Printmaking knows two groups of techniques: relief printing and intaglio printing. In relief printmaking, everything that is not meant to be printed is cut away. The raised surface is then inked/painted and then the print is produced by some kind of a pressing process.
The intaglio printmaking technique works the opposite way. A line is incised into the surface with various tools or with acid. Then the whole plate is coated with ink. After the plate was wiped clean, the ink remains only in the incised areas.
The print is produced by pressing a dampened paper against the plate. The intaglio printmaking techniques are engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint, stipple, mezzotint and are discussed in part two of this article.
The basic relief printmaking techniques are woodcuts (the same as woodblocks), wood engraving and linocut.
Woodcut is the oldest method of printmaking. A fine example are Japanese woodcut prints. For woodcuts the design is drawn on a wooden board.
Then everything that shall remain unpainted, is cut away with the use of a knife or a tool called gouge. Next the board is covered with the ink/paint. The final print is produced by pressing the paper firmly against the block - using a roller or some kind of a press.
To achieve prints in several colors, several boards were used - one for each color. The whole process of producing a woodcut, usually was achieved by three different persons: the artist who made the design, the wood cutter and the printer.
One of the finest examples for woodcuts are the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. In Europe, Albrecht Dürer was an outstanding master of this technique.
Wood engraving is a special form of a woodcut. The end grain of a very hard wood is used and the cuts into the wood are made along the grain. This technique allows finer lines and details than the normal woodcut. Besides, because of the harder wood, more impressions are possible from one block.
The linocut is based on the same technique as the woodcut. Because of the softer material of the linoleum, a linocut is easier to produce than a woodcut. Picasso used this technique and developed it into his very own style: He produced multi-color prints by not using several linoleum plates, but by cutting away more and more from one plate. At the end, the process could not be reproduced because the original plate was gone.
Griffiths, Antony, "Prints and Printmaking - An introduction to the history and techniques", Published by British Museum Press, London 1980, ISBN 0 7141 2608 X.
Söhn, Gerhard, "Kleine Grafik-Kunde", Graphik-Salon Gerhard Söhn, Düsseldorf, 1981, ISBN 3-921342-34-1.
Author: Dieter Wanczura