Unlike most types of artwork, where only a single version exists, printmaking is a type of art that enables the artist to create multiple editions of a piece of art. A fine art prints can be thought of as a multiple original and differs from mechanically mass-produced products. Within the category of printmaking, there are four main techniques, each with their respective processes, which are demonstrated below.
The oldest form of printmaking, relief printing is made from a raised surface. The artist will use a plate for his/her design and then remove the areas that will not be printed.
The oldest printmaking process, woodcuts involve carving an image into a wooden plate, that is then inked and printed, leaving the carved-out area in negative.
Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen
Woodcut, c 1496
National Gallery of Art
The same process as a woodcut but utilizing linoleum as the plate instead of wood.
Pablo Picasso, Nature morte sous la Lampe
The British Museum
This style of printmaking is below the surface, where the artist “cuts in” to the plate. The image the artist creates is incised into the plate carrying the reverse image of the finished print. Ink is applied to plate, pushed into the lines and the plate is wiped clean so that the only areas with ink are the lines.
Dating to the 15th century, an engraving involves incising an image directly onto a metal plate.
Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in his Study
An etching also involves incising but the image is incised onto a wax-coated plate. The entire plate is soaked in acid which corrodes the exposes lines, leaving the wax intact. When the plate is inked and pressed, the image is printed in reverse.
Francisco de Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Etching, c 1797
This technique of printing is derived from the word “planograph” meaning “at the surface”.
This printing process allows the artist to create unique editions. The artist can paint and draw directing onto a smooth surface, which is then produced in reverse. Since there are no incised lines, there is nothing to keep the ink in place from one print to the next.
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Head of a Bearded Man
Royal Art Collection
A lithograph is created by the artist drawing directly on a flat surface with an oil-based implement, and then coating the surface with a water-based liquid. When an oil-based inked is applied to the surface, it’s repelled by the water, inking only the image.
Henri de la Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge: La Goulue
Lithograph in four colors, 1891
This technique of printing involves creating a design out of paper and then printing through the cut out areas.
The silkscreen printing process uses an ink-blocking stencil applied to a screen. Ink is wiped across the screen and the open mesh of the screen lets the ink through while the stencil blocks it out.
Andy Warhol, Flowers
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts