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Printmaking is an process where multiple prints of an image can be made by use of matrix on which the image is created.

A composition is created on a surface from which a transfer using ink is possible, such as a plate, stone, piece of wood, potato, etc. Ink is applied, and the image is transferred to a substrate, usually paper. This piece of paper is known as a print. The same matrix can be used to create identical prints. A series of identical prints is known as an edition.

Table of contents

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.
  • A.P. artist's 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-printing. These techniques can also be combined.

Some other printmaking techniques are chine-collé, collography, monotyping, engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, linocut, aquatint and batiking[?].

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 barren (a spoon can be substituted) or is run through the press. Separate blocks are used for each color. Woodcuts are an example of a relief print.

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.

Lithography is based on the chemical repulsion of oil and water. A porous substrate, normally limestone, is used; the image is drawn on the limestone with an oily medium. Acid is applied, transferring the oil to the limestone, leaving the image 'burned' into the surface. Gum arabic, a water soluble substance, is then applied, sealing the surface of the stone not covered with the drawing medium. The stone is wetted, with water staying only on the surface not covered in oil-based residue of the drawing; the stone is then 'rolled up', meaning greasy ink is applied with a roller covering the entire surface; since water repels the grease in the ink, the ink adheres only to the oily parts, perfectly inking the image. A sheet of wet paper is placed on the surface, and the image is transferred to the paper by the pressure of the printing press. Lithography is known for its ability to capture fine gradations in shading and very small detail.
A variant is photo-lithography, in which the image is captured by photographic processes on metal plates; printing is carried out in the same way.

Screen-printing or silk screening 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.


Spellings may vary.


Emil Nolde, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner[?], Erich Heckel[?], Olga Rozanova[?], Helen Frakenthaler[?], Georg Baselitz[?], A.R. Penck[?], Joel Shapiro[?], and Willie Cole[?].


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


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


Andy Warhol, Ralston Crawford[?], Josef Albers[?], Bridget Riley, Roy Liechtenstein[?], Edward Ruscha[?], Robert Indiana[?], Blinky Palermo[?], Julian Opie[?], and Chuck Close[?].


M. C. Escher

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