Printmaking knows two groups of techniques: relief printing and intaglio printing.
In relief printmaking, everything that is not meant to be printed is cut away. The raised surface is then inked/painted and then the print is produced by some kind of a pressing process.
The intaglio printmaking technique works the opposite way. A line is incised into the surface with various tools or with acid. Then the whole plate is coated with ink. After the plate was wiped clean, the ink remains only in the incised areas. The print is produced by pressing a dampened paper against the plate. The intaglio printmaking techniques are engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint, stipple, mezzotint and are discussed in part two of this article.
In the beginning copper plates were used. This technique required a professional engraver with skills that could be acquired only in a long apprenticeship. The disadvantage of the use of copper was the limited number of impressions. Like for a woodcut, hardly more than 2000 or 3000 impressions could be obtained from one plate. This changed drastically with the invention of steel plates by Thomas Lupton in 1822. Now the number of impressions was nearly unlimited.
Pablo Picaso, Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman, 1933, drypoint, from the edition of 303, 11 5/8 x 14 1/2 inches (29.6 x 36.7 cm), San Diego Museum of Art, CA.
Mezzotint is another intaglio technique. It was invented by Ludwig van Siegen, a German soldier, around 1642. Later it was improved by Abraham Blooteling and became were popular in England and was sometimes called la maniere anglaise. For the mezzotint print, the surface is completely marked with a dense network of lines. For this process, a tool called a rocker is used. When a print is drawn at this stage, it would show a rich black only. Therefore in the next step, the plate is smoothed in the areas where the artist wants the color to print in a lighter tone or not at all.
Mezzotint requires high skills as the working process goes from dark to light. It is an ideal technique for creating shadowed areas and different tonal qualities. It therefore was particularly used for portraits.
Published by Alexander Browne(1659-1706), Sir Peter Lely, mezzotint
Aquatint is a special form of etching. It is created by etching sections rather than lines of a plate. First a porous ground of powdered or melted resin or asphalt or a similar ground is dusted onto the plate. Next the plate is heated from below and as a result the applied dusty coat adheres to the metal and is acid-resistant. The acid is spread over the plate and bites into the tiny holes left in the coating. Similar to mezzotint, aquatint is a technique to produce prints with the effect of printing rather whole areas than just lines. Typical for acquatint are the finely dotted areas.
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828), The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (O Sonho da Razao Produz Monstros), 1796-1797, first edition, number 43 from the series "Los Caprichos", aquatint.
|Woodcut is the oldest method of printmaking. A fine example are Japanese woodcut prints. For woodcuts the design is drawn on a wooden board. Then everything that shall remain unpainted, is cut away with the use of a knife or a tool called gouge. Next the board is covered with the ink/paint. The final print is produced by pressing the paper firmly against the block - using a roller or some kind of a press. To achieve prints in several colors, several boards were used - one for each color. The whole process of producing a woodcut, usually was achieved by three different persons: the artist who made the design, the wood cutter and the printer.|
Wood engraving is a special form of a woodcut. The end grain of a very hard wood is used and the cuts into the wood are made along the grain. This technique allows finer lines and details than the normal woodcut. Besides, because of the harder wood, more impressions were possible from one block.
The gravers or burins used to work the block are similar to those used to engrave a copper or steel plate, but instead of producing lines that will print, they are used to produce non-printing lines. It is the uncut surface that takes the ink and prints.
One of the finest examples for woodcuts are from Albrecht Dürer.
Lithography was invented in 1798 by Alois Senefelder.
He used the technique to print sheet music. One year later, Senefelder
even had it patented in Munich. The name comes from the Greek word lithos
which means stone. The technique is based on the fact, that water and
grease do not like each other. The design is drawn on a special, flat
stone (limestone) or on a metal plate with a greasy water-repellant substance
(greased crayon or a greasy ink called tusche). Then the stone was dampened
with water and inked. The ink is absorbed by the greasy parts only. To
enhance this effect, the plate can be treated with a chemical fluid after
drawing the image. Afterwards a print can be produced by putting the plate
in a press. Like for the woodcut, several plates - one for each color
- are used to produce a color lithograph print. A colored lithograph is
called a chromolithograph.
Toulouse-Lautrec Henri, Elles, Lithography