the world of printmaking can seem vague and mysterious to many people. What is a print? That's the easy part. It's just something that has been printed. So what makes prints different from each other? The printmaking techniques and the amount of prints actually made are the major considerations. Here are some that I use.
ETCHING is a process in which something "bites" into a plate to create small pockets (usually lines) in which printing ink is placed. Usually this is done with some kind of acid on a metal plate. The plate goes through an inking process, then run through a press to actually press the ink onto a piece of paper.
AQUATINT is a special etching process in which rosin is melted onto the metal plate to create an acid resistent layer. Since the rosin is spread across the plate like dust, the acid burns into the metal (in the spaces between the tiny flecks of melted rosin) with a grainy effect. This allows the printmaker to create field of a tone instead of just lines.
BLOCK PRINT is a print made from a block of wood, linoleum, styrofoam, or any substance that can be carved/cut and have ink applied to it for printing. The ink, in this case, is spread on top of the surface (and not allowed to get into the carved out sections) before being either run through a press with paper. A more traditional method of printing with a block is to just lay the paper on top of the printed block and rub the paper by hand to make sure the ink is evenly transferred to the paper.
EDITION a group of prints from the same plate/block (or set of plates/blocks) that make the same image
OPEN EDITION is an edition that has an undetermined number of prints in it. In theory, an printmaker could make prints in an open edition until the printing block/plate is worn out. In actual practice is usually means that an artist will make prints until he/she is tired of making them or the public demand diminishes. Sometimes blocks do break, and there is a very limited life span for metal plates.
CLOSED or LIMITED EDITION is an edition in which a limited number of prints are made. An artist could make two prints, or two thousand, depending on the durability of the plate/block and how much time the artist could invest in printing the same image. But, the edition is still "limited" to a certain number of prints and "closed" when that number is determined and printed. At that point the printing block/plate is either destroyed or modified in a way that more prints cannot be made with it.
IMAGE SIZE this is the size of the printed image. Often there is extra paper surrounding the image during the printmaking process which is not included in the size of the image. Often, prints are framed with the surrounding "extra" paper still in tact because it presents a pleasant border around the image. Usually the artist's signature is within this border so that it does not interfere with the image itself.
As an example, I have just printed a series of images of a wave,and the actual inked/printed part measures about 5 inches by 5 inches. It has been printed on 11 inch by 14 inch paper. The paper has been trimmed down to be 9 inches by 9 inches so that it can fit inside a square frame. When framed the 5 x 5 image is in the center of a 9 x 9 piece of paper. It leaves a nice 2 inch border around the printed image.