What are Prints?

First post in a series of five articles on printmaking.

“Print, Prints and More Prints” is currently running at the WCI Art Center until October 13th.

Many people enjoy prints but what exactly is the process to create a print? Why are they so special?

Traditionally there are four main categories of Printmaking; Relief, Intaglio, Planographic, and Stencil (or Serigraphy). An additional type of printmaking, added in the last few decades, is called Giclée (pronounced zhee-clay). In the next couple weeks I will attempt to describe these techniques and imprint some new knowledge on the reader.

The oldest category of print making is relief, the process of taking a protruding surface of the block, or matrix, and applying an ink or coloring. The recessed areas remain unchanged. A substrate, most commonly paper, is then pressed onto the matrix creating the image. Woodcut, or woodblock, linocut, and metalcut are examples of the relief technique.

Originating as early as 5th century China, woodcut is the oldest relief technique used to transfer text, images or patterns onto paper or fabric. European and Japanese woodcuts appeared much later in the 15th Century. The print artist draws the desired image on a plank or block of wood and cuts out the areas that will not receive ink. The surface of the block is then inked and the paper is placed over the block. The block can be used with a printing press, hands, spoon, or a roller to transfer the image to the paper. If the finished piece is in color, there may be several different blocks created for the different colors, or a method reduction printing can be used.

Reduction printing describes the use of one block to create multiple layers of color. More and more of the block is cut away after each color is applied. Typically the artist will create more than one impression because once the next layer is cut into the block no more prints can then be made.

Linocut is similar to woodcut but the matrix relief surface is a sheet of linoleum rather than wood. Using linoleum for a printing technique dates back to the early 1900’s in Germany where it was used in printing wallpaper. This manmade material has no direction to its grain and is easier to cut into than wood, but it will also degrade faster from the pressure of printing. Linoleum can also be used in a reduction technique and was done by art masters Picasso and Matisse who helped bring the use of linocut into more popular favor.

In the next post we’ll delve into Intaglio Printmaking!

by Kate Michael-Mattsey