Albrecht Dürer, St. Jerome in His Study, c. 1500, engraving, See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Printmaking is inherently the process of making multiples of a particular work of art. Of course, there is a caveat here, and that is the monotype process, where in only 1 print is transferred from the matrix to another surface. There are a few different types of printmaking processes, and each produces a different quality of line and texture. Most prints are also the reverse of what is carved into the matrix because that surface is turned over, and pressed against the paper or ground the image is transferred to as it is run through the press.

The print above, by Albrecht Dürer, is an example of an engraving, which is an intaglio technique. In this process, the design is cut into a metal plate with a burin, and the ink is left in the incised lines. Artists using this technique can produce prints with very fine lines.


Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen, c. 1496/98, woodcut, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The print above, also by Dürer, is an example of a woodcut, or woodblock, print, which is a relief technique. This technique is comparable to a stamp, where the areas that will not be inked are cut away from the matrix, leaving a raised surface to spread the ink on. That means that thin lines in the design are formed by very thin fins of wood, making them very fragile.


Edgar Degas, Singer at a Café-Concert, lithograph on white, 1876-1877, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The print above, by Edgar Degas, is an example of lithography, which I consider to be the first really industrial printmaking process, especially since it was invented at the end of the 18th century, the height of the first Industrial Revolution. The benefit to lithography is the use of a stone, typically limestone or another porous stone, or metal as the matrix. The design is then drawn on the surface, as opposed to being carved into it, which means that the matrix is reusable. This means that lithographs are generally cheaper to produce than other printmaking techniques. Each lithograph, though, because of the fact that the artist draws on the stone, allows for a work that is unique to that artist’s style.

Other more modern printmaking techniques include seriography, or screen printing, digital ink jet prints, and photocopied prints. As technology has continued to evolve, so has the art-making process. Many artists are also using CAD and iPads to create works that transcend the disciplines of drawing, painting, and printmaking.


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