What Are Graphic Prints And How Were They Made

Limited Treasures

Although graphic prints are usually printed in small numbers, which prevents them from being considered unique, they are to be regarded as fully-fledged originals. Every graphic print is however unique in that it embodies an artistic notion, which could only be implemented with the chosen printing technique. Furthermore, it is common practice to make the printing plate unusable following the completion of the printing run, which prevents further duplication.

A single graphic print is called a copy. The total number of copies forms the print run, whose quantity is solely determined by the artist and usually lies between 20 to 100 copies. This limitation is representative of the value of the graphical print. The handwritten numbering and signatures provided by the artist vouches for the originality of the prints and are mostly executed in pencil. This is because it is impossible to erase pencil without damaging the paper itself.

Pinnacles of artistic multiplicity

The term graphic print is generally understood to mean the reproduction of artistic drawings through printing techniques. Graphic prints therefore belong to the realm of fine arts, as they aim to use the printing process as an independent tool of original artistic expression. The artist consciously makes use of the various printing techniques available to him, along with their creative properties, such as woodcut, chalcography, etching and lithography, in order to produce the desired artistic expression.

The first religious graphic prints were created around the year 1400 with the use of so-called ‘popular prints’. The first chalcography was produced in 1446 as a result of the growing production of paper. Both techniques were subsequently perfected by Albrecht Dürer, Raffael and Michelangelo.

The year 1513 saw the creation of the first etching, which greatly simplified the creation of graphic prints. With the development of lithography in the year 1803, the perfection of printing technique reached a new high, which offered artists new opportunities for artistic expression.

Various printing techniques

Popular prints

Popular prints is a term for the earliest form of printed image during the period between 1400 and 1550. They are one-sided prints on paper with clearly drawn figures and a lack of spatiality and movement. They usually only consist of contour lines that have been elaborately colored afterwards.


Woodcuts are graphics created using a wooden printing block. The parts not to be printed are removed using a carving knife and the protruding pieces are dyed. Printing is achieved using a bone folder by hand or a printing press. Woodcut is a relief printing technique.

Copper engraving

The intaglio printing process of copper engraving was first used from 1420/30 and is closely related to the engraving technique. The image to be printed is embedded into the copper plate with an etching needle. The resulting shapes and lines are dyed and printed onto paper using a roll compactor.


The earliest etchings date back to 1513. For etchings, the printing plate is adapted using either chemical cauterization or an etching needle made of hard steel. Due to this, the technique is also an intaglio printing procedure. The dye gathers in the resulting dents, before finally being printed onto damp paper using a roll compactor.


The aquatint technique was invented between 1765 and 1768 and is still used by artists today. This intaglio printing technique is a special method for creating artistic printed graphics that use surface cauterizations to achieve diverse halftones. It is also often combined with etching.


Lithography was invented in 1798 and is one of the most commonly used flat screen printing techniques of the 19th century. In lithography, the image is created on a lithography stone and printed onto suitable paper using a stone printing press. This technique is still used for art prints today.


A serigraph is a print made using silk screening. Inks are pressed onto the material through a finely-woven mesh. These are crafted either by the artists themselves or in close cooperation with screen printers. Serigraphy is a silkscreen printing technique, although it is also often classed as a relief printing, flat screen printing and intaglio printing procedure.