An original print is an artwork that has been conceived by an artist to be produced solely as a print, rather than as a reproduction of another work. Prints are generally run in limited editions and can be signed and numbered by the artist. Each print in an edition is referred to as an impression, and each impression is considered a unique work of art.
The earliest known prints were woodcuts produced in Ancient China. Printmaking became possible in the West with the arrival and proliferation of paper, as well as the use of the woodcut technique. The earliest uses of printmaking in Europe were for devotional images, playing cards, and the decoration of cloth. During the Renaissance, masters elevated common printing into an art, as the woodcut method evolved and other forms of printmaking, like engraving, etching, and drypoint developed. As printmakers continued to explore the medium, they created new techniques in order to both push the boundaries of printing and mimic the effects of other media. Printmaking continues to be popular today with artists working in both historically traditional and innovative techniques.
Fine art prints can be separated into four broad categories of printing methods: relief, intaglio, stencil, and planographic. Relief printing includes woodcut, wood engravings, and linocuts. In these techniques, the raised surface of the matrix is inked and pressed to paper to produce an image, the recessed areas of non-image having been cut away. Intaglio is a direct opposite of a relief print, as in this method of printing lines are incised into the matrix and these lines then hold the ink that produces the image. Engraving, etching, drypoint, mezzotint, and aquatint are all types of intaglio printing.
Planographic printmaking involves printing from a flat surface where the image has been directly applied to the matrix. Examples of this type of printing include lithography and monotypes. Stenciling is a process in which an image is produced by pressing ink through a cutout design onto another surface. Screenprinting (also called silkscreen or serigraphy) and pochoir are types of stencil printmaking techniques.