Printmaking is an art form that has evolved over the centuries. Through its various techniques, printmaking offers artists several ways to express themselves.
The different types of printmaking are relief printing, intaglio, planography, collagraphy, viscosity printing, and stencil printing. Also, relief printing, intaglio, and stencil printing can be further broken down into subtypes based on the chosen materials.
This article will explore all these forms of printmaking in detail. Keep reading to learn all the great things there are to know about this art form.
If you are interested in knowing if some of the types of printmaking are better or worse for the planet, we recommend you read our article on Is Linocut Eco-Friendly? 3 Things To Know.
Table of Contents
Types of Printmaking
Relief printing is one of the most common types of printmaking. It involves carving an image into a printing block that you will press into your chosen material, typically paper. When you cut the image, the pieces you carve out are what will be left white in print, as the ink will stick to the parts you don’t carve.
According to the Museum of Modern Art, relief printing includes the following types of printmaking:
- Woodcut: The oldest form of relief printmaking, woodcutting is a technique that uses wood as the printing block. A distinct characteristic of this form of relief printing is the residual wood grain left behind in the prints.
- Linocut: This relief printing form uses linoleum blocks as the printing block material. The process is the same as woodcutting with removing the negative space, but you will find that it is more difficult to create fine lines with linoleum. However, carving out large chunks of material is easier since linoleum is pretty soft.
- Letterpress: A letterpress is similar to a rubber stamp with a raised surface for text or an image. In more modern letterpress printing, you can create an impression in the paper you are printing on, creating an entirely new look for your art.
- Rubber stamping: This technique involves cutting your image into a rubber printing block. You’re effectively creating something similar to the rubber stamps many use to stamp their address on essential documents.
- Metal stamping: Metal stamping is the best option for a challenging surface to draw your image on. You will carve your desired relief image into the metal stamp. It is so durable that you can even use it on leather.
Intaglio printing is similar to relief printing, but the final technique is the reverse of relief.
The image is cut into the printing plate for intaglio printmaking, filling its lines with ink. Instead of carving your image into the blank space of your print, you leave the image raised, cutting away the rest of the matrix’s surface.
When ready to produce your prints, you will fill these lines with ink and press the paper firmly into the lines to create the desired image.
So, instead of being the negative space, the carved lines become the main lines of the image.
The different forms of intaglio printmaking include the following:
- Etching: When you use the etching process, you will cover your plate with etching ground and draw your lines through the substance. Once you have sketched out your image, you will dip the plate into an acid bath that will eat away the exposed lines. The longer you leave the plate in the bath, the more detail you will get.
- Drypoint: The drypoint technique is similar to etching in that you will use a fine needle to draw the image on the surface of the plate. However, you do not use acid. The process creates small burrs on the surface of the plate, which tend to make fuzzy lines on the prints.
- Engraving: One of the most challenging techniques to master, engraving requires using a burin to carve your desired image out of a metal plate. The process requires an exact level of precision as mistakes are not easy to fix.
- Aquatint: A variation on etching, aquatint is a technique that focuses more on large sections than fine lines. It uses heated rosin to adhere to the plate, creating an acid-resistant barrier that protects the image when placed in the acid bath.
Planographic printing is making prints from a flat surface, such as a stone. You will draw your image on the stone or other flat surface with an oily substance, such as a greasy crayon. Once the picture is complete, you will dampen the stone with water.
Because oil and water do not mix, the only affected parts of the stone will be the unmarked areas.
Next, apply ink to the stone. It will only stick to the crayoned parts of the surface. You can then press your inked stone onto your paper to create your prints. The image you drew with the crayon will be the only lines transferred to the paper.
A collagraph is relief printing in reverse. Instead of carving the image into your printing block, you will build it up using various materials. Essentially, you are building a collage on the print block from your materials of choice, which can be anything from plants to plastic to cardboard. The result is a type of relief printing block. Your material choice can profoundly affect your final project as different materials hold varying amounts of ink.
Viscosity printing is a technique that combines elements of relief printing and intaglio. It also relies on using one plate for multiple colors instead of the standard that uses a separate plate for each color.
This method works because the viscosity of the inks prevents them from running into one another.
Stencil printing uses a print matrix with holes cut out in the shape of the image you want to print. You then paint or ink over the holes to apply the design on your designated paper. There are two primary types of stencil printing that are popular today:
- Pochoir: While this technique translates from the French as “stencil,” it is more than just a simple stencil. This method is commonly used for creating limited edition prints.
- Serigraphy: This technique is also known as silk screening and screenprinting. In this technique, you create a screen with polyester or nylon – it used to be silk – and parts of it are covered with a stencil, making the image negative. Ink is then placed over the screen and forced through it onto the paper beneath, creating the print.
Yes – you wanted to skip all the text. I get it. This video is less than 15 minutes long and it does a pretty good job at talking about the different printmaking techniques. If no one has time for a 15-min video and you just want to start with the easiest, you can check out our very concise article on This Is the Easiest Printmaking Technique (as a hint, I can let you know it starts with “w” and ends with “oodcut”. The Arts Council Collection has some hidden gems. Take a look, and give them some appreciation: