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Interior Design Tips: A beginner’s guide to different types of printmaking

Joan Amanwi May 17 2023


Printmaking is an art form in itself and, though complex, it is rewarding to those who master and use it in creating original art pieces. This article summarizes the different types of printmaking techniques and how they work.

Printmaking is the process of creating original artwork on paper, wood, or fabric. It is achieved by using traditional hand-pressed techniques such as relief, intaglio, Lithography, or electronic machines (printer). Prints can be sold online on online platforms, such as BIDGALA, or in brick-and-mortar stores. Below are a few types of printmaking techniques you should know and how they work.

1. Relief Printmaking

Relief is a stamp that enables the transfer of an image from one surface to another. In relief printmaking, the image area is raised while the non-image area is left below, which permits the raised image to be stamped onto a new surface – creating original artwork. This is one of the first printmaking systems which dates back to China (about 255 B.C.). Relief is still one of the most common forms of printmaking today because a press is not required to transfer an image from stencil to paper. It is equally a low-tech and affordable way of producing images.

- Woodcutting

Woodcutting is a form of relief printmaking used for printing books, images, and decorating textiles. According to literary critic George E. Woodberry, woodcutting revolutionized printmaking and peoples’ access to literature and art around the 15th century. It enabled the mass printing of popular texts and images such as the bible, Buddhist sutras, etc. To achieve a woodcut print, an artist first carves a design into a wood block, adds ink on the raised wood surface and presses the inked surface on a paper or cloth to create a print.

- Collagraphy

Collagraphy is another form of relief printmaking introduced in 1955 by artist Glen Alps. This process is different from woodcutting in that rather than carving a printing plate to create an elevated surface, materials such as leaves, grass, strings, etc. are added to the surface of the printing plate to create a collagraph. The added material which does not exceed a quarter of an inch elevates the surface on which ink is added. The inked surface is then pressed on paper or any material with the aid of a printing press or hand tools, creating an image that mimics the different materials and textures added to the printing plate. Unlike woodcutting, collagraphy provides more flexibility in creating complex textures and markings.

2. Intaglio (Drypoint, Etching, and Engraving)

In this printmaking process, the image area to be printed is engraved below the flat surface of the printing plate. This method is the opposite of relief printmaking where the raised area holds the image and the ink used to recreate the design. Here are the different types of intaglio printing processes:

- Drypoint

Drypoint involves scarring the surface of a plate to displace the existing metal and create a pattern rather than completely removing the metal. When you scratch on a drypoint plate, you create a burr or a raised metal from the displaced metal. The ink sits underneath that burr as well as in the V-trough where the scratch was and is later transferred onto paper to create an original art piece.

- Etching

This is a popular intaglio technique where acid is used to erode the exposed parts of the metal printing plate and create a design. This process is different from drypoint in that the surface is scratched shallowly to remove ground on the printing plate through a process called biting, leaving the image area below the surface of the plate. To recreate the image, the printing plate is coated with varnish and dipped into acid. The acid then erases the metal, leaving just the ground surface with the design. Ink is later added to the plate and placed in a printing press with paper to create the design.

- Engraving

This is one of the oldest and most complicated forms of printmaking. It involves carving into a printing plate by hand using a steel cutting tool known as a burin. The plate is then covered with ink and the surface is wiped clean. After that, the plate is placed in a printing press which pushes the paper into the holes containing ink. The paper absorbs the ink, revealing the design inscribed on the plate.

The main difference between intaglio and relief is that with intaglio, what is carved into the plate holds the ink that recreates the design. Meanwhile, the parts you don’t carve hold ink in relief printmaking.

3. Lithography

Lithography is a process of printing from a stone (lithographic limestone), a metal plate, or a smooth surface. It was invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder and was commonly used for creating musical scores and maps. The most beautiful thing about lithography is that a design can be created in one colour and printed in another. Lithography is similar to drawing because of the freedom it gives artists. It is based on the theory that oil and water don’t mix. To achieve a design, a printing plate is rolled with an oil-based ink before creating a desired pattern. Once the pattern is completed, talcum powder, resin, liquid-etch solution, gum arabic, etc. are applied to the stone. This enables the inked image areas to stick to the surface of the stone before the image is printed with a press. This process is unique because it captures the exact mark created by the artist on the printing plate.

4. Screen printing

Screen or silkscreen printing is a process whereby images are printed with an instrument made from a synthetic polymer known as a mesh using a stencilling technique. To achieve this print, a knife is used to create a design (stencil) from a self-adhesive plastic film. The stencil is then glued to the surface of a mesh screen before placing the screen on printing paper. Afterward, the ink is released into the shapes created by the stencil onto the paper. This method is different from surface printing in that the print isn’t created directly from the surface of a block or plate.

Screen print can also be created by placing light-sensitive emulsion on the surface of the screen and using a computer to print the design. This method is common among artists and designers as it helps them create detailed screens. The first record of screen printing dates back to China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). It has since been copied and adapted over the years.

5. Digital printing

A digital print is a printmaking technique that transfers a digital image onto different surfaces (textile, paper, etc.) using laser or inkjet printers. When compared to more traditional methods such as relief printing, digital printing avoids the technical costs of creating printing plates. It also offers on-demand printing, modification possibilities, and short turnaround times. Digital printing is presently the most inexpensive way to create mass prints.

This list of printing methods is by no means exhaustive. There are other types of printing processes – feel free to share those you are familiar with in the comment section.

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