Fine Art Printmaking

Printmaking is the process of making 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 a same piece, which is called a print. Each print produced is not considered a "copy" but rather is considered an "original". This is because typically each print varies to an extent due to variables intrinsic to the printmaking process, and also because the imagery of a print is typically not simply a reproduction of another work but rather is often a unique image designed from the start to be expressed in a particular printmaking technique. A print may be known as an impression. Printmaking (other than monotyping) is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple impressions, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to.

Printmaking techniques are generally divided into the following basic categories:

  • Relief, where ink is applied to the original surface of the matrix. Relief techniques include woodcut or woodblock as the Asian forms are usually known, wood engraving, linocut and metalcut.
  • Intaglio, where ink is applied beneath the original surface of the matrix. Intaglio techniques include engraving, etching, mezzotint,aquatint.
  • Planographic, where the matrix retains its original surface, but is specially prepared and/or inked to allow for the transfer of the image. Planographic techniques include lithography, monotyping, and digital techniques.
  • Stencil, where ink or paint is pressed through a prepared screen, including screenprinting and pochoir.

Many of these techniques can also be combined, especially within the same family. For example, Rembrandt's prints are usually referred to as "etchings" for convenience, but very often include work in engraving and drypoint as well, and sometimes have no etching at all.

Printmaking, which encompasses woodcuts, engraving, etching, mezzotint, aquatint, drypoint, lithography, screen-printing, digital prints and foil imaging is often a core component of fine-arts training courses, and today's printmakers are grounded in most of these print methods. In most cases the process of transferring or printing the image can be repeated numerous times. Works printed from a single plate form an 'edition'. A 'limited edition' is formed when a set of editions are signed and numbered individually by the artist and the matrix is destroyed so no more editions may be made. Prints published in the form of a book are called 'artist's books'.