Printmaking Definitions

The Relief printing tools, Milwaukee Handicraft ProjectMilwaukee Handicraft Project included units focused on printmaking. The Wisconsin Arts Projects of the WPA digital collection includes some of the best examples of the work they produced, as well as images illustrating printmaking processes and tools. In that same spirit, the UWM Libraries have created a brief guide to common printmaking terms and techniques.

Printing is a mechanical process by which ink is transferred from, or through, a medium (e.g., wood block, metal plate, lithographic stone, silk-screen stencil, etc.) on to a substrate (e.g., paper, vellum, textiles, metal, etc.), usually for the purpose of making an image. Before the advent of digital printing, there were four primary ways to make a print:

Relief Printing
An image is created from ink, applied to a raised surface and transferred to a substrate either through the pressure of a printing press or by pressing or rubbing by hand. There are several methods for making a relief print. Here are a few common ways:

Wood has an end grain and a long grain (also called face grain, cross grain, and plane grain). Woodcuts are made by cutting away portions of the long grain of the wood, leaving the uncut, raised surface to be inked and printed. The Linocut is a variant of the woodcut, in which similar tools are used to cut into the surface of a linoleum sheet instead of long-grain wood to create a relief image.
Wood engraving
In wood engraving, the denser, harder end grain of the wood is used. Because the dense end grain is much harder to cut with the knives and gouging tools used for wood cuts, engraving tools are used instead to plow fine lines into the dense wood. Because the incisions in the wood can be made finer and thinner, the relief surface left behind creates an image that is also potentially finer and more intricate. Today, because of the relative scarcity of quality end-grain wood available, many wood engravers have turned to synthetics such as Resingrave.
Metal relief
In this process mechanical or chemical methods are used to create relief images on metal rather than wood surfaces. Zinc and magnesium are common materials. Metal type is also a metal relief technique. Here instead, a relief letter form is traditionally hand carved from a hard piece of metal. The hand-carved relief is then punched into softer metal to make a mold. Lead is then poured into the mold to manufacture multiple copies of the original relief letter form. This form can be locked up with other letter forms and printed in the same way as other relief images.
In this technique almost any kind of material can be adhered to a rigid, flat surface (e.g., paper on board; coins on wood; string on plexiglass, etc.). Since the adhered material is raised in relief above the surface it is adhered to, that material can be inked up and printed as a relief.
Intaglio Printing
In this method, an image is created when ink is pushed into grooves incised into a hard, flat surface (usually metal, and then usually copper or steel) and transferred to a substrate (usually dampened paper) through the high pressure of an etching press. The plate is inked by covering the entire surface with ink and then wiping the surface clean. The wiping pushes the ink into any incised grooves, but leaves the surface completely ink free. The very high pressure of the press pushes the plate into the soft, damp paper. When the paper is pulled from the plate, the ink is drawn out of the grooves and onto the paper. The pressure also leaves the impression of the edge of the plate in the paper. This embossed impression is called the “plate mark,” the tell-tale evidence that the image was made with the intaglio process. There are several methods for making an intaglio print. Here are a few common ways:

More immediate in process than engraving or etching, in this method the artist makes printable marks on a copper plate by scoring the surface with a sharp drypoint needle made of hard steel, often with a diamond tip. The artist essentially scratches the surface in a sketch-like manner, creating a print that has a hand-drawn quality about it. The print, “Old Sturgeon Bay,” may have been created using the drypoint method.
Using this technique, lines are incised by hand directly in to the metal surface by using an engraving tool called a burin which has a sharply V-shaped section. The burin is held almost parallel to the plate and is forcibly pushed into the plate’s surface gouging a line by scooping out a sliver of metal. When completed, the plate is printed as described above.
This method makes use of a chemical process where acid, instead of a burin, is used to manufacture the recessed ink-bearing lines in the metal plate. First, the metal plate is heated and the entire surface of the plate is thinly coated in a waxy compound that resists acid, known as the ground. Once the ground cools and hardens, the artist can then draw directly into it with a stylus or other tools, opening up lines in the ground that exposes the metal surface. When the image is complete, the plate is placed in an acid bath where the acid begins to eat away at the exposed metal. This is referred to as the bite. The longer the plate remains in the bath, the deeper and broader the bite becomes, which will create a darker print. The artist controls the acid exposure in a variety of ways to vary the darkness. Once the desired image is achieved, the ground is removed and the plate can be inked up.Various techniques are used to achieve textures and grains in etchings, including:

where the ground is prevented from hardening, and a paper is laid over the surface for the artist to draw on. When the paper is removed, the ground sticks to the paper, exposing the metal in a fragmented way, allowing for an image that looks more like a drawing
where a hand tool called a rocker or lunette is gradually worked over the surface of a plate to create tonality
where a powdered resin is sprinkled on the surface of the plate as a resist and heated to affix it to the metal. Since the resist is composed of individual fine particles, and not a uniform surface, after the plate is etched the surface is finely pitted giving the resultant print a finely textured surface
Coming soon
Silk screen
Coming soon