like intaglio, the surface is carved into to create an image, however, the uncarved surface is inked and printed from; the incisions do not collect ink and do not print. Therefore what remains after cutting is what is printed, creating a ‘negative’ image.

Planography: Any printmaking technique from a flat surface, which has not been carved. Screen-prints (serigraphy) and lithography are examples of planographic printing.

Key Techniques

Aquatint: An intaglio process used mostly to supplement other intaglio processes to create tone (light and dark). A metal plate is treated with a fine acid-resistant material, like powdered resin or spray lacquer. The plate is exposed to acid, and the tiny dots in between the acid-resistant particles are bitten by the acid. Later, when the matrix is inked, those areas ‘bitten’ by the acid will collect ink. When printed the effect is like a watercolour or ink wash.

Drypoint: Similar to an engraving (see below), a Drypoint is an intaglio process where a metal plate is engraved with a needle, without the use of acid. The Drypoint differs visually from engraving, as the burr (raised edge) produced when incising is not removed, and creates a fuzzy, velvety quality when inked. The burr diminishes after every impression is made, so Drypoints are limited to very small edition sets.

Engraving: An intaglio process where an image is cut into a metal plate using a sharp tool called a burin. Lines are gouged out of the metal by the burin, and differences in pressure will allow for deeper or shallower incisions. When printed, a deep line will appear darker as it can hold more ink. Unlike the Drypoint process, the burr is scraped away, so the lines produced are sharp.

Etching: Using acid rather than a sharp object, the etching technique is an intaglio process in which an image is bitten into a metal plate using an acid bath. A metal plate is prepared with an acid-resistant ground. The artist scrapes away this ground in a design according to the image they wish to produce. When immersed in acid, the areas where the ground has been removed are bitten; these areas collect ink.

John Pule
The Separate Rose, 2013

Edition of 20
etching on paper
400 x 300mm

Linocut: A relief technique where an image is carved out of a linoleum block. Popular with Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso (see below), the softness of the linoleum makes it easier to carve into than wood, and therefore is capable of creating a smooth and fluid line.  

Pablo Picasso 1955 Exposition de Vallauris, 195 linocut 898 x 593mm gPCS022-55

Pablo Picasso
1955 Exposition de Vallauris, 1955   

898 x 593mm
Contact the gallery to purchase

Lithography: A planographic technique, using the separation that occurs between grease and water, where an image is painted or drawn onto by the artist using a specially formulated greasy ink. The stone is then dampened; water is absorbed by the stone, but repelled by the ink. Then, the printing ink is applied to the stone; the ink is repelled by the damp areas of the stone, but attracted and adheres to the greasy inked areas. Because the image matrix is initially painted onto the lithography stone, rather than carved as seen in other techniques, lithography is popular with artists for whom painting is their primary medium, such as Don Binney, or Michael Hight


Don Binney
Kotuku Puketotara, 2005

Edition of 75
500 x 700mm

Monotype: A planographic process where an unworked plate, stone, or block is inked and then directly printed. Because there are no grooves or greasy residue in monotype matrices to hold the ink, this technique is limited to only one print, creating a unique work.

Screenprint: A process first used in textile design, where ink is forced through a mesh fabric, often silk, using a squeegee to create a fine, even layer of ink. The image is created by using stencils made by the artist to block the silkscreen, preventing the transfer of ink to the sheet below. Because the process does not require a printing press, the sheet can withstand many layers of printing, making it the ideal method for printing multi-coloured artworks. Many of Dick Frizzell’s limited edition prints are produced using this technique, as is Karl Maughan’s Zig – Zag Road, 2017 which used 35 different colour separations/stencils.

Dick Frizzell
Comic Roses, 2003

Edition of 75
screenprint on Fabriano artistico white 300 gsm
700 x 500mm 

Karl Maughan
Zig - Zag Road, 2017

Edition of 150, 10 AP’s, + 1 PP
screenprint on 300gsm Fabriano archival paper
990 x 1310mm

Woodcut: The oldest existing printmaking technique, the woodcut is a relief process, where the image is carved out of the surface of a wooden block. Like a linocut (see above) the remaining, uncarved areas are inked and the image is then printed. Often the grain of the wood is evident in the impression. Various woods have different qualities, which affect how a print will look. For example, a very hard wood will be more difficult to carve, and will produce an angular image. John Pule's earlier prints adopt the woodcut technique, and Dick Frizzell and James Cousins have also experimented with this method.

Dick Frizzell
Table/Wine, 2002

Edition of 100
woodcut on paper
510 x 600 mm

James Cousins
Variant, 2007

Edition of 10
woodcut on paper
1000 x 700 mm

Contact us if you have any further questions in regards to prints and multiples.