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A selection of MoMA's Glossary of Art Terms.


An intaglio printmaking technique that creates tonal areas. Its name reflects its watercolor-like effects. Powdered resin is sprinkled on a metal plate and adheres through heating. When the plate is submerged in acid, tiny areas unprotected by the resin are “bitten” by the acid, creating recesses. After the resin coating is removed, the plate is inked to fill in these recesses. When damp paper is laid on the plate and run through a press, the tiny ink-filled recesses print as tonal fields.


Decorative handwriting or lettering.

Chine collé

A technique, used in conjunction with printmaking processes such as etching or lithography, that results in a two-layered paper support: a tissue-thin paper, cut to the size of the printing plate, and a larger, thicker support paper below. Both the tissue and the support sheet are placed on top of the inked plate and run together through the printing press, sometimes with a thin layer of adhesive between them to reinforce the bond produced through the pressure of the press. The process creates a subtle, delicate backdrop to the printed image. Chine is the French word for China, referring to the fact that the thin paper originally used with this technique was imported from China. In addition to China, paper was also imported from India or Japan. Collé is the French word for "glued."


The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.


A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).


An intaglio printmaking technique that creates sharp lines with fuzzy, velvety edges. A diamond-pointed needle is used to incise lines directly into a bare metal printing plate, displacing ridges of metal that adhere to the edges of the incised lines. This displaced metal is called burr. Inking fills the incised lines and clings to the burr. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, picking up the ink from the incised lines and the burr, resulting in a characteristically fuzzy line.


A set of identical prints made from the same printing surface. Editions may be limited or unlimited in number. Often a certain number of prints—including artist’s proofs, printer’s proofs, and hors commerce (not for sale)—are made at the same time but kept apart from the numbered edition. Each print in a limited edition is usually numbered in the lower left margin. In an edition of 100, for example, they would be numbered 1/100, 2/100, etc.


A method of printing the deeply incised areas of a metal printing plate without ink, which creates a raised impression on the paper. Small or shallow objects such as coins, nails, washers, etc. can also be affixed to a smooth printing surface before printing; under the pressure of a press. The dimensional features of the affixed elements are transferred to the paper as raised and recessed areas.


An intaglio printmaking technique that creates a crisp, precise line that swells in the middle and tapers at the end. Lines are incised on a bare metal plate using a burin, a tool with a sharp, V-shaped blade. After inking, which fills only the incised lines, damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, forcing the paper into the incised lines to pick up the ink.


An intaglio printmaking technique that creates thin, fluid lines whose effects can vary from graceful and serpentine to tight and scratchy. An etching needle, a fine-pointed tool, is used to draw on a metal plate that has been coated with a thin layer of waxy ground, making an easy surface to draw though. When the plate is placed in acid, the ground protects the areas it still covers, while the drawn lines expose the plate and are incised, or “bitten,” by the acid. After removing the coating, the plate is inked, filling only the incised lines. Damp paper is placed on the plate and run through a press, forcing the paper into the incised lines to pick up the ink.


The action of exposing a photographic film to light or other radiation.


A general term for metal-plate printmaking techniques, including etching, drypoint, engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint. The word comes from the Italian intagliare, meaning “to incise” or “to carve.” In intaglio printing, the lines or areas that hold the ink are incised below the surface of the plate, and printing relies on the pressure of a press to force damp paper into these incised lines or areas, to pick up ink.


A relief printing technique for printing text and other images that are outlined and mechanically cut from metal or wood. The raised surface is inked and pressed onto paper by a printing press.

Linoleum cut

A relief printmaking technique, also called linocut, that is usually characterized by flat, clearly delineated areas of color. An image is cut or gouged from a sheet of linoleum, which is softer and easier to carve than wood. The surface is inked and paper laid on top, with printing accomplished either by rubbing manually with a spoon or similar tool, or on a printing press.


A printmaking technique that involves drawing with greasy crayons or a liquid called tusche, on a polished slab of limestone; aluminum plates, which are less cumbersome to handle, may also be used. The term is derived from the Greek words for stone (litho) and drawing (graph). When the greasy image is ready to be printed, a chemical mixture is applied across the surface of the stone or plate in order to securely bond it. This surface is then dampened with water, which adheres only to the blank, non-greasy areas. Oily printer’s ink, applied with a roller, sticks to the greasy imagery and not to areas protected by the film of water. Damp paper is placed on top of this surface and run through a press to transfer the image. In addition to the traditional method described here, other types of lithography include offset lithography, photolithography, and transfer lithography.


An intaglio printmaking technique that creates soft, velvety gradations of tone. The term comes from the Italian mezzotinto, meaning “half tint.” In this process, the entire surface of a metal printing plate is uniformly roughened using serrated tools called rockers to create tiny indentations that will hold ink. A tool called a burnisher is used to smooth over areas of the surface not intended to hold ink, creating an image or composition. When damp paper is placed on top of the inked plate and run through a press, the smoother, burnished sections result in light areas in the image, and the unburnished sections produce dark areas.

Mixed media

1. A technique involving the use of two or more artistic media, such as ink and pastel or painting and collage, that are combined in a single composition; 2. A designation for an artist who works with a number of different artistic media.


A unique print, typically painterly in effect, made by applying printing ink to a flat sheet of metal, glass, or plastic. The painted image is transferred to paper either by manually rubbing or using a press. Mediums are applied to the plate using two different methods. In the additive, or “light-field,” technique, ink or paint is applied directly to the plate, often with a brush. In the subtractive, or “dark-field,” technique, the plate is covered with a layer of ink or paint, and the image is formed by manipulating and removing the ink or paint using a variety of tools, including brushes, rags, or the artist’s fingers. Each plate typically yields one monotype, but subsequent pulls (sometimes called “ghost impressions” because of their relative faintness) can be made from the residual mediums on the plate.


A term referring to small-scale, three-dimensional works of art conceived and produced in relatively large editions, and often issued by the same individuals or organizations that publish prints.

Negative (photographic)

A previously exposed and developed photographic film or plate showing an image that, in black-and-white photography, has a reversal of tones (for example, white eyes appear black). In color photography, the image is in complementary colors to the subject (for example, a blue sky appears yellow). The transfer of a negative image to another surface results in a positive image.


A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support.


For much of the history of the medium, a photograph was defined as a chemical image rendered visible by the action of light on photosensitive compounds. Photographic images can be made on a variety of supports, such as paper, metal, glass, and plastic. More recently, this evolving practice has come to include visual data generated from scans of analog negatives, born-digital works, and images that only circulate digitally.


A general term for any metal-plate intaglio printing process in which the image has been transferred to the plate by photographic means. Acid is used to incise the image into the plate; the plate is then inked, wiped, and printed on a press.


A substance, usually finely powdered, that produces the color of any medium. When mixed with oil, water, or another fluid, it becomes paint.


In printmaking, the flat surface onto which the design is etched, engraved, or otherwise applied.


In photography, images capable of being produced in multiples that result from the transfer of a negative image to another surface, such as a photographic print on paper.


A large, usually printed placard, bill, or announcement, often illustrated, that is posted to advertise or publicize something, or used for decoration; an artistic work, often a reproduction of an original painting or photograph, printed on a large sheet of paper.


A work of art on paper that usually exists in multiple copies. It is created not by drawing directly on paper, but through a transfer process. The artist begins by creating a composition on another surface, such as metal or wood, and the transfer occurs when that surface is inked and a sheet of paper, placed in contact with it, is run through a printing press. Four common printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint.


The specialized technician or establishment that provides expertise on printing and often collaborates with artists to make prints. The printer also executes the prints in an edition, following an example authorized by the artist.


A print that is not part of the regular numbered edition, including examples printed in advance of the edition, such as “trial proofs,” that are used to assess progress on the image; “working proofs” that the artist has modified with hand additions; as well as “artist’s proofs” and “printer’s proofs,” which are indistinguishable from the edition and reserved for artist and printer.

Relief print

A general term for those printmaking techniques in which the printing surface is cut away so that the image alone appears raised on the surface. Relief prints include woodcut, linoleum cut, letterpress, and rubber or metal stamping. The raised areas of the printing surface are inked and printed, while the areas that have been cut away do not pick up the ink

Screenprint or Silkscreen

A stencil-based printmaking technique in which the first step is to stretch and attach a woven fabric (originally made of silk, but now more commonly of synthetic material) tightly over a wooden frame to create a screen. Areas of the screen that are not part of the image are blocked out with a variety of stencil-based methods. A squeegee is then used to press ink through the unblocked areas of the screen, directly onto paper. Screenprints typically feature bold, hard-edged areas of flat, unmodulated color. Also known as silkscreen and serigraphy.


A substance capable of dissolving another material. In painting, the solvent is a liquid that thins the paint.


Produces an image or pattern by applying pigment to an intermediate object—usually a thin sheet of material such as paper, plastic, wood, or metal—with designed gaps that allow the pigment to reach the exposed portions of a surface below. The stencil is both the resulting image or pattern and the intermediate object.


A rendering of the basic elements of a composition, often made in a loosely detailed or quick manner. Sketches can be both finished works of art or studies for another composition.


The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.


The art and technique of designing, arranging, and printing with type.


A printmaking technique that involves printing an image from a carved plank of wood. The image is cut into the wood using tools such as chisels, gouges, and knives. Raised areas of the image are inked and printed, while cut away or recessed areas do not receive ink and appear blank on the printed paper. Woodcuts can be printed on a press or by hand, using a spoon or similar tool to rub the back of the paper.