What is an original graphic?

Original graphic, limited print/edition is an individual art form. The word origins from the Greek word grafein meaning drawing or writing. In this context "graphic" means printing. 

Graphic printing is a transfer from a print plate, e.g. copper plate, lithographic stone or plate, serigraph frame or a woodblock. This type of printing allows more impressions of the same print. The number of prints (impressions) depends on the resistance of the print plate before the wear becomes visible. Some techniques allow an almost infinite number of prints, others only a few. 

The artist decides the number of impressions of the same print - some choose a limited number, others quite a large number. 

The term original graphics - introduced in the mid 1800's - is a term which is still under debate, and an absolute definition will not be attempted here. 

According to the commonly used international definition of original graphics, it requires: 

  1. That the work with the printing plate/stone/block etc. was conducted by the artist.
  2. That the printing must be done by the artist or by a professional print maker according to the artist's instructions.
  3. That the print is approved by the artist with a signature.
  4. That both the issue number and total number of editions are indicated on the final print.

However, there are different opinions on how many of the above requirements should be met. The requirements are largely given in order to create international guidelines regarding commercial graphic art trading.

A part of the graphic printing created today is carried out using new electronic methods, e.g. computer, photocopier or fax. These new possibilities result in graphical prints where the touch or the use of the hand was not directly involved in the process. 

But at the same time the new techniques offer possibilities for endless printing without the printing plate being worn. 

With the new possibilities, which can be combined with the more classical printing techniques, it can be difficult to give a clear answer to the definition of the concept of original graphics. 

Importantly, the graphical sheet is aligned with the technique used. 

The opposition is the reproduction, meaning, graphic printing reproducing an art piece, that is the true original. Original graphics are, in the sense of the word, original in themselves, and therefore do not reproduce another work. 

With these identifiers of the term ‘original graphics’, nothing is said about the use of the word ‘original’ in an artistic sense. Original graphics can be created in different ways. 


The woodcut is the oldest of the graphical techniques. Came to Europe along with the paper about 600 years ago but has been used in Asia for much longer. 

In the past, fruit trees (pear wood, wood from nut-bearing trees and cherry wood) were used as blocks (cut along the wood grain). Today, mainly veneer is used. With different knives, the white parties of the image are cut off. The block is covered with color and the print is usually done on thin long-fiber paper by rubbing against the back of the paper with a spoon. It can also be printed on different types of machines.

Coloured woodcut

The coloured woodcut, which appears around year 1500 as a replacement for the hand-colored woodcuts, is traditionally done with a separate block for each color. The blocks are used one by one, starting with the lighter colours. 

Another method for multi-colour printing is the Clair obscure technique, where two blocks are used. In one of the blocks only light coloured parties are cut away. This block prints in a light colour before over-printing with the black-coloured block. 

The elimination technique uses only one block. First, the white parts of the print are cut off. The full edition is printed in the first colour using the block. After that, the coloured parts of the print are cut off. By the second printing both the white colour, the first print colour and the mix of the first and the second print colour appear. Then the parts for the mixed colours are cut off. 

In the poupée technique, only one block is used, which is partially colored with small hand rolls or brushes. 

Another technique of partial colouring is to cut the plate into pieces, which are then colored separately and printed. 


Linoleum dates back to the 1860s and shortly afterwards, it is used by the print makers. During the cutting linoleum does not give the same resistance as wood, and linoleum is therefore easier to shape. When printing, which is done the same way as by the woodcut, a uniform colour occurs, but without the structure and annular rings characterizing the colour shades of the woodcut. 


Engraving appears in the mid 1400s. The work is done with burins in a copper plate resting on a sand pillow. During the engraving, the burin pushes a small amount of metal forwards. The engraving consists of lines and dots. Prior to the printing, the plate is polished to remove any grits and irregularities. The copper engraving requires great craftsmanship and is virtually not used today.


The dry point technique, which is a method not using acid, appeared in the 1480s. However, the name comes from the erosion, as previously the needle was used directly in the acid on the plate. The lines incised into the metal first thus got a darker colour as they had the longest erosion. 

However, when using the needle directly in the plate, it is no longer wet and hot (heat from the erosion process), but cold and dry. 

By incising directly into the plate, you create different depths. These marks contain the colour during printing. This gives dry point printing it´s beautiful characteristics - the almost furry, organic lines.  


Around 1765, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste le Prinz develops a grayish etching technique, where the tone scale from white to black can be controlled very accurately. The plate is applied with a fine layer of powdered resin which is then melted and burnt into the plate. The intended white surfaces of the print are covered with asphaltum or hard ground before the first etching. After short etching, the plate is levitated and areas with the designated tonality are uncovered. At the following etching periods, the burnt grains form different grayish tones. After the etching the grains are removed. The small elevations, where the grains protected against the acid, now serve as slides when wiping the colour onto the surface of the plate. Different grayish tones now emerge in the print as a dotted structure. The technique is usually used together with etching or dry point. 


Carborundum printmaking was developed by the Frenchman Henry Goetz around 1968. 

The plate is covered with urethane paint serving as the glue for carborundum powder mixed with acrylic colours. In the same way as by the aquatint the paint stays on after drying. The amount of powder in the acrylic colours determine the darkness - that is how much colour the plate can contain. 


The lithograph was invented by German Alois Senefelder in the late 1700s. He experimented with different pressures from stones. He finds that a special limestone (the Solnhofen stone), found in his home region of Bavaria, can soothe and retain both water and fats. This was the basis for a groundbreaking new printing technique. 

Today there are a large number of methods for processing the lithographic stone. Common are the following processes: Grinding the stone. Two stones against each other with grinding grains in between. After the grinding, the stone is ready for the artist to work. 

On the grained surfaces the artist draws with greasy chalk and a pen. With a mix of acid in gum Arabic, the portions of the stone are cleansed. These etched areas retain water. To protect these areas, a thin layer of gum Arabic is applied to the stone. Afterwards, the marked areas are leached with turpentine or the like and then rubbed with acid asphaltum. The rubber layer is washed with water and the stone is ready for colouring. 

The stone is moistened and applied with ink that only sticks on the marked areas. The printing takes place in a special lithographic press where the printing paper is pressed against the stone. 

Multi-colored lithography is usually done with one stone for each color, but also the elimination method is used (see also multi-colored woodcut). However, with the elimination method on stone, it is not only possible to remove parts of the image between each press, it is also possible to add new elements through a solution with soap.


Screen printing originated in Japan, where it was developed in the 1700s. 

During the image-forming work, a part of the stretched screen is exposed in a way, and hereby the ink is transferred onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink. 

There are many methods for this blocking off: 

  1. 1. "positive method" Painted directly on the screen with fatty chalk or a pen. Then the screen is covered with a so-called filler. This does not hold where the paint is. The drawing can then be removed with a solvent.
  2. 2. "cutting film" In a thin cutting film, the areas where the color will penetrate the screen will be cut off when printing. The film is then glued to the tissue.
  3. 3. "Photographic method" Photo emulsion is applied to the tissue in the dark chamber. A positive film of the image is laid on the screen and illuminated. After the evolution, the emulsion in the illuminated areas (where the light penetrates through the illumination) will prevent the color from penetrating during the printing.

Multi-colored screen printing is done with one print frame for each color.  


Giclée print (pronounced "sji-klee") is a modern printing technique that is increasingly used in the production of graphics. Today, technology delivers long-lasting, bright colors and highly-nuanced color printing that optimizes fine shades.

Giclée is used both on paper and canvas. It's an expensive printing technique, which means that you almost exclusively see it used in the production of exclusive art prints. Giclée is produced from a digital source, typically a scan in the highest achievable resolution. Then a special inkjet printer is used to spray the colors on the paper or canvas - usually in a fairly thick layer.

The technique is awarded to Frenchman Jack Duganne, who in 1991 was the first to apply giclée for the production of high-quality art prints.