What is Printmaking?

Cutting a Lino print

Printmaking is a specialism that covers a wide range of techniques and processes, and it includes lino cut, wood block, monotype, collograph, etching and drypoint and a range of other techniques that give you a wide variety of different outcomes in appearance.

The distinction with printmaking compared with most other art techniques and processes is you can do a repeat print. Basically, create a design which can then be printed and reprinted again and again (in most cases). There are a few exceptions to this, for example one of the techniques, monotype is, as the name describes is where you actually create a print, but you only produce one, unique outcome that cannot be repeated. There is only one print from every time you create a monotype which gives it its uniqueness.

Most other techniques you can actually create multiple editions (as they are called) of the same design and in most cases consistency. This could be from an edition of five, ten, twenty, a hundred, or even a thousand copies depending on the techniques used.

Cutting the plate

The big difference between commercial printing (posters and labels, etc.) and fine art printing is with fine art printing you are using your hands to create the printing plate by either scratching into the surface or by cutting out parts of the material you are using as in the case of lino (I am focusing on two techniques which are called intaglio (or drypoint) where you use a sharp point to inscribe into the surface  and the second which is block printing where you cut or ‘gouge’ out around your design (although there is a much wider range of other processes used by a printmaker I would like to discuss later.

Inking the Plate

Inking the lino ‘plate’ (which is the term for any material you have been working on) is straightforward in that you use a roller to apply an even, smooth coat of ink to the surface ready for printing.

Intaglio inking is more complex in that you use a cloth (or in some cases apiece of plastic or card to apply a even coat of ink to the surface that you then use a cloth to move the ink around and ‘push’ into the scratches or marks on the surface. Once you have added the ink you can then use newspaper or a clean cloth to remove the excess ink to leave a clean surface with only ink in the scratches which will then print.

The difference with printing lino and intaglio plates is that with the intaglio plates you use damp paper when putting it through the press which ‘pulls’ off more ink from the surface of the plate than when using dry paper which is less effective.

Printing the Plate

Printing presses come in many designs and types, but they all have the same purpose which is to transfer the ink to the paper. There are other ways to transfer the ink to the paper including burnishing the back of the paper with a spoon to using a Japanese ‘baren’ which is a flat, circular tool usedto transfer the ink by hand. This is a short introduction to the printmaking technique which I will be exploring firther. Like I said at the start there is a wide range of printmaking processes to discover and use. I have only focused on two of them to give a basic idea of the purpose and use of printmaking.

A demonstration of printing a plate for a monotype

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