Printmaking 101 :: Techniques

Welcome back to Printmaking 101. Today I'm going to introduce the techniques that printmakers use. This will be a short overview and then in the weeks to come I will spend more time looking at each technique. Printmaking is a process that allows an artist to make multiple original works of art. The artist creates an image on a matrix made of wood, stone, metal or other materials. The matrix is then inked and the image is transferred to paper. There is one exception, the monoprint (monotype) which I will explore next week. Today I am going to cover the techniques by which an artist can make multiples.

There are four major techniques that printmakers use. They are: Intaglio, Relief Printing, Screenprinting, and Lithography. 

drypoint, Pouring Rain, by That Thin Line

To make an intaglio print, an artist uses tools to create an image on a metal plate. The crevices and recessed lines that are created are inked and then a damp piece of paper is placed over the top. The plate and paper are then run through an etching press which uses a great deal of pressure to force the paper into the inked lines. Intaglio techniques include engraving, drypoint, aquatint, etching, collograph and mezzotint.

block print, Looking Out, by Magprint

Relief Printing is the oldest of all printmaking techniques. In a relief print, it is the raised portion of the matrix that is inked and printed. The artist carves away all of the areas that will remain white and then rolls ink onto the surface. Paper is placed over the surface and the image is then transferred either by rubbing the back of the paper or running the block and paper through a press. Relief Printing techniques include woodcut, wood engraving and linocut.

screenprint, Whooping Crane, by beethings

Screenprinting uses a stencil to create images. A screen is built and the artist uses a material to block out areas of the screen; it is the areas left open that will print. The screen is laid on top of paper or another material and ink is squeegeed across the entire surface. Images can be built upon by adding layers of color/design with additional screens.

lithograph, Haybales, by Simon Burder

In Lithography, an artist uses a smooth leveled plate of limestone or a fine-grained metal such as aluminum. The artist draws images onto the plate with greasy crayons or tusche and the image is then chemically treated which fixes the image and prevents other areas of the plate from receiving ink. The entire stone is then sponged with water, and then inked. A lithographic press is used to transfer the image from the stone to paper.

PS - The MoMA site has a great interactive page which leads you through the four major printmaking techniques. Click here to check it out!