An Introduction to Printmaking


Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing - normally on paper. An original print is traditionally an image conceived by an artist to be created on one surface and transferred onto another, thereby enabling the production of more than one final image. The original work of art is the print itself, the end product of the process, rather than the block or plate from which it is printed.


The development of photography and digital print technology in recent years has meant that the traditional definition of an original print does not cover all printmaking techniques. So the definition of an original print today has less to do with process than with intention. An original print is now generally acknowledged to be an artwork originally conceived by the artist as a print.


There are several different methods of printmaking, which fall into three main groups: Relief printing; Intaglio printing; and Planographic printing.

    Relief Printing

    Relief prints are those in which the areas around the image to be printed are cut away, leaving the image on the block in relief. The raised areas are inked and the image transferred onto a second surface, usually paper. The most common relief processes are woodcut, linocut and wood engraving.


    Intaglio Printing

    Intaglio prints (from Italian intagliare - to engrave or incise) are those in which the image is cut into a surface or plate. When the plate is inked, the incised lines hold the ink and the image is transferred to a second surface, usually paper. When an intaglio plate is passed through the printing press it leaves a raised area around the image where it has pressed into the paper, known as the platemark. The presence of a platemark is a good way of telling an intaglio print from a relief or planographic print. Engraving, etching, drypoint, carborundum, aquatint and mezzotint are the most common types of intaglio printmaking. Many printmakers combine different intaglio techniques when they work on their plates and for this reason it is not unusual to see a contemporary print described simply as intaglio.


    Planographic Printing

    In addition to the traditional relief and intaglio processes, which involve cutting into a block or plate, there are other methods of printmaking which do not, known as planographic processes. Traditionally the term planographic relates primarily to lithography but in recent years its usage has grown to encompass screenprint, and the various photomechanical and digital processes.