Printmaking Basics that You Should Know

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Printmaking is believed to have originated somewhere in the 1st century AD. Artists over the years have been responsible for the progress of this medium. They kept researching and experimenting with various techniques to better the process of printmaking.

What exactly is printmaking and what does it include? Let us start with the very basics. Very simply put printmaking can be defined as a type of art which uses the ability to make multiple copies of a single piece of art. It is a process that involves the transfer or movement of ink or paint from one surface on to the other.

This is important as most art work types are done physically, usually single pieces that cannot be exactly replicated. They will have some or the other variation. Printmaking ensures that you get exact replicas of a specific piece of artwork.

Printmaking focuses more on the design replication irrespective of the type and texture of the surface that you are using for printing. You could be using paper, cloth, wood, or any medium as a surface. Printmaking uses a particular kind of paint or ink to recreate the design on the chosen surface.

Printmaking is divided into four basic categories as follows.

The Four Basic Categories

1) Relief printmaking – this is the simplest type of printmaking that exists. In this process, the material is carved from around a design that protrudes. So it is just the design that gets printed.

2) Intaglio printmaking – this is exactly the opposite of relief printmaking. Here the design is carved in such a way that it can hold the ink which then makes it easy to print.

3) Planographic printmaking – this is a little different from the above two. Here the design is printed straight up from a flat surface.

4) Stenciling – As the name suggests, this involves cutting out the design, rubbing paint or ink on the cut out part and then printing it.

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Let us look at the different types of printmaking. All of these fall under one of the other of the above categories.

Different Types of Printmaking

1) Woodcut – this is unarguably one of the oldest types of relief printmaking. As the line suggests, the design is carved on wood. This is then printed using the surface that is raised.

2) Engraving – This falls in the category of intaglio printmaking. The design was engraved into metal and then printed. It involved a lot of effort as complex designs could not be carved easily. A lot of time and money was spent by artisans in trying to learn to engrave the design perfectly without mistakes. This type soon died out and was replaced by etching.

3) Etching – this also fell under intaglio printmaking. In the olden times, a strong dissolving agent or acid was used to dissolve those parts of the metal that was left unprotected. This helped to create the design. This was much easier for the artists as compared to the engraving process.

4) Lithography – this was one of the earliest types of planographic printmaking processes. A flat metal plate was used along with an ink resistant material. This helped to create that portion of the design which did not contain images. This whole thing was rubbed with ink or paint and then used to create the image portion of the design.

5) Screen-printing – this falls under stenciling. Typically an image is designed and paint/ink is applied through a screen. This is called a silk screen. So the image that has been stenciled blocks the ink on the other side. This creates the image.

6) Monotype – this is a unique type of printmaking as it makes reprinting possible. The first print is considered a as the most acceptable print. Ink or color is usually applied to a smooth surface. Copper or glass is mostly used. The image then gets pressed to a sheet of paper using a printing press. Most of the color gets removed during the first printing. The prints taken thereafter are called as ‘ghost prints’.

7) Monoprint – this is very similar to the earlier one – monotype. Very often they are also used interchangeably with each other. However they are not exactly the same. They have one main difference. Monotype uses a smooth surface like glass or copper. However, monoprint can use textured and rough surfaces as well. It won’t be uncommon to find woodcuts, etched plates etc. in a monoprint facility. They way they are colored makes them produce unique prints. Even here, only the very first print is considered acceptable.

8) Digital printing – this is the most commonly used type of printmaking these days. As the name suggests, it takes an image and prints it on to any surface like wood, cloth, paper, glass etc. This is what is used by ink jet printers and laser printers. Digital printing is a quick and efficient way of printmaking in today’s times. The file becomes the printing plate here thus saving on money and time. One of the main issues faced in this type of printing is the quality. Many times quality gets compromised due to a variety of reasons. The file mat get corrupt, the printer may have limitations etc. However, a lot of research and technology are being applied in this area to ensure that such handicaps are quickly overcome.

9) Foil Imaging – this is one of the more modern and recent developments in the field of printmaking. It uses the same process as commercial foil stamping. Foil imaging uses coloured foil to create unique images. This can be used simultaneously along with other forms of printmaking. Printmaking opens the doors to variety and diversity when it comes to the field of fine arts. Artists revel in challenging themselves and developing newer techniques while experimenting with the existing ones. It allows artists to either have a large number of copies of their origin artwork or have a few select numbers of prints only. Few prints means it becomes a limited edition and hence will be more expensive. Printmaking is making art accessible to everyone, especially those who are first time buyers and do not want to spend a bomb on original artwork.