Explanation of Printmaking Techniques
A print is created by hand from a uniquely produced source, such as plates, stencils or printing blocks, and then used to produce a limited number of prints. There are 2 main types – Relief and Intaglio. The number produced is determined by the artist, or by the actual printing process itself. My preferred printmaking techniques are listed below.
Relief printing is a term used to describe the process of printing from the raised areas of a surface where the image areas have been cut away. Wood and lino are traditional products used for relief printing.
Woodcut is one of the oldest and simplest forms of printmaking. Various implements (both hand tools and power tools) can be used to cut the image into a block of wood. Produced from the side grain of a piece of wood or plank, it is usually made using soft woods. The image is mostly worked with the grain of the wood. Paper is placed over the inked block and rubbed by hand or passed through a press to transfer the ink from block to paper to create the image. Woodcut prints and illustrations were first popularized in China in the 9th century and spread to Europe in the 14th century where they became a popular medium for the mass distribution of religious and instructive imagery. The woodcut was developed to an exceptional level of artistic achievement in Japan during the 17th-18th centuries, the ukiyo-e period.
The linoblock consists of a layer of linoleum, sometimes mounted on a block of wood. This soft material is easily carved using knives and gouges. The image is then printed as with a woodcut so the cut marks do not print - it is the uncut surface, the surface left in relief, which carries the ink and prints.
The intaglio printmaking method is characterized by an image being cut into the surface of a plate. Traditionally the material is copper, zinc or other metal and the cutting is made with sharp hand tools or by using acid. When ink is applied to the plate, it is held in the incised image areas and wiped from the surface, then printed on dampened paper on a press.
This is a process whereby marks are made on a metal or plastic plate using a sharp, pointed instrument. Drypoint is characterized by the curl of displaced material called the burr, which forms as the line is cut. When inked, the burr creates a distinctive velvety appearance. As the edition is printed, the burr becomes flattened and less distinct so will have a small edition.
This process uses acid to bite an image into a metal plate that is coated with an acid-resistant ground. A metal plate is coated with hard or soft wax. Line work can be worked onto the hard wax using an etching needle leaving the metal exposed. Materials can be pressed into the soft wax, again removing wax and exposing the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath where the drawn marks are etched. The characteristics of the marks produced depend on the tool used to draw the image, the type of ground coating the plate and the length of time the plate is etched in the acid bath. The etching processes are the most versatile of the intaglio techniques and are often used in combinations. Ink is then pushed into these etched marks to create the print. A larger edition can be achieved with an etching.
Aquatint is an etching method introduced in the mid-17th Century to create a more subtle tonal range than could be achieved with line etching techniques. Powdered rosin is applied and heated onto a metal plate; the metal that remains exposed around the melted drops of rosin is bitten in an acid bath, creating a pitted, grainy surface. These pits hold ink and print as areas of tone. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the deeper the “bite” and darker it will print. Shapes are defined by painting on an acid-resistant “stop-out” to prevent surrounding areas from being bitten. A plate may be bitten several times for a range of tones.
A stencil (paper, screen filler or resist fluid) is adhered to a material (nowadays synthetic nylon is used instead of silk) stretched tightly over a frame. The image areas are open fabric through which ink or paint is forced with a squeegee. Screenprints can be made onto almost any material. . A light sensitive emulsion can be applied to the screen. Hand drawn and photographic film positives can be exposed onto these photo sensitive screens using ultra-violet light that hardens the exposed areas to create a long lasting stencil.
The key characteristic of a monotype is that no two prints are identical, though many of the same elements may be present. A monotype image is painted directly onto a smooth unaltered plate and then transferred to paper in a press.
A print matrix can be made from almost any assembly of materials, collaged into an image and printed either as a relief print or intaglio. Surfaces may also be textured with acrylic mediums. This technique is referred to as a Collagraph. This technique relies on the surface quality of different materials glued onto a plate to produce an image. Marks can also be cut and scored into the plate. A collagraph can be printed relief or intaglio, or viscosity printed incorporating both the intaglio and relief parts of the plate at the same time. It is usually only suitable for small editions due to the short life of the plate.
The solarplate technique uses a prepared, light-sensitive polymer surface on a steel backing. The process was developed in the 1970s. The process needs a graphic image drawn or created on a transparent film (acetate or glass), sun or UV light, and developed in tap water. This method can also be developed and printed in relief.