Art: Prints, Paintings & In Between: How to Differentiate Between Art Mediums & How to Correctly List Art

When looking at art, Medium can sometimes be difficult to determine. Medium is very important when attributing an artist or value to a work of art. Artists have a wide variety of mediums to choose from when creating their artworks.

Art Crayons

Art Mediums include, but are not limited to, Tempera, Oil Paint, Acrylic Paint, Watercolors, Charcoal, Pastels, Chalk, Graphite Pencils, Color Pencils, Ink and Pen drawings and Art Prints.

First, we will look at Art Prints. There are several types of prints artists use to reproduce their works. Types of prints include Etching: Intaglio & Relief Printing, Lithography, Giclée, Serigraphy: Screen Printing and Monotype prints.

Printing Press

Intaglio Printmaking:

An intaglio print is one where the image is printed from a recessed design incised or etched into the surface of a plate. In this type of print, the ink lies below the surface of the plate and is transferred to the paper under pressure using an intaglio press. This is a heavy press with a flat, metal bed suspended between two rollers; blankets are used to soften and spread the pressure and to help push the dampened paper into the deeper areas of the upturned plate. Examples of intaglio printmaking are etching, mezzotint, aquatint, engraving, drypoint and collagraph.

Relief Printmaking

A relief print is one where the image is printed from a design raised on the surface of a block. The plate is made by cutting away those areas of the block which you do not want to appear in the design and rolling ink onto the top surface. In this type of print, the ink lies on the top of the block and is transferred to the paper under light pressure. The most popular examples of this style of printmaking are woodcut and linocut but collagraphs can also be printed as relief plates. Relief printing presses typically have a bed on which the block is placed face up, a dry sheet of paper placed on top and an upper surface is brought down to press the paper onto the block

Albrecht Durer Hare

Etchings are known for achieving extremely nuanced contrasts, generally using black and white as their palette. The printing and use of etchings as an artistic medium began in the Middles Ages with the invention and widespread use of the printing press to print the written word. Artists began using this technique to mass-produce their works. This method of producing works of art en masse allowed artists to make their works more widely available to far wider audiences. This mass production made art much more affordable to less affluent audiences who could then purchase art to hang in their homes. This advent in printmaking made these artists and their works recognizable to audiences worldwide and across time. Artists like Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer produced some of the most well-known art prints, still highly praised for their artistic beauty to this day.

Albrecht Durer Pheasant Wing


Lithography allows the artist to paint and draw directly onto the surface of a stone or metal plate. The image is created with greasy materials on a grease-sensitive surface to accept ink and the remainder treated with water-based materials to repel ink. A characteristic of the resultant image is often a crayon-like texture or ink line-and-wash drawing. The lithographic printing process is ‘off-set’ and requires a long bed on which the paper and plate are positioned side by side. A full-width roller passes along the entire length of the bed, picks up the ink from the plate then passes back again putting the ink down on the paper.

Lithography                           art print                       art print

Giclée Printmaking

Giclée printmaking came into existence with computer technologies becoming more readily available to artists. Graham Nash (of the rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young) was one of the first to successfully utilize computer printers for his printing business. However, in 1991, one of Nash’s employees, the artist Jack Duganne, coined the term “giclée,” to distance his more artistic printing method from Nash’s more business-like printing model. The word itself derives from the French word for “nozzle” gicleur and today refers to any print made using archival inks, archival papers, and color quality control. Giclée prints are often an inexpensive alternative for digital artists who wish to make reproductions of their original two-dimensional artwork while preserving the original rendering for themselves.

printed art

Serigraphy: Screen Printmaking

Serigraphy is a process where a flat implement (usually a squeegee) is used to force ink through a stencil and directly onto the paper underneath. The most popular form of this style of printmaking is called Screen printing, where a mesh is stretched over a frame, areas are blocked and a squeegee pulled across the mesh, prints the image around the blocked areas. Screen printing is a popular form of commercial art such as printing on fabric and large poster style images and does not require any type of press.

screen printing

Monotype Printmaking

A monotype is a unique image taken from a matrix rather than drawn or painted directly onto the paper. The image is painted or rolled onto the smooth surface of a plate which is usually made of plastic. It is usually printed using an intaglio press. Because the detail of the image is removed by the process of printing the plate, the print cannot be repeated.

watercolor painting

Paintings: Watercolors, Oils & Acrylics

Watercolor Painting: a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. Watercolor refers to both the medium and the resulting artwork. The traditional and most common material to which the paint is applied for watercolor paintings is watercolor paper.

Oil Painting: Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. It has been the most common technique for artistic painting on wood panel or canvas for several centuries, spreading from Europe to the rest of the world. The advantages of oil for painting images include “greater flexibility, richer and denser color, and a wider range from light to dark”. But the process is slower, especially when one layer of paint needs to be allowed to dry before another is applied.

Acrylic Painting: Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion and plasticizers, silicone oils, defoamers, stabilizers, or metal soaps. Most acrylic paints are water-based but become water-resistant when dry. Depending on how much the paint is diluted with water, or modified with acrylic gels, mediums, or pastes, the finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor, a gouache, or an oil painting, or have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.

acrylic paint

How To Differentiate Between Paint Mediums

Watercolor paintings will have a translucent appearance with overlapping borderlines of colors, often with pencil or ink visible beneath. Watercolors are rarely opaque unless another medium has been added. Acrylic and Oils can be more difficult to differentiate. Oils will have softer, less defined edges due to the paint’s slow drying time and the oils that make it up its composition. Conversely, acrylics will have sharper edges and will have a plastic-like appearance. Acrylics will also tend to have more vibrant colors while oils can be darker and murky in appearance. The texture is another tale-tale clue as to whether a painting is in acrylics or oils. On the surface, acrylic paint will look rougher as you look it over partly because of how this paint medium dries and because it usually applies much thicker than oil paints. Dates can be a dead giveaway as to medium. If the painting was made before 1950 – it is more than likely an oil painting, as acrylic was not heavily introduced into the art world until post-1950. Craquelure and Yellowing can also be a clue when determining oil vs. acrylic. Oil paints will yellow and crack with age. This cracking is known as Craquelure in the art world.


Ex: Craquelure

girl with pearl earring painting  eyes of girl with pearl earring painting

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665. Oil on Canvas. 44.5 cm × 39 cm (17.5 in × 15 in). Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

Listing a Piece of Art


Academic Listing/Attribution:

Artist’s Name, Title of Work, Date. Medium, Measurements. Location of artwork (where is it currently on display).

Ex: Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665. Oil on Canvas. 44.5 cm × 39 cm (17.5 in × 15 in). Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

Lead Lines for Auction Listing:

Date – Signed – Artist’s Name – Medium

Ex: 1985 Signed Andy Warhol Four Marilyns Lithograph Print

List any other details such as measurements and provenance in the item description.

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