What is Printmaking?

A print is an impression on paper taken from a matrix, usually a specially prepared printing plate or block.

In the past, prints were always produced in editions, that is, as multiples, but sometimes today printmakers make unique impressions from the plate. Prints are easy to transport and exhibit. Such features allow prints travel across countries and the world easily, hence inviting a wider audience and the possibilities of having an exchange exhibition like Compact Prints. The artist prepares the printing plate by cutting, etching or drawing an image onto the plate. Ink is applied (in a variety of ways) and the paper is pressed onto the plate either by hand or through a printing press.

There are many different printing styles:

Relief – This refers to the style of inking up the plate where the raised surface of a plate whether it is wood, lino or collograph is rolled with ink and then printed onto paper.

Woodcut – the wood used in woodcuts can include pine board, old 4”x4” veranda posts, small slabs from tree trunks, old breadboards etc. Often the final product can tend to be a bit ‘chunky’ although some schools, such as Japanese Woodcuts, can be very fine and delicate.

Chine colle is when different papers are incorporated into the printing process so that a ’collage’ of papers, melded into each other, underlies the printed image. It can be used to add colour, texture or definition to an image.

Collograph – essentially is making a printing plate from any found or constructed materials. Usually materials of different surfaces and textures are stuck onto a backing plate, although some artists may print directly from the material. The surface of the plate is varnished and the plate is then printed either as relief or intaglio.

Digital prints – May be created from manipulated photographs or artwork then using the various filters and effects available in illustration software, or from drawing or painting using appropriate software.

Drypoint – lines dots and stipples are manually scratched, using any sharp tool, into the surface of a plate made of a relatively soft material such as copper, aluminium or Perspex. The drypoint line is scratchy and irregular, and often a little ‘wayward’. The appearance of a drypoint print is a slightly blurry or fuzzy line.

Embossing – if the relief is deep enough and damp paper is used, the image can be ‘embossed’ onto the paper. Embossing can also be done with very low relief plates – this process subtly alters the paper’s surface.

Etching – acid is used to eat the surface of the plate and create cavities or grooves for the ink to be held in. Usually the plate is covered with an acid resistant surface, which the artist scratches through before placing the plate in an acid bath. Large areas of tone can be created by sprinkling rosin onto the plate, heating and melting the rosin so that it adheres to the plate but doesn’t totally cover the plate, and placing the plate into an acid bath to etch out the fine network of lines between the rosin droplets – this technique is called ‘aquatint’.

Engraving – lines, dots and stipples are mechanically or manually applied directly onto the plate surface. An engraved line is neatly cut into the plate, often using tools called ‘gravers’ and gives a very sharp crisp slightly embossed line. This was the common method of creating book illustrations until the middle of last century.

Intaglio – fine grooves are cut into a plate that is usually made of ‘soft’ metal but may be plastic or some other material. Ink is rubbed over the surface and into the grooves of the plate and then the surface is wiped clean, leaving ink in the grooves. The plate and paper are put through a press under great pressure, where the ink is squeezed out of the grooves onto the paper.

Mezzotint – a plate is entirely covered with a stipple created either manually or mechanically. If the plate was printed at this stage it would be black. The artist then rubs or cuts back areas on the plate to create grey or white tones.

Silkscreen – silk is tightly stretched over a wooden or aluminium frame and a ‘stencil’ is adhered to the silk. The stencil may be made of paper or acetate, it may be made from an impermeable blockout either hand applied by brush or crayon, or applied through photosensitive processes. Ink is then pushed through the screen onto paper using a rubber ‘squeegee’. Very subtle and delicate work can be created using multiple screens.

Linocut – art lino is carved or cut with specially adapted blades and cutting tools. Although linocuts are commonly associated with coarse graphic representation it is possible to get very clean and fine works using this technique.

Lithography – traditionally a stone, but more frequently these days an aluminum plate, is coated with a substance that repels the ink, and is drawn or painted on using crayons or ‘paints’ that hold the ink. The plate or stone is inked up using a roller, the ink adheres to the drawn areas and is repelled by the wet, ink-repellant areas, and the ink is printed from the plate to a sheet of paper on a lithographic press. It is possible to get very fine graphite or charcoal-like textures using this process.

Monoprint – is a ‘one-off print’ where an editionable plate is prepared for printing in a non-reproducible manner using techniques such as blended colour rolling, selectively wiping areas of the plate, hand drawing or painting additions to the plate, or the addition of some degradable and mobile element to the plate. This type of print cannot be editioned.

Monotype – is a ‘one-off print’ where ink is applied to a surface such as glass or acetate then printed onto paper. As the name implies this type of print cannot be editioned.