Prints & Multiples: 11 Types of Printing Methods you Should Know

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An art print is an impression, normally in multiple iterations, made by transferring medium from one specially prepared surface to another. Over the ages many printing methods have been developed for achieving that process, with much experimentation encompassing the full creative gamut of artistic and printer’s technique. Below are listed the ones that are most commonly encountered in the art market.

1. Aquatint

As the name suggests this is a printing technique that is used to create tonal effects rather than lines. It involves etching a copper plate with acid to produce an effect that resembles tones similar to a watercolour or wash drawing. It is often used in conjunction with traditional etching technique to give both lines and tones.

Aquatint by Deborah Bell.
Deborah Bell
Reveal, 2014

2. Drypoint

Drypoint involves incising or drawing a design into a printing plate by using a stylus such a sharp steel or diamond point. The method of cutting into the plate leaves ragged edges to the incised lines known as the burr. Ink is then applied and wiped off so that it sinks into the incisions created and attaches to the burr. The burr is delicate and is soon crushed by the pressure of the printing process, and as such drypoint is usually made in small editions.

Drypoint by Fiona Pole
Fiona Pole
Empty Chair Series: Slow Walk, 2010

3. Engraving

Much like the previous two methods etching is also an intaglio technique that involves making incisions or grooves into a printing plate with a burin. The difference is that it uses a technique of incising the plate with lines at various angles and pressures, which will determine how much ink each line can hold. The plate is then covered in ink and then wiped clean so it only remains in the incisions. The plate is then placed in a printing press and the pressure forces the paper into its incisions where it absorbs the ink. This is the oldest form of intaglio printmaking and one of the most skilful.

Engraving by Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer
Adam and Eve, 1504

4. Etching

Unlike the previous three techniques this process consists of covering a printing plate with an acid resistant wax-like layer called the ground. The design is then drawn or etched onto the plate exposing the ground beneath. Afterwards the plate is then immersed in acid. As the ground is resistant to the acid it only bites into the lines of the drawn design. Once set exposure has been achieved it is extracted from the acid and the ground removed. The plate is covered in ink, wiped clean and pressed through a press at high pressure, forcing the ink from the lines onto the paper.

Etching by Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt van Rijn
Old Man with a Divided Fur Cap, 1640

5. Lithography

If you’ve ever looked at a bottle of undisturbed salad vinaigrette you will have noticed that the oil and vinegar in its ingredients don’t mix. This is the basic premise of how lithographs are created. It involves applying a greasy medium such as an oily ink onto a stone or plate. The image to be printed is drawn onto the plate using litho crayons or special greasy pencils. The plate is then treated with a mixture of acid and gum arabic, etching the portions that are not protected by the greasy image. This will produce different areas that are grease or water receptive. The surface of the plate is kept wet with water and applied with a roller of the greasy ink, which would thus only stick to its receptive area of the image. Paper is then placed on the image and it is passed through the press.

Photolithograph by Norman Catherine
Norman Catherine
Endangered Species

6. Linocut

Also known as linoleum art, it is a variant of the woodcut. A sheet of linoleum is used as the relief surface and has the design incised into it with a sharp instrument such as a knife or gouge. The sheet is then inked with a roller, wiped clean, and impressed onto paper either by hand or a press.

Linocut by John Muafangejo
John Muafangejo
Shiyane Home, 1969

7. Monotype

Due to the way a monotype is created the artist makes only one print, instead of multiples (editions). It is made by painting or drawing directly onto a smooth, non-absorbent surface like metal or glass. It is then transferred onto paper either by hand or printing press. Usually there is insufficient ink to create another impression.

Monotype by Irma Stern
Irma Stern
Portrait of a Woman, 1951

8. Offset Lithography

This type of printing is used for large, commercial prints like posters or magazines. It is easier, faster and more efficient to reproduce but gives a much flatter and duller image. It is also normally used on much cheaper paper. The term offset refers to the image being transferred onto an intermediate surface, like a rubber sheet, before being printed onto the final sheet.

Offset lithograph by Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Galerie Sonnabend, 1972

9. Screenprint

Also known as silkscreen, it is a printing technique where the design is cut out from a sheet of self-adhesive plastic film, or a light sensitive emulsion is used, which is then attached to the bottom of a mesh screen. The screen is placed over the paper, and using a squeegee, ink is pulled across the top of the screen. From where the design has been cut out, ink or paint will be forced onto the paper.

Silkscreen by Walter Battiss
Walter Battiss

10. Woodcut

Much like a linocut, the artist carves the design into a block of wood, removing the areas that are not to be printed. However unlike linocuts the design must be carved in the direction of the woods grain. The surface is then covered with ink by a roller called a brayer.

Woodcut by Sir William Nicholson
Sir William Nicholson
Les Courses, 1898

11. Wood Engraving

With wood engraving the design is incised into a woodblock using similar tools as a metal engraving. The design is usually engraved across the end grain of the block, which is very hard and thus allows much finer detail than a woodcut.

Wood engraving by Thomas Bewick
Thomas Bewick
Warbler, 1875

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