Graphic Techniques

About Printmaking

Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing, normally on paper. Except in the case of Monotype, the process is capable of producing multiple copies of the same piece, which is called a print. Each copy is known as an impression and considered an original work of art, not a copy. Works printed from a single or multiple plates create an edition; in modern times, each is signed and numbered to form a limited edition. 

Prints are created from a single or multiple original surfaces, known technically as a matrix.

Common types of matrices include:
Engraving or etching plates of metal, usually copper or zinc
Lithography – stone
Woodcuts blocks of wood
Screen-printing porous fabric

But there are many other kinds of surfaces or matrices used today including planks of wood, planes of acrylic glass, ceramic and pieces of shellacked book board, almost any surface get tried out. Small prints can even be made using the surface of a potato.


Print process

Printmakers apply colour to their prints in many ways. Often colour in printmaking that involves etching, screen printing, woodcut, or linocut is applied by using separate plates, blocks or screens.

Each separate plate, screen, or block will be inked up in a different colour and applied in a particular sequence to produce the entire picture.

Every application of another plate of colour will interact with the colour already applied to the paper. The lightest colours are often applied first and then the colours successively until the last one.

The approach by reduction to producing colour is to start with a lino or wood block that is either blank or with a simple etching. Upon each printing of colour the printmaker will then further cut into the lino or woodblock removing more material and then apply another colour and reprint. Each successive removal of lino or wood from the block will expose the already printed colour to the viewer of the print.

With some printing techniques like chine-collé or monotype the printmaker may sometimes just paint directly onto the plate, like a painter would, and then print. The subtractive colour concept is also used in offset or digital print and is present in bitmap or Victoria software in CMYK or other colour spaces.



Printmaking techniques can be divided into the following basic families or categories:

Relief printing, where the ink goes on the original surface of the matrix. Relief techniques include: woodcut or woodblock, wood engraving, linocut and metal cut.

Intaglio, where the ink goes beneath the original surface of the matrix. Intaglio techniques include: engraving, etching, mezzotint, aquatint, chine-collé and dry point; 

Plano graphic, where the matrix retains its entire surface, but some parts are treated to make the image. Plano graphic techniques include: lithography, monotype, and digital techniques. 

Stencil, including: screen-printing and pochoir

Viscosity printing is a multi-color printmaking technique that incorporates principles of relief printing and intaglio printing. The process uses the principle of viscosity to print multiple colors of ink from a single plate, rather than relying upon multiple plates for color separation. It is a fine art printmaking technique, making original prints in limited editions, as it is slow and allows too much variation between proofs to make large editions feasible. Color viscosity printing is among the latest developments in intaglio printmaking.

Digital prints: Digital processes include giclée, photographic media and combinations of digital and conventional processes.

Monotypes: This group includes collage and foil printing. These prints are single copies.

Many of these techniques can also be combined, especially within the same family. For example Rembrandt’s prints are usually referred to as “etchings” for convenience, but very often include work in engraving and dry point as well, and sometimes have no etching at all. 

The history of engraving

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