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Printmaking can be broken down into two basic techniques, known as Relief and Intaglio.

This division relates to how the ink is transferred from plate to paper.



In relief printmaking, it is the surface of the plate that carries the image, which is transferred onto the paper. The areas that are cut away do not come into contact with the paper and therefore remain clear. The most common forms of relief printing are woodcutting and lino-cutting. Both techniques use tools to remove the areas of the surface of the plate that are not required to print.


The term Intaglio (from the Italian ‘intaglaire’ meaning to carve into) covers many processes. An intaglio plate carries the ink in the recesses cut into the plate. Examples of the Intaglio process include engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint, mezzotint and collagraph. Intaglio printmaking can be divided into two basic categories, those that do and those that do not use acid to create the plate.  We do not use acid in our workshop and focus on drypoint etching.


The drypoint method involves cutting into the surface of the metal plate with a scriber. This raises a burr, which holds the ink after the plate has been wiped clean. The print from this process produces a soft-edged line. Perspex or coated card can also be used as a plate. However, plates made from these materials have a relatively short life span and so the number of pulls (prints) that can be got from a perspex or card plate will be limited. On the plus side, perspex and card are cost effective and easy to purchase and use.


End grain woodcut


Drypoint etching

Drypoint etching


The monotype is neither a print nor a painting but an amalgam of both techniques. The method is called monotype because only one image or ‘pull’ will be achieved. The image is painted onto the plate with oil paint, acrylic paint or printers ink and then transferred to paper. Metal plates, Perspex and wood can be used as the plate and the image can be transferred by either hand burnishing or if the material is appropriate it can be printed on a press.


Direct Painting Technique

Using Perspex as the substrate for a sheet of paper or canvas, paint directly unto the plate surface. Using oil paint or etching ink that has been thinned with white spirit, paintbrushes, sponges or rags can be used to apply the image to the plate. After your image has been applied to the plate, place it on the press. Lay your dampened paper on top of the plate and run it through the press with minimum pressure. The pressure should be appropriate to the amount of paint applied. (more paint – less pressure)

If a press is not available, place a thin piece of paper on the plate, cover this with a larger piece of acetate and apply pressure using a wooden spoon as a burnisher. The acetate will prevent the paper from tearing or moving during the process

Direct Tracing Technique

Often used to create a linear image, this technique renders an image with a soft edge quality to the lines. The plate can be made from Perspex, heavy vinyl acetate or glass (non-porous materials).

Note: glass should never be put through a press. Roll a thin layer of medium-thick etching ink onto the surface of the plate. Masking can be used to create a clean edge to the ink. Place a sheet of paper carefully on top of the ink and use masking tape along one edge to ‘register’ the paper. When the paper is secured, draw your image on the back of the paper with a drawing tool. When the drawing is complete, lift the paper by way of the masking-tape hinge and view your image. You may re-work the image using the direct painting method (above).

Printing may be done either by hand burnishing (see method above) or by press.


Screen printing

Screen Printing is one of the most direct methods of achieving multi-coloured images. The screen is rectangular frame over which is stretched silk, polyester or nylon or any other appropriate fine mesh material. The screen is blocked out in the areas that are to remain unprinted. A squeegee (a plastic or rubber blade) is pulls ink across the screen allowing the ink to penetrate the unblocked areas.


End grain woodcut


Drypoint Etching




In a collagraph, the plate (normally mount-board or very thin plywood) is built up and manipulated by the artist, using a collage-like process which combines a large array of materials such as glue, carborundum, sawdust, paints, filler, string, beads and more. The name is derived from the Greek ‘collo’ meaning glue and the English graph’ meaning draw.The artist can also draw lines into the paints before they harden. As a result, the plate may print as both relief and intaglio. Collagraph prints are inked and printed in a similar manner to an etching. Because the image is printed under pressure the image is embossed into the paper. Each print is completely unique even if they have been printed from the same plate or even with the same colours.


Water-soluble Technique

This technique involves using water-soluble materials (watercolours, caran d’ache, watercolour pencil) to create an image in replacement of oil-based materials in the direct painting technique (see above) and water-based monoprint inks. The surface of the plate should be ‘keyed’ using fine sandpaper to ease adhesion. Next, a sponge should be used to spread a thin layer of liquid soap to the surface, which should be left until dry. This coating will allow the image to be transferred to paper more easily. Again, draw directly onto the surface with the selected water-soluble materials. Allow to dry before proceeding. When the image is ready, place on the press and place your dampened sheet of paper on top. On top of this place clean newsprint or card. Run the plate through the press at moderate/heavy pressure. Before removing the printed image, lift the corner to check if the image has transferred satisfactorily. If not, spray the back of the receiver paper with water and run through the press again.

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