The Various Types of Printmaking


A print is an impression on paper taken from a matrix, most usually a specially prepared printing plate or block. In the past, prints were always produced in editions, that is, as multiples, but sometimes today printmakers make unique impressions from the plate. 

Prints can fall in to one of several broad categories:


Intaglio Printmaking

An intaglio print is one where the image is printed from a recessed design incised or etched into the surface of a plate. In this type of print the ink lies below the surface of the plate and is transferred to the paper under pressure using an intaglio press.
This is a heavy press with a flat, metal bed suspended between two rollers; blankets are used soften and spread the pressure and to help push the dampened paper in to the deeper areas of the upturned plate. Examples of intaglio printmaking are etching, mezzotint, aquatint, engraving, dry point and collagraph. 


Relief Printmaking

A relief print is one where the image is printed from a design raised on the surface of a block. The plate is made by cutting away those areas of the block which you do not want to appear in the design, and rolling ink onto the top surface. In this type of print the ink lies on the top of the block and is transferred to the paper under light pressure.

Most popular examples of this style of printmaking are woodcut and linocut but collagraphs can also be printed as relief plates. Relief printing presses typically have a bed on which the block is placed face up, a dry sheet of paper placed on top and an upper surface is brought down to press the paper onto the block. 



Lithography allows the artist to paint and draw directly on to the surface of a stone or metal plate. The image is created with greasy materials on a grease-sensitive surface to accept ink and the remainder treated with water-based materials to repel ink. A characteristic of the resultant image is often a crayon-like texture or ink line-and-wash drawing. The lithographic printing process is 'off-set' and requires a long bed on which the paper and plate are positioned side by side. A full-width roller passes along the entire length of the bed, picks up the ink form the plate then passes back again putting the ink down on the paper. 


Serigraphy (Screen Printing)

Serigraphy is a process where a flat implement (usually a squeegee) is used to force ink through a stencil and directly on to paper underneath. The most popular form of this style of printmaking is called Screen printing, where a mesh is stretched over a frame, areas are blocked and a squeegee pulled across the mesh, prints the image around the blocked areas. Screen printing is a popular form of commercial art such as printing on fabric and large poster style images and does not require any type of press. 



A monotype is a unique image taken from a matrix rather than drawn or painted directly onto the paper. The image is painted or rolled onto the smooth surface of a plate which is usually made of plastic. It is usually printed using an intaglio press. Because the detail of the image is removed by the process of printing the plate, the print cannot be repeated.



Information courtesy of ‘The Sydney Printmakers’