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Printmaking

Below are a few notes on printmaking in general, with terms to help better understand the nature of the printmaking process...

Original Prints

An original print is handmade by working on a specific surface such as copper, wood, stone or linoleum (to name a few) using one or more printmaking methods. Each material can be worked with a specific set of mark-making possibilities to create an image onto the printing block or plate, which when inked will transfer an image onto paper, often through the use of a printing press under high pressure. This process allows you to make multiples of an image by repeatedly inking the plate and running it through the press to create an impression on the paper.

 

The printing block or plate will naturally wear over time and as a result there can only ever be a limited number of good quality prints produced before the image fades and details lose their sharpness. This set of prints is called an ‘edition’ and is numbered on the print, for example 1/75 through 75/75. As part of the edition there may also be a number of additional prints or 'artist’s proofs' which are usually marked ‘A/P’. These usually comprise no more than 10% of the final edition size and as a result are rarer. For example, if you had a limited edition of 50 pieces, you can expect there to be five artist’s proofs (or fewer) included.

 

Each print in the edition will be identical although very subtle differences may occur (due to press pressures and inking methods) and once the edition is finished the block or plate is often destroyed or marked so that no more images can be produced, forming the ‘limited edition’ of prints.

Relief Printmaking

A relief print is produced by applying ink to the surface of a smooth plate. An image is created by carving away areas of the plate which are not intended to hold ink leaving a raised (or relief) surface. When ink is applied, usually with a roller, these raised areas will hold ink and when run through a printing press with paper an impression of the plate will be transferred, forming an image.

 

Woodcut is the oldest printmaking technique where a block of wood cut along the grain. Engraving is similar but utilises the end grain of dense hardwoods to produce highly detailed and often small prints. Linocuts are a relatively more recent addition to relief printing using softer linoleum on which to carve an image. All of these methods tend to produce prints with a bold and graphic quality.

Intaglio Printmaking

An Intaglio print is produced by making incisions and indentations in the surface of the printing plate. A thin layer of ink is carefully worked into these grooves and printed using an etching press where dampened paper is forced into these grooves, lifting the wet ink to transfer an impression of the plate onto the paper to form the image.

 

There are endless possibilities for mark-making using different combinations of techniques including engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint, mezzotint and collagraph to name a few, used on their own or in combination. The process and techniques chosen determine the depth and distribution of the ink which produces areas of tone or line work to form the image.