Creative Process / Printmaking / Painting Terms & Definitions / Painting Techiques

Techniques of Printmaking

Novice collectors should first concentrate on distinguishing reproductions from ORIGINAL PRINTS. After gaining a little experience, it becomes easy to understand and recognize the different types of print making methods and how they are created.

All printmaking techniques may be grouped under four generic headings" Relief, Intaglio, Planography and Serigraphy. These categories describe the way a print is created.
Represented below are examples of printmaking methods used to create the fine works of art featured in this catalogue.

Relief Printing

This is the oldest method of printmaking, based on the principle of cutting away part of the surface of flat block of material. The desired image then stands out in relief to form a printing surface.

Woodcut: A print made by carving a design in a wood block cut along the grain, applying ink to the raised surfaces which remain, and printing from those. The space between the lines may be coloured by hand, or, as the case with many Japanese woodcuts, by using separate blocks for one or more colours. The woodcut process was used by Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch, as well as a youngster generation of printmakers including Jennifer Bartlett, Susan Rothenberg and Neil Welliver.

Linoleum Cut (linocut): Here, a block of soft linoleum is subsituted for the wood. Picasso was innovative in the use of this medium; examples of his linoleum cut prints are greatly sought after today. Matisse worked with linocut as well.

Wood Engraving: The wood used is cut perpendicular to the length of the tree trunk. The resulting end grain offers a smoother and more uniform surface than in woodcutting, and little of the texture of the wood is apparent in the print. The artist cuts away the design itself so that when the block is printed the image is white on a black background. Sometimes both engraving and cutting are used.

Intaglio Printing

Of the four basic methods, intaglio has lent itself to the greatest number of variables. The process of intaglio, incised or copper plate printing, uses a principle opposite to that of relief printing. The image to be printed is sunk into the printing surface and filled with a greasy printer's ink. Then the surface is carefully wifed clean so that the ink remains only in the incised design. The great pressurue required to pick up the ink in the intaglio printing leaves a visible plate mark within the margin of the uncompressed paper.

All of the techniques listed below are basically similar. They vary only in the manner in which the lines to delineate the image are cut into the printing surface.

Engraving: This is probably the oldest of the intaglio processes. The design is cut into a hard surface, usually metal or wood, with sharp tool called a burin. After inking, the plate is wiped clean with a scraper or burnishing tool to polish the rough edges. The ink remains only in the furrow left by the burin.

Etching: Instead of cutting directly onto the plate, the artist covers the plate with acid-resistant ground and then draws on the plate with special sharp tools to remove the ground where the design is to be. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath which bites onto the plate where the protective covering has been removed. By leaving different areas exposed to the acid for varying lengths of time the quality of the line bitten can be controlled. The finished plate is then printed as an engraved plate would be. This process makes possible a freer, more fluid and calligraphic kind of drawing, as well as other effects not easily obtained in engraving or drypoint.

Dry Points: The artist works directly on the copper or zinc plate with a sharp steel or gemstone needle which leaves two burrs of copper, one on either side of a scratched line. The depth of the line is cotrolled by the artist's muscle and experience. It is the ink caught in the burrs that forms the design and not the ink in the slight furrow which contains the design. Since the burrs wear off rapidly under the pressure of the printing press only a limited number of copies can be made of the design before the intended effect is lost.

Aquatint: Instead of lines being bitten by the acid bath, whole areas are exposed to the acid. The area is first prepared with a resin, usually in a powdered form, which is dusted on an area heated from below the plate to make it adhere and then given an acid bath to bite the tiny areas not covered by the granulated resin. The final effect is an image on a finely pebbled background. Most often the technique is used with engraving or etching. However, there are rare examples of pure aquatint.

Sugar Lift Aquatint (lift ground etching): For this medium the artist prepares a saturated solution of sugar India ink, and generally a small quantity of soap, until he/she finds the desired texture. With this mixture, a design is painted in a clean plate. After the mixture dries, a liquid ground is laid over the entire plate and this too is permitted to dry. Then the plate is put in a bath of warm water. The sugar is affected by the water which seeps through the porous ground. The sugar swells and lifts the ground directly above the design, leaving these areas exposed. In these lifted areas, an aquatint ground is laid and the plate is bitten in the conventional manner. Very similar to aquantint, this is an extremely ingenious process used by Picasso in some of his finest prints.

Cliche Verre: An image is drawn with a stylus on a plate covered with a special dark emulsion. Where the emulsion is scratched, the lines are exposed as transparent glass. Light is passed through the plate onto photosensitive paper and the resulting print is developed in the usual way.

Soft-Ground Etching: The plate is covered with an etching ground consisting of at least half tallow, which gives the ground a greasy, tacky quality. When a sheet of paper is laid on such a plate and drawn on with a pencil, the ground under these strokes adheres to the paper and is lifted off the plate when the paper is pulled away. The plate is then bitten in acid. Different effects can be produced by using various papers and fabrics. A soft-ground etching is characterized by a softness of line and a grainy texture, similar to the crayon strokes of a lithograph. This method was often favored by Renoir.

Mezzotint: In principle, the medium is reverse dry point, the burr being first raised all over the plate so equally that a proof from the unworked plate would yield a solid black. Everything required to print lighter than this black has to be scraped more or less thoroughly until, in order to produce a white line, the origianl smooth surface of the copper has been regained. Mezzotint has been employed generally as a purely reproductive process and there exist few original works of artistic distinction.

Stipple Engraving: Like mezzotint, this is rarely practiced today except as a method to yield desired effects when working the combined processes. Originally it was also used as a reproductive technique which the development of photography made unnecessary. One method is to ground the plate as in an etching, using a harder ground material. The artist then makes his/her design with one or more of a variety of stipples, burins, gravers, roulettes or a chalk roll. Having permitted the acid to bite the plate for the desired effect, the artist then cleans the ground from the surface and continues working in the dry manner, no acid used, as in mezzotint or engraving.

Planograph Printing

This process lends itself to artistic spontaneity and has the most in common with drawing.

Lithograph: The image is neither cut into the plate nor raised above it, but instead lies flat upon the surface of a printing plate or prepared metal plate. it is then fixed, or prevented from spreading, by applying a chemical mixture of gum and nitric acid. In order to make a print, the stone is thoroughly dampened, since the key principle behind a lithograph is the natural antipathy of grease and water. When ink is rolled over the damp areas of the stone, it will attach itself only to the greasy areas of the design. When a piece of paper is pressed against the stone, the ink on the greasy parts is transferred to it. To create a colour lithograph, a separate stone is used for each colour and must be printed separated. Lithographs by Goya, Delacroix, Delacrois, Daumler, Renoir, Picasso, Chagall and Miro are masterpieces of the medium.

Serigraphy (Stencil Process)

This method, like the woodcut, involves working on the areas that are not actually printed. As a fine art, serigraphy was not thought of as an independent art form until quite recently.

Serigraph (silkscreen): The artist prepares a screen of paper, metal, silk or synthetic textile, in which all areas other than the area to printed are blocked out. The paper is placed under the stencil. Ink is pressed over the stencil and forced through the screen onto the paper. Each colour must be applied separately through a stencil cut or blocked out to allow the colour to fall only where wanted on the design. During the 1960's serigraphy developed in popularity and sophistication as it became the accepted printing technique of the Pop, Op and Minimal artists like Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers and Robert Indiana.

Mixed Media

Often in printmaking, more than one medium is used. The "mix" can be fairly simple, such as an aquatint with some etched lines, but may be a complicated process involving as many as four or five different techniques. The intaglio media are most frequently mixed.