“The Printmaker is a most peculiar being… delights in deferred gratification and in doing what does not come naturally. He [she] takes pleasure in working backward or in opposites: the gesture that produces a line of force moving to the right prints to the left, and vice versa; a deeply engraved trench in a copper or zinc plate prints as a depression in the paper. Left is right. Right is left. Backward is forward. The Printmaker… must see at least two sides to every question.”

Jules Heller

Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper. Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Each print produced is considered an “original” work of art, and is correctly referred to as an “impression”, not a “copy” (that means a different print copying the first, common in early printmaking). Often impressions vary considerably, whether intentionally or not. The images on most prints are created for that purpose, perhaps with a preparatory study such as a drawing. A print that copies another work of art, especially a painting, is known as a “reproductive print”. Definition courtesy of Wikipedia


Images printed by this process are the result of ink being forced out of the incised lines in a zinc or copper plate using a heavy press. This results in slightly raised ink on the paper and a characteristic plate mark showing the edges of the plate. This process includes both etching and engraving. Capable of extremely fine detail – commercial applications include banknotes, circuit boards (the etching process in conjunction with screenprinting) and high-end magazines (photogravure)


Self-portrait with Saskia, 1636, etching,  Rembrandt

Le Petit Pont (“The Small Bridge”), 1850 Charles Meryon
The Round Tower, etching Piranesi


Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper in artistic printmaking, in mapmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines.

Albrecht Durer – The Sea Monster
St. Jerome in His Study (1514), an engraving by Northern Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer


The image is printed from the raised areas with non printed areas cut away – woodcut, wood engraving, linocut, letterpress and even the humble fingerprint, hand print, and potato print. Commercial applications include text heavy publications: books and newspapers (although this has changed drastically in the last 40 years as far as newspapers are concerned)
just to explain the difference between woodcut and wood engraving: where the block of wood used to print from is cut along the log grain graina wood engraving is cut from the end grain – it is still a relief print but finer detail can be achieved and the print is characterised by having a more “stippled” appearance

Wood cut block cut along the grain
The scream
Wood cut by Edvard Munch
Wood engraving cut into the end grain
Block Cutter at Work woodcut by Jost Amman, 1568
Katsushika Hokusai The Underwave off Kanagawa, 1829/1833, colour woodcut, Rijksmuseum Collection


The image is printed from the same surface as the non printed areas – in lithography, the printed area and none printed area use the naturally repelling qualities of oil and water. Until recently Lithography was the main method for printing large runs of images, and mixed image and text publications. Lithography originally used an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth, level lithographic limestone plate. The stone was treated with a mixture of acid and gum arabic, etching the portions of the stone that were not protected by the grease-based image. When the stone was subsequently moistened, these etched areas retained water; an oil-based ink could then be applied and would be repelled by the water, sticking only to the original drawing. The ink would finally be transferred to a blank paper sheet, producing a printed page. This traditional technique is still used in some fine art printmaking applications

Commercial printers use off-set litho where the image is transferred first to a roller and then to the paper or other media (which means the original doesn’t have to be a mirror image , and means faster print times.)

Alphone Mucha -Poster of Sarah Bernhardt as Gismonda (1895)

Art Nouveau posters and graphic arts flourished and became an important vehicle of the style, thanks to the new technologies of colour lithography and colour printing, which allowed the creation of and distribution of the style to a vast audience in Europe, the United States and beyond.

Jane Avril, poster, 1893, by Toulouse-Lautrec


The image is printed by ink passing through areas cut away from a stencil – Serigraphy, better known as screen-printing or silkscreen. A simple stencil (where simple cut out shapes or letters are painted or spray painted, require a support to stop unattached areas simply falling away (think of the letter O) is still used by graffiti artists, whereas placing a stencil on a screen allows for more subtle shapes. Characterised by intense flat areas of colour Screenpriniting excels on posters, T-shirts, and is often found as the main media of mass merchandise print runs

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) 1967 FS II.22-31 

Andy Warhol created three Marilyn Monroe screen print portfolios in 1967, a few years after the actress passed away in 1962.  The portfolio of 10 screen prints was one of the first prints Warhol printed and distributed through Factory Additions, New York. The name of this company references to Warhol’s studio known as “The Factory”.

To produce his silkscreens, Warhol made photographs or had them made by his friends and assistants. These pictures were mostly taken with a specific model of Polaroid camera, The Big Shot, that Polaroid kept in production especially for Warhol. This photographic approach to painting and his snapshot method of taking pictures has had a great effect on artistic photography.

Ink jet

Arguably, not really printmaking! The most recent development. ink is sprayed onto the printing surface. The most basic example being the standard home printer and the commercial application being the high end giclée printer. Becoming the medium of choice for pretty much all but the very highest quality and quantity print runs, giclée has overcome initial stability issues and is now dominated by a handful off large companies. Controversial among printmakers for these very reasons. What is a Giclee print?


Images printed by projecting light through a transparent negative/positive onto a light sensitive coating which is then processed to remove/neutralise the none exposed area. Mostly used as part of a further printmaking process, but I include it as a printmaking type in its own right.

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