A Lofty Guide to Printmaking Techniques
From woodcuts to monotypes, here is our guide to the essential printmaking techniques.
Woodcut technique is the oldest printing method. The initial design is cut into the block of wood with a knife or other gouging tool. Then, the block is inked with a roller and placed on a press. After the printmaker pulls a lever to place light pressure down on the print, the design is inked onto the paper. Woodcuts have a distinctive appearance because the lines are heavy and may look uneven. The process is best suited to bold, linear images; but colors and shading can be achieved by using a different wood black for each color or shade.
Wood Engraving is an 18th century development of woodcutting where the image is incised into the wood using an engraving tool. This method allows the printmaker to achieve greater detail. Wood engravings were used to illustrate 19th century magazines like Punch.
Engraving is thought to have developed in the mid-15th century by goldsmiths in Europe. The technique lends itself to a linear, formal style of drawing. The image is gouged out of a copper or steel plate. Ink applied to the plate settles into the cut areas and then transfers to the paper. Deeper furrows in the plate with create wider and darker lines, and areas of tone and shadow are created with cross-hating and fine lines. The high pressure creates a “plate mark” around the edge of the image. The mark will indicate the publisher, the artist, and the engraver.
Stipple and crayon engraving:
With stipple and crayon engraving, the artist can represent subtle gradations of tone by building up the composition with a series of tiny dots and lines.
Etching dates back to the 16th century and remains popular today. It’s a more delicate printing process that allows the artist greater spontaneity and freedom than engraving. First, the artist paints onto a metal plate with an acid-resistant varnish. Then, the metal plate is immersed in an acid bath, and the acid bites away all areas that weren’t cut with the varnish. The printmaker applies ink to the prepared plate by hand. Finally, the inked plate is covered with dampened paper and passed through a roller press. The inked image is left on the paper.
Drypoint is the most direct and spontaneous of the the intaglio printing methods because the design is scratched straight onto a copper plate using an engraving needle. The technique produces scratchy, furry lines.
Mezzotint is a printmaking process that became popular in the 17th century because it reproduces the graduated tones and emulates the rich light and shade of an oil painting.
This technique became popular in the 18th century because it can reproduce the soft appearance of watercolor paintings.
This printing method allows the artist to draw directly onto a special stone in the same way they would draw on paper. The technique involves preparing the stone by wetting it and grinding it with a gritty substance. Then, the design is drawn on the stone with a greasy crayon or painted on using a brush. Once the design is complete, the printmaker sprinkles the surface with a resin and chalk mixture to set the grease. Liquid gum is sponged over the stone to help it absorb the grease, and the image sets. Then, the stone is made wet and inked with a roller and the image is taken onto the roller. The printmaker passes paper through the roller press, and the image will have transferred to the paper. The stone can be reused for further printings.
In screen printing, the artist paints a negative version of the design onto the screen with an ink-resistant masking varnish. Colored ink is poured along the edge of the screen, and a squeegee blade is wiped across the screen to “flood” the ink in an even distribution across the surface, which presses the ink onto the paper. When the screen is lifted up, the areas that have been masked on the screen remain blank on the paper. The process can be repeated using different colored inks to make a multicolored image.
A monotype is a “one off” print made by painting the image directly onto a sheet, placing paper over it and applying pressure.