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What is printmaking?

Printmaking represents an artistic technique centred on conveying illustrations from a plate or matrix to an alternate material, commonly paper or fabric. Classic printmaking practices involve woodcut, etching, engraving, and lithography, while present-day artists have extended the range of methods to integrate screen printing into their repertoire.

Printmaking is an art form that dates back centuries and involves the use of printmaking blocks or plates, typically out of metal, wood, or plastic, to create multiple copies of an image. It offers countless possibilities for artistic expression since it can be used with a variety of media such as oil paints, water colours, inks and more. Beyond being an outlet for creative expression printmaking plays an important role in preserving cultural heritage and stories from around the world thanks to its relatively low-cost print reproduction compared to other methods.

It is also widely used commercially for posters, T-Shirt printing,  and advertisements, making printmaking a powerful tool for propaganda and communication. With printmaking comes the possibility to reach a vast audience with whatever message you want to convey. Whether you’re creating a limited edition print at home or working on a large scale commercial project printmaking has something unique to offer!

How Printmaking Works?

Printmaking is an incredibly creative process. It’s based on the basic principle of transferring images from a matrix onto a different surface, say for instance a T-Shirt, canvas bag or paper. When it comes to printmaking, there are traditional techniques that include the likes of etching or engraving, woodcut and even lithography. There are also more modern, contemporary techniques that we now know as screen printing.

When we use the term matrix, we’re basically talking about a template of some description otherwise known as a plate. These matrix’s or templates can be made from lino, metal, wood, silk screen mesh and much more. The design is worked into the matrix using tools and or chemicals to cut, stencil or burn it away. Once the design is complete. It’s then used to transfer that design onto the desired surface.

What are the 4 main types of printmaking?

There are four main types of printmaking: relief, intaglio, planographic, and stencil.

How Designs Are Transferred When Printmaking?

In order to transfer your design, or print from a matrix, one needs to exert some form of controlled pressure. Depending on the type of printing you are doing you will use different equipment to apply that pressure.

Relief, intaglio and planographic printing methods use a printing press or a tool like a baren. A printing press creates an even impression of the design that’s been created on the matrix, onto the flat surface of paper or fabric. A printing press does this by applying immense pressure on the matrix/plate and pressing it into the paper.

It’s always important to remember that the resulting image on the paper or fabric will be a mirror image of that on the matrix (this applies to Relief, intaglio and planographic printing methods). This is extremely important to remember, especially if your design encompasses lettering or numbers, as you’ll need to initially design these back to front on your matrix.

If you’re utilising the more contemporary techniques such as screen printing however, you’ll be surprised to know that you don’t actually need a press. Stencil printmaking methods such as screen printing will use a tool such as a squeegee to push the ink through the screen onto the paper or fabric.

Printmaking is an extremely popular art form. Not only is it enjoyable but it also allows someone to make multiple impressions / editions of the same design from one single matrix (plate). Once that matrix (plate) is complete, you can make virtually an endless number of designs, unless of course you’re working with monotype. Printmaking has multiple benefits however, in order to truly enjoy this creative process, it’s best to find the right type of printmaking for you.

Popular Types Of Printmaking

As we touched upon previously, there are many different methods of printmaking. Finding the right one for you will depend greatly on your design, the method you prefer working with and of course, what you’re hoping to achieve with your design. Here are a few different types of printmaking that you may come across as you experiment…

What Is Relief Printmaking?

Relief printmaking is considered a collection of what’s known as negative techniques. This is where the wood or lino is cut into and a design on said matrix is basically cut away. The area that is uncut or left is what will be printed.

It’s this print that will make the finished product and what is essentially a mirror image of the design on the wood or lino matrix (plate). The wood or Lino block can be printed by hand with a barren or by using a press and should the final image need multiple colours, several blocks can be created in order to produce multiple coloured prints or even the desired layered image.

Read Our Guide On Lino Printing

Types of Relief Printing

Relief printing can actually be very expressive, creating dramatic effects. Usually relief printing use the follow techniques:

What Is Intaglio Printmaking?

Intaglio printing, then from the Italian word ‘intaglio’, which means to engrave or cut, is carried out on a metal plate or acrylic sheet. The metal plate is etched upon with acids or scratched and it’s the lines that are created from this marking method that will print.

This is known as a ‘positive’ method as the print is created from the cut outs or marks whereas the other method we’ve spoken about, Relief printing, would be considered a negative technique. It’s worth noting that the image will still be a mirror image. This particular type of printmaking would be carried out on an etching press.

Read Our Guide On Intaglio Printmaking

Types of Intaglio Printing

The term Intaglio printmaking actually encompasses a number of different techniques, five in fact:

  • Engraving
  • Etching
  • Drypoint
  • Aquatint
  • Mezzotint

What Is Planographic Printmaking?

Planographic printing is when the artist draws their design directly onto the surface of the block using materials like pens, pencils, or paints. The block is then inked and pressed onto paper to create a print. Lithography is one type of planographic printing.

Types of Planographic Printing

Planographic printing encompass the following methods:

  • Lithography
  • Offset Lithography
  • Cyanotype
  • Serigraphy
  • Pochoir

What Is Stencil Printmaking?

Stencil printing is when the artist cuts out a design on stencil paper and places the stencil onto a tightly stretched mesh that allows ink through the area cut out. Ink is then pushed through the mesh using a squeegee, pressing it onto paper to create a print or onto fabric for T-Shirt printing, this can also be used for sign making too. You can also use chemicals thats are light sensitive and applied to a stretched mesh, once exposed to light they harden to create a stencil which is used in commercial printing.

Read Our Guide On Screen Printing

Types of Stencil Printing

There are a few different types of stencil printmaking which are listed below:

  • Hand-cut stencils
  • Tusche or block-out stencils
  • Photostencil Emulsions

Choose The Method That’s Right For You

There are several methods of printmaking and finding the right one for you is imperative to ensure your final design is exactly what you want.

FAQ: Basics of Printmaking

Question: Define printmaking. What are the two main types of printmaking? Define both types.

Answer: Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, typically on paper. It involves transferring an image from a matrix (such as a metal plate, woodblock, or linoleum) onto a surface through various techniques. The two main types of printmaking are relief printing and intaglio printing.

  • Relief Printing: In relief printing, the image is printed from a raised surface. The areas that are not to be printed are carved away, leaving the design in relief. Ink is applied to the raised areas, and the image is transferred to paper by pressing. Common types of relief printing include woodcut and linocut.
  • Intaglio Printing: In intaglio printing, the image is incised into a surface. Ink is applied to the entire surface, and then the ink is wiped off the raised areas, leaving ink in the incised lines or recesses. The image is then transferred to paper under pressure. Common intaglio techniques include engraving, etching, and mezzotint.
Luke Hickman

Luke Hickman is a printmaker and artist with over 15 years of experience. He studied at Norwich University, graduating with a BA (Hons) Fine Art, and has worked in both the commercial printing and digital marketing industries for over 7 years. Luke's work revolves around the idea of creating art that can illustrate a story with topics covering war, politics and history.

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