Printmaking is an art form which involves creating an image on a printing element, or matrix, and then transferring that image to create reproductions. There are several different printmaking techniques, and different techniques suit different forms of art. The main techniques are:
Lithographic printing is unusual in that there is no difference between the level of the inked surface, and the non-inked surface. The original design is drawn on a stone surface, using a greasy crayon. It is then chemically fixed onto the stone using a solution of gum Arabic and acid. The stone is then soaked with water, and then coated with oil-based printer’s ink. The wet areas of the stone repel the ink, while the greased areas soak it up. The inked stone is put into a press, and used to transfer the pattern to paper.
Only one colour of ink can be used on each stone, so if a design involves multiple colours, a different stone will be used for each colour in the pattern.
Picasso and Chagall both used lithography for much of their art work.
This printing process involves marking the desired design onto a metal plate, and then putting the plate through an etching press. When the design is applied to paper, the ink is transferred from the incised marks rather than the top or the plate. Thin films of ink can be left on the surface of the plate to produce different tones and effects if required.
Intaglio printing produces an attractive and tactile print, with the ink standing out from the paper in slight relief.
Artists who used intaglio include Rembrandt and Picasso.
In this printing process, a wooden block or other printing element is carved, and ink is applied to the uncut areas. The design is then transferred to paper via a press. Usually, the printing element is made out of wood or linoleum. If the desired design contains several colours, then multiple printing elements are used.
Relief printing is popular with hobbyist printmakers due to the relative low cost of making the printing elements.
Artists who made use of relief printing include Wassily Kandinssky and Albrecht Durer.
Screenprinting is a relatively modern form of printing. It was made famous by Andy Warhol. Screenprinting involves applying stencils to a screen (which is usually made of silk, or a synthetic equivalent), and then securing the screen into a frame, which is placed over the paper that is to receive the print. When ink is applied to the screen it will penetrate only the uncovered parts, creating the desired image on the paper underneath.
Screen printing was frequently used to color maps and topographical prints. Today, it is still popular as a method for creating greetings cards, and for book illustrations.
Some artists use a combination of printmaking techniques – for example, etching and woodcut printing, in combination so that they can achieve the look they desire for their artwork. Combining different printmaking methods may be an expensive way to create prints, and would not make sense for commodity prints, but it is common for artists creating limited edition prints to do this.