Printmaking is an artistic process where an indirect transfer creates a print. A composition is created on a surface, known as the plate. A piece of paper in then placed over the inked plate and run through a printing press, this piece of paper is known as a print. The same plate can be used to create several identical prints.

Essential printmaking terms:

Baren- a round, flat tool with a handle used for rubbing Brayer- a roller used for applying ink Edition- a group of identical prints created with a single plate. The prints are numbered in the order they are created. The lower the number of the print the more value it has. This number can be found on the bottom left hand corner of the print. The total number of prints in the edition is also placed on each one. This number can be found after a slash following the number indicating which print it is (i.e. 15/30 means the print is the fifteenth created in an edition of thirty total prints.) A.P.- artist proof. This is placed at the bottom left hand corner of a print that is not part of an edition.

The four most popular printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screen-print. These techniques can also be combined.

Woodcut- thought to be the earliest printmaking technique appearing first in 19th century China. The artist draws a sketch on a piece of wood and then uses sharp tools to carve away the parts of the block that he/she does not want to receive ink (a soft wood is generally best.) The raised parts of the block are inked with a brayer. A sheet of paper (may be slightly damp) is placed over the block. The block is then rubbed with a baren (a spoon can be substituted) or is run through the press. Separate blocks are used for each color.

Etching- part of the intaglio family (along with engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, and aquatint.) Etching prints are generally linear and often contain fine detail and contours. Lines can vary from smooth to sketchy. A waxy acid-resist, known as a ground, is applied to a metal plate, most often copper. After the ground has dried the artist uses a sharp tool to scratch into the ground, exposing the metal. The plate is then completely submerged in an acid that eats away at the exposed metal. This process is known as “biting”. The waxy resist protects the acid from biting the parts of the plate that have not been scratched into. The longer the plate remains in the acid the deeper the incisions become. The plate is removed from the acid and the ground is removed with a solvent such as turpentine. The entire plate is inked. A wad of cloth is often used to push the ink into the incised lines. An etching is opposite of a woodcut in that the raised portions of an etching remain blank while the crevices hold ink. The surface is wiped clean with a piece of stiff fabric known as tarlatan or newsprint paper. The wiping leaves ink only in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed over the plate and it is run through the press. (Keep in mind the image will be in reverse.)

Lithography- The artist uses a polished slab of limestone to draw on with oil-based lithographic crayons or greasy ink called tusche. The stone is then wiped with a chemical solution. This part of the process is known as treating the stone. The solution causes the printing ink to stick only to the image. The blank areas repel the ink. The image is then removed with a solvent; a slight image will remain. In order to prepare the stone for inking it is wiped down with water. The blank areas absorb the water. The stone is then inked with a brayer. The ink adheres only to the image since the blank areas are wet and the grease of the ink will not mix with the water. Damp paper is placed on top of the stone and it is sent through the press.

Screen-printing- creates bold color using a stencil technique. The artist draws an image on a piece of paper (plastic film can also be used.) The image is cut out creating a stencil. (Keep in mind the pieces that are cut away are the areas that will be colored.) A screen is made of a piece of fabric (originally silk) stretched over a wood frame. The stencil is affixed to the screen. The screen is then placed on top of a piece of dry paper or fabric. Ink is then placed across the top length of the screen. A squeegee (rubber blade) is used to spread the ink across the screen, over the stencil, and onto the paper/fabric. The screen is lifted and the image is now transferred onto the paper/fabric. Each color requires a separate stencil. The screen can be re-used after cleaning.

With each technique the original plate can be used to create multiple prints. The plate is simply re-inked and a new sheet of paper is run through the press. Often times in printmaking the artist considers the process equally as important as the final product. These complicated processes often require the assistance of another person with clean hands to handle the paper.

If you would like to view some prints here are some famous printmakers (spellings may vary):

Woodcut- Emil Nolde, Albrecht Durer, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Olga Rozanova, Helen Frankenthaler, Georg Baselitz, A.R. Penck, Joel Shapiro, and Willie Cole.

Etching- Pablo Picasso, James Ensor, Paul Klee, Edward Hopper, Otto Dix, Henri Matisse, Giorgio Marandi, Cy Twornbly, Brice Marden, Jim Dine, and Lucian Freud.

Lithography- Joan Miro, Odilan Redon, Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, Vija Clemins, Terry Winters, and Elizabeth Peyton.

Silk-screening- Andy Warhol, Ralston Crawford, Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, Roy Liechtenstein, Edward Ruscha, Robert Indiana, Blinky Palermo, Julian Opie, and Chuck Close.

Some other printmaking techniques are cine-colle, collographs, monotyping, engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, linocuts, aquatint and batiking.

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