5 PRINTING TECHNIQUES
We want to share the five most popular printing techniques used by artists. We discuss how these printing methods originated and how they are used today by emerging artists.
1. WOODCUT/BLOCK PRINTING - RELIEF
Woodcut printing is a variant of woodblock printing, although almost identical in its process and was invented in China in the 9th century. Originally it was used to reproduce texts for distribution to the masses. The techniques slowly made their way into Europe and the middle East through trade routes, and eventually with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century, the process became economically viable for printing on a mass scale. This was historically a hugely significant moment as it was now possible for the masses to gain access to literature and art previously only available to the wealthy.
The process is a subset of relief printing, where negative space is carved out using a knife and different types of gouges, awls and tracing wheels amongst other tools to make an image from the remaining area which is then filled with ink.
This is then pressed into a surface such as paper or card and then printed using various tools — most commonly a roller; or with a printing press.
Relief printing can be created not only with wood, but also lino (most commonly) and a whole host of other materials that can be carved such as plastics, rubber and styrofoam.
Jessica Jane Charleston makes wonderful linocuts which you can browse here.
2. ENGRAVING / ETCHING - INTAGLIO
Engraving and etching are two of the most common printing processes. and are forms of intaglio printing.
Engraving is the oldest form of intaglio and involves lines that are inscribed by hand, whereas etching involves using acids to establish images onto metal.
In both cases the plates that are used to make the images are incised using various tools and then coated in ink which fills the incisions. The plates are then printed using a printing press to force the images from the plate onto paper or another similar material.
Unlike relief printmaking, here it is the positive space rather than the negative that is being used to create the image.
There are many different variants of intaglio printing including aquatint, mezzotint and drypoint, which are basically distinguished by the different methods of incision.
3. GICLEE - DIGITAL
Giclee (pronounced zhee'clay) printing, one of the most modern examples provided in our guide, is a form of digital printing that was created by a collaboration between Graham Nash and printmaker Jack Duganne in 1990. They are an example of the first ever fine art prints made using an inkjet.
They were named Giclee from the French meaning to squirt or print, although some merely use the term digital or inkjet to designate the process.
The images are made using computers and images known as raster (or bitmap) and vector. Raster images use pixel grids and are resolution dependent and are often used for photographic printing.
Vector images use mathematical formulas to denote line, curve, colour fill etc. Vector images are less commonly used as cameras and scanners record information with pixels. Inkjet printers use ink selections varying from the traditional CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) on a more basic level, up to twelve different inks on a top of the range model.
Many emerging artists we work with at SEAM use digital printing processes such as Giclee. For example:
Or you can browse our full selection of prints by emerging artists here.
4. SCREENPRINTING - STENCIL
Although a relatively recent invention, screen printing (also known as silkscreen printing) has its roots in one of the oldest forms of printing — the stencil, which has origins dating back to Sung dynasty China circa 500AD.
Stencil printing developed in various forms over the centuries, eventually reaching Europe via trade routes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and was initially used predominantly in book illustration and textile printing. Silkscreen printing as we know it today is unique in that the prints are not created with the use of a block or plate, but with a screen mesh (pictured on the left).
Although there are many ways to make screen prints, one of the most common ways practiced today is with hand-cut stencils where designs are carved out with a knife from a piece of acrylic.
This is then attached to a mesh screen with the chosen surface underneath. Ink is then applied to the screen seeping through wherever incisions have been made.
5. LITHOGRAPHS - LITHOGRAPHY
Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798 through a happy accident. Having hastily needed to write down a laundry list, he scribbled it onto the surface of a piece of limestone with some homemade ground he was using for etching experiments. He then realised the surface might be suitable for an intaglio printing element and etched the stone creating a minimal relief, and lithography was born.
Lithographs can be made with limestone or a metal plate. The surface must be level so in the case of limestone, a tool known as a levitator is used to even out the top side, and also to sand back previous drawings.
After you have a flat surface acid is applied to the plate and then rinsed, followed by gum arabic which is applied around each side which serves as a border.
Images may then be applied to the stone using specialist crayons with varying quantities of wax or shellac suitable for different applications.
The final process involves coating the stone with resin and talc and then buffing the surface, after which gum Arabic followed by various mineral spirits are used to create the etching. Once this process is complete, ink is applied to the stone and then printed with a press.
The procedure for metal plates is almost the same as when working with limestone, just with the use of slightly different chemicals. The etching process is also limited to a shorter period of time as it is easy to damage the plates. Otherwise the printing is executed in much the same way as with limestone.
THE PRINTING PROCESS
by Ewelina Skowronska