Nine Types of Printmaking You Need To Know
The oldest printmaking technique, woodcut involves carving an image into a wooden surface, which is then inked and printed—leaving the carved-out image in negative, as well as occasional traces of the wood’s grain.
A more modern analog to woodcut, linocuts are made using linoleum; the softness of the material allows for cleaner, freer, and more fluid lines.
To create an etching, artists incise (“draw”) a composition onto a wax-coated metal plate, then soak the entire plate in acid. The acid corrodes the exposed lines and leaves the wax intact, so that when the plate is inked and pressed, the paper absorbs the image in reverse. Rembrandt is one of the original masters of this technique.
A less forgiving version of etching (mastered by Dürer), in this process artists incise their image directly onto a metal plate, which is then inked and printed.
Unlike most other printmaking techniques, this process produces unique editions. Artists draw, paint, or otherwise manipulate ink or paint to create a composition on a smooth surface, which is then produced in reverse when applied to a ground support.
Generally seen as the most difficult printmaking method, lithography involves drawing directly on flat surface (usually stone) with an oil-based implement, then coating it with a water-based liquid. When oil-based ink is applied it’s repelled by the water, inking in just the image and allowing it to be transferred onto a paper ground.
One of the most ubiquitous printmaking techniques today, screen printing starts with an ink-blocking stencil applied to a screen. When ink is wiped across the screen, it selectively passes through, transferring the image to the ground. Look no further than Andy Warhol for iconic examples of the medium.
Digital prints are created with a computer and usually made with an ink-jet printer, whose pinpointed mists of highly saturated ink product uniformly toned images. The artist’s intent to produce a unique or limited-edition artwork is key here, as this printing process is also used to make common reproductions.
Transfer is a catch-all term for processes of transmitting images from one surface to another, whether by rubbing, tracing, pressing, or any other manual technique. Outside of the “fine art” context, examples of the technique include gravestone rubbings and carbon copies.