The A-Z of Printmaking Techniques

Print Making, a Brief History

Printmaking has been around for thousands of years. According to the Washington Printmakers Gallery, first known instance came from China in the year AD 105. Printmaking was a response to the invention of paper and allowed for quick and easy copying of a piece of art OR piece of printed literature for quick dissemination.

There are four main categories and several sub-categories of printmaking. The four main categories of printmaking are-

  1. Relief or carved blocks that feature a raised pattern to achieve the print.
  2. Intaglio, which is an engraved pattern to achieve the print.
  3. Lithography uses a flat surface with specific areas that repel ink.
  4. Screen printing uses a screen with mesh to transfer a pattern.

Each category has specific uses that it is best suited for.

These days, if we want a “print” of something, most people are able to simply use printers to get a copy. These early printmaking techniques were created to help make it possible to more quickly copy a piece so that it could be sold to the masses. This was particularly popular with pieces of literature like the Bible and popular works of art. 

Today, printmaking has allowed artists to oversee and authorize the creation of limited-edition reproductions of their work.  This ensures the artist that their work will be truly representative of their original painting. This also permits the artist to have control over how many prints will be created.  In this way, many art collectors and enthusiast can have authentic, limited-edition works of art, signed by the artist in their home.


Marc Chagall - The Circus

Lithography is a process by which a flat surface is outfitted with specific area of that flat surface made to repel ink. Say you want to print a copy of an image that you have. Put a metal plate with the image on it, and the image would be covered in a substance that attracted ink. While the negative space would be coated to repel the ink. 

This allows for a transfer of the image to be printed relatively quickly under the supervision of the artist.  . In recent years countless artists have authorized the limited print production of their works using lithography.  Here are a few examples of renowned artists’ lithographs available or sold at auction; Marc Chagall lithograph auction,  Pablo Picasso lithograph auction and  Alexander Calder Auction, just to mention a few.  

Serigraph, Silkscreen and Screen Printing

Mr. Brainwash The Heroes

Silkscreen printing is another word for Serigraph. The Word Serigraph is a combination of two Greek words, seicos, meaning silk, and graphos, meaning writing. We use silk to create a screen that helps to transfer the image, that’s why we call it silkscreen printing. 

In typical screen printing, polyester and other synthetic fibers are often used to help make the image that is going to be transferred. With this process, the artist or person making the print will place a stencil with the image they want to transfer. 

The paint or pigment is then forced through a screen so that it colors the areas that are not protected by the stencil.   Usually, many colors are necessary, each being applied separately for the artist to achieve the result they want.  The process requires the artist and printmaker to be involved in determining the ideal color to be used, and then perfecting a screen for each hue used in the process.  All of this is done under the watchful eye of the artist to ensure a faithful rendering of the original work.  


Etchings are much like relief prints. It is a process by which the surface of the printing plate; metal, in this case, is going to be etched. So that the only raised part is the design or picture that you want to print. The ink or other medium is then applied to the surface of the etching and it is pressed down firmly and evenly to produce the reverse image. 

In this, or with any similar printing process, you need to etch the picture or words in reverse on the etching to make sure they are printed in the proper direction.


With enamel printing there are a few different ways you can approach the process. With enamel printing, you need to use screen printing as it does allow for the best overall result. With enamel printing the enamel is going to be dry. The dry enamel is passed through the screen and does stay where the design is. The dry enamel is then sealed with clear, wet enamel to lock in the design. 

This process is best used with things like clock faces and other flat designs.


Joan Miro Espriu Miro II

An aquatint is a type of lithograph that is very difficult to create. The process starts with an etching that uses chemical to etch the design onto a metal plate. The chemicals that are being used in the process allow for texture to be added to the print which does make it more realistic in the final forms. 

This is a time-consuming process and the plates are very delicate, so this is a rare type of printing process in comparison to other methods used.  The name aquatint comes from the fact that the resulting prints often come out looking like watercolor paintings.


Louis Icart - Gay Trio

Drypoint is a type of intaglio printing that does require etching tools to create a design on the metal plate that is going to be used for the print. Drypoint does not use any chemicals and the print is etched directly onto the plate with the use of sharp etching tools. 

This means it will be a bit less precise than typical etching and can lead to lines that are a bit more blurred and a bit softer.  Depending on the aesthetic the artist desires, drypoint is an outstanding option to to reproduce detailed fine art works and mass produce drawings.


Gustav Klimt After - The Bride

A collotype is another type of printing that was often used to reproduce drawings. The process was invented in 1856. It involves coating a collotype plate with a thin layer of gelatin or other material that will then repel the ink. The negative is exposed to the surface so that it will repel water then accept ink. The ink from the type is then transferred to paper. It is considered a type of lithograph.

Printmaking has certainly evolved and changed over the years. There are now modern tools that help make the process of printmaking. Even though there are new methods, there are still plenty of people that stay true to  older, artistic methods to produce limited edition prints of their most sought after work. You can find many of these types of prints at any contemporary art auction. Each of the methods discussed here was created for a specific need and to meet a specific intention. Printmaking is certainly going to keep changing and evolving with the times and to suit the needs of each person.

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