Printmaking techniques

"They're All Against Me" - original lithograph by Ronald Searle

Original prints and reproduction prints - an explanation, together with some information about various printmaking techniques.

It is important to distinguish between an original print and a reproduction print.

What is an original Print?
An original print is an image produced from a surface on which the artist has worked, such as a stone or wood block or a copper plate. This surface is intended by the artist to be a stage in the creation of the artwork.

Thus the original work of art in this case is the print itself rather than the block or plate, from which it is printed.

At Art of Illustration we offer original prints by a number of artists including: Anita Klein, (drypoint engravings, etchings and woodcuts) Ronald Searle (stone lithographs) Peter Blake, Beryl Cook (silkscreens) Flora McLachlan. Helen Brown, Graham Clarke (etchings), Chris Wormell (woodcuts) and Johnny Bull (original digital prints.)

The History of Printmaking
Prints have played an important role in the history of art. Before the invention of photography, it was through engravings that many people were able to become familiar with great works of art which would otherwise have been inaccessible. This tradition of bringing paintings to a wider public dates back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when many artists employed engravers to reproduce their work.

Many of the greatest artists themselves made original prints. Rembrandt is a notable example of a painter who was also a highly skilled etcher and produced some of his most memorable images in this medium.

The technical discipline of printmaking, the appearance of ink on paper and the ability to create different ‘impressions’ of the same image through different inking, has inspired artists throughout the history of art. Hogarth recreated many of the images from his paintings in engravings; Picasso was a prolific printmaker in the media of etching, lithography and linocut. Some of Matisse’s best known images are his simple lithographs and stencils.

Other artists whose important works include prints are Dürer, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Goya, Piranesi, Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec, Whistler, Sickert, Warhol, Freud, Hodgkin and Hockney.

Printmaking Techniques

There are several different methods of printmaking. Amongst the most common are the following :
Intaglio prints.
These are prints where the image is cut into a surface or plate (from the italian intagliare, to cut into). When the plate is inked, the incised lines hold the ink and the image is transferred to a second surface, usually paper. The inked lines on the finished surface are often slightly raised and there is generally a visible line around the image where the plate has been pressed into the paper, called the platemark.
Examples of intaglio printmaking are:
Engraving. The image is engraved directly onto a metal plate, usually made of copper, with a sharp tool called a burin.
Etching. The plate is covered in a acid-resistant layer of wax called an etching ground. The image is then drawn into this surface with an etching needle. When covered with printing ink the lines hold the ink whilst the rest of the plate repels it.
Drypoint. As in an engraving, the drypoint needle draws the image directly onto the plate. The residue copper is left on the side of the etched lines, which then collect the ink, creating a furry effect called burr.
Aquatint. The whole plate is covered with grains of resin called an aquatint ground, allowing acid to bite into the entire area, creating an overall grainy, tonal effect. This technique is often combined with etching.
Mezzotint. Like aquatint, this technique is used to create a tonal effect over large areas. The whole plate is worked with a rocker, creating a rough surface which will hold ink and produce an overall black velvety effect. A second tool is used to burnish out areas which are intended to be white in the final image. Thus this process works from dark to light.

Relief prints.
These are prints where the areas around the image to be printed are cut away, leaving the image on the block in relief. These raised areas are then inked and transferred onto a second surface, usually paper. The most common relief prints include: Woodcuts, Linocuts, and...
Lithographs
- From the Greek lithos, stone and graphe, writing. This printing process is unlike both intaglio and relief processes, both of which involve cutting into the plate. Lithography relies on the principle that grease and water will repel each other. The image is drawn in a greasy substance onto a lithographic stone. The stone is then dampened with water and the greasy printing ink adheres only to the drawing.

What is a reproduction print?
A reproduction print is made by taking a photographic image of an original painting or drawing, and using this image to make a copy of the original on paper. The most commonly used printing method these days is called “giclee” which uses a high-quality digital printer and light-fast inks. These prints may be limited in an edition and signed and numbered by the artist.

At Art of Illustration we offer limited edition reproduction prints by a range of artists including Quentin Blake, Shirley Hughes, Sue Macartney-Snape and John Harrold.

We are grateful to Helen Rosslyn, Director of the London Original Print Fair, for most of the source material used in this information page.

"I Love You" - Original Silkscreen by Peter Blake

To view all artworks in this section without thumbnail images, please use the quick list