By: Farah Sayed 

Printmaking includes a variety of processes that transfer an image from an inked surface onto another, typically through a printing press. Etching grew popular in medieval Europe while woodcut printing developed in 16th century Japan. Today, artists combine these various methods along with new emerging processes to create beautiful pieces of art.

Common Terminology

  • Printing Press- a device that applies pressure between a piece of paper and an inked plate; uses a heavy metal roller (pictured at the top)
  • Block- a thick, flat material with a design on the surface used for printing; also referred to as a “matrix” or a “plate” when etching or engraving

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  • Brayer- a handheld roller that is used to evenly apply ink onto a plate

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Monotype is the most basic form of printmaking where ink is applied onto a plate, such as plexi-glass. The print cannot be easily recreated, however, because the surface of the plate is never permanently modified. Monotype is useful for adding a simple layer or showing expressive brushstrokes.

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Relief is a technique where an image is printed from a raised surface. Often, one carves away areas on a wood block or piece of linoleum. The raised areas, which are not carved out, is what prints when the block is run through a press.

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Intaglio processes are the opposite of relief in that ink is rubbed into areas that are not raised on a plate. One can scribe a design into a plate and create fine lines, an intaglio technique known as drypoint.

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Etching is a subcategory of intaglio processes, where instead of physically scribing lines into a plate, an acidic solution etches a design. Printmakers most commonly use metals such as zinc or aluminum as plates and submerge them into ferric chloride or copper sulfate.

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Screen printing

Screen printing emerged in the 20th century, a process famously used by Andy Warhol. Unlike most other processes, a printing press is not needed to apply ink to the paper. Instead, a squeegee pushes ink through a thin screen to transfer an image.

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Due to the process’s versatility, screen printing is a useful for applying designs onto t-shirts and posters.

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Famous Works

One very famous Japanese woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, was created by artist Katsushika Hukosai around 1830 in his series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. He illustrates a large wave, towering over boats and framing Mt. Fuji at the same time.

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Andy Warhol’s prints of Marilyn Monroe are also very iconic in the printmaking world. He experimented with screen printing during the 1960s, using bright color variations that reflected pop art at the time.


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The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is an etching created by Spanish romantic artist Francisco Goya during the late 18th century. The image displays himself sleeping while creatures and darkness surround him.

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Although Mary Cassatt is mostly known for her impressionist paintings, she created many notable prints such as The Banjo Lesson. Incorporating drypoint, aquatint, and monotype, this print reflects her traditional depictions of women and children, often adding a soft touch.

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The Printing Process: Block Printing