Understanding Printmaking

  • Printmaking is an art form that involves copying an image onto another surface–usually paper–from an original source, known as a matrix.

  • The fundamental techniques of printmaking include relief, intaglio, lithography and screenprinting, each having its distinctive set of characteristics and requirements.

  • An essential part of printmaking is the reproduction of the same image, which, once created, can indeed be produced multiple times, this is meant by edition.

  • Each print from one plate, even when part of the same edition, maintains its individual uniqueness, due to subtle differences in the printing process.

  • Unlike other visual arts, printmaking requires a vast understanding of different techniques and materials. The type of ink, the pressing process, the matrix surface, all contribute to the final result of the print.

Relief Printing

  • Relief printmaking involves carving the image onto the matrix. The raised, uncarved areas are then inked and printed while the carved, lowered areas remain ink-free.

  • Woodcut and Linocut are two commonly used materials in relief printing.

  • Relief printing is suitable for bold, simplified and graphic designs.

Intaglio Printing

  • Intaglio printmaking involves etching or engraving the image into a matrix. The ink is rubbed into the lines and recesses, and the matrix’s surface is wiped clean. Therefore, the areas intended to be printed need to be recessed.

  • Techniques used include etching, drypoint, mezzotint and engraving.

  • Detailed linear designs fit well into this type of printmaking.


  • Lithography relies on the resistance between water and oil-based substances. The matrix remains flat, making it different from the two previous types.

  • Traditional lithography uses limestone plates; modern lithography would use zinc or aluminium plates.

  • Offset lithography is a common commercial method, where the image is transferred to a rubber blanket then to the paper.

  • Lithography is suitable for artworks that required subtle gradation of tones.


  • Screenprinting uses a silk screen or other fine mesh, with parts of the screen blanked off with a non-permeable substance.

  • Ink is then applied to the top and forced through the mesh onto the surface (often paper or fabric) with a squeegee.

  • Most effective for bold and graphic designs, due to its sharp-edged imaging.

Material and Preservation

  • Various inks and papers all have their unique characteristics, and their choice greatly influences the style and effect of the print.

  • Archival materials are crucial in printmaking; these materials such as acid-free papers and long-lasting inks will ensure the print’s life span.

  • Handling and storing of prints require special care to preserve the image quality. Avoid direct sunlight, use acid-free mats for framing, and frame under UV-protected glass or plexiglass.