Welcome to what we hope will be an ever evolving Techniques page. Below you will find information describing several printmaking processes (alongside examples from some Peregrine Press members) as well as a glossary of terms.
The photo to the right illustrates many of the tools of the trade along with some examples of both final prints, and stages, including the actual plate and/or block used to create the prints in the case. This display was created in conjunction with the Peregrine Press show at the Saco Museum in the fall of 2008.
Thanks to Kit Pike for providing the text that follows, and Chris Beneman for providing the photo at right, as well as those Peregrine Press members who have contributed examples, photos and to Kit's text.
Relief prints are made from the surface of the plate or block. To use a rubber stamp is to make a relief print.
A smooth block of wood is chosen and the desired image drawn on its upper surface. The design is then cut around with a knife or one of several differently-shaped gouges until only the design remains on the surface: all unwanted areas have been cut away.
Ink is then spread on the uncut surface, usually with a roller with a rubbery surface. The smaller rollers used with one hand are known as brayers. Brushes are sometimes used instead, especially in Japanese woodblock printing, but this requires great skill.
A piece of paper is placed on top of the inked block, and pressure is applied to it, either with a printing press or by rubbing gently with a smooth object such as the back of a spoon, or a baren, a tool made for this purpose.
When the paper is lifted off the print shows the uncut, inked areas of the block in reverse.
Intaglio plates, woodblocks, linoleum blocks, collagraphs, and of course, rubbers stamps can all be printed in relief.
Lithography does not involve cutting or changing the levels of a plate in order to make a print. It uses instead the chemical principle that greasy substances like lithographic crayon or printing ink do not mix with water or gum arabic.
Lithographs were originally printed from smooth pieces of limestone. The design would be drawn with a lithographic crayon, or with a greasy black ink called tusche, with which washes can be made. Gum arabic solution with a little acid mixed in is then spread over the stone to etch it. The etch fixes the image onto the stone and also enables the areas with no drawing to better hold water during the inking process. There are a number of steps, which vary according to the type of plate, but for a stone, the general procedure involves washing the original drawing out with solvent, then rubbing another greasy substance over it to fortify the grease content, removing the dried gum etch, and working the image up again by rolling over it repeatedly ink on a leather roller (called “rolling up” the stone) while the rest of the stone is kept moist with a sponge to keep the greasy ink from adhering where it is not wanted. The etch and rolling up are repeated and then a proof or test print may be taken.
A piece of lightly damp paper is laid over the stone, and both are put through a lithography press, which drags a leather-covered “scraper bar” across a protective cover placed over the paper and thus transfers the image, which is, of course, the reverse of that on the stone.
Experimentation has found new materials to substitute for heavy, expensive stones, most commonly, specially prepared thin aluminum plates. And new substances and ways of putting images and textures onto the plate or stone have been developed, such as the use of transfer papers. In monoprinting, many artists will employ paper plates, which can be printed on an etching press. These plates can be direct drawings as if on a regular lithographic stone or plate, but they can also be toner photocopies, so that the process is known as xerox lithography. Laser computer prints will also work, but inkjet printers using water-soluble ink will not.
Silkcreen or Serigraphy
The term Silkscreen well suggested the medium, but the term Serigraphy was coined to make a distinction between fine art printing and commercial reproduction in that medium, an issue which is a continuing thorn in the side of printmakers. Serigraphs are sometimes called screenprints.
A piece of fine and evenly woven fabric is stretched over a wooden frame and fastened securely all around. The fibers of the fabric must be strong as well as fine, so silk was the obvious choice. Now there are excellent synthetic fibers that are most commonly used. Once stretched, the fabric resembles a fine screen, and the entire assembly is so named.
There are a number of ways of making a silkscreen stencil. As the name implies, this method of printing is akin to stencil painting, or the use of stencils in other types of printmaking, but the addition of the fabric to back the stencil means that shapes such as the letter O can be formed with out the center falling out. The threads of the fabric screen act as the bridges required in these other stencil methods. For the same reason, the stencils can be far more delicate, with fine lines. Silkscreen still is best suited to areas of flat color.
Paper stencils may be cut, laid under the screen, and picked up by the ink of the first print. The design may be painted directly on the fabric with various substances. The tusche-and-glue process is indirect, where the design is drawn with the greasy tusche, then covered with a water-based, reversible glue. When the glue dries, the tusche is washed out with solvent, leaving glue to block the weave of the fabric in the other areas of the stencil. Oil-based inks must be used for printing. Advances in photographic techniques and materials have made these processes the first choice for many artists, as they are virtually non-toxic and allow for the use of water-based inks. A photo-sensitive emulsion is spread on the screen, and once dry, is covered with the film positive and exposed in strong light. When the screen is washed under pressure, the exposed areas dissolve and are flushed away, leaving the stencil on the fabric. It is important to leave a margin around the edge of image, which extends to the frame and forms a place to lay out the printing ink.
To print a silkscreen, the screen is laid down with the fabric side down against the paper. Some ink is spooned or poured into the margin of the screen, the squeegee is held level and picks up a line of the ink, which is then dragged across the screen smoothly at a gentle, even pressure. When the screen is raised, the print is there underneath and, unlike most other printmaking processes, is not the reverse but a copy of the screen image.
The term intaglio comes from an Italian word meaning “to carve or cut into”. While relief prints are taken off the surface of a block or plate, intaglio prints are made from the lines and shapes that are cut into the plate, whether by the action of acid or of a tool, or by other means.
The basic printing method is to spread ink over the plate, being sure to work it into all the depressions of the image. The surface is then wiped clean of ink with pieces of stiff, cheesecloth-like fabric called tarlatan, and perhaps with small pieces of paper or the heel of the hand as well, leaving the ink in the depressions. The plate is laid face up on the press, a sheet of damp paper is laid over it, then some clean newsprint, and finally the felt blankets. The press will apply the heavy pressure necessary to push the paper, dampened to soften it so it can bend without tearing, into the depressions on the plate so that it can pick up the ink below the surface. The felt blankets serve to protect the heavy metal press roller and the plate from each other, and to cushion the paper between them. After the run through the press, the blankets and newsprint are folded back, and the print is carefully lifted off. It will be the reverse of the image on the plate and will also have taken the ups and downs of the plate into its own structure, so that the grooves in the plate become raised lines on the print. This is called embossment, and it is possible to run the plate through the press uninked, under thick, dampened paper, to make a three dimensional image, known as an embossing.
When a metal plate is etched with diluted acid, it is first covered with a substance called a ground, which will protect it from the acid. One type, known as hard ground, is smooth and may be scratched through to reveal the metal to the acid, which eats into it. Another type, called soft ground, remains soft and sticky at least for a period of time, so that textured materials may be pressed into it and peeled away, leaving their patterns to be etched into the metal. Another technique, aquatint, uses dots of spray paint or melted rosin powder to make even, speckled shades like photo halftones.
For more information on intaglio techniques, please see individual listings in the Glossary.
Glossary of Printmaking terms
- Acrylic Intaglio
- Andrew Jaspersohn coats a piece of museum board with acrylic emulsion, and works this as a drypoint.
- a method of creating varied tones in an intaglio print. The metal plate is dusted with powdered rosin and heated until the rosin melts and fuses to the plate, leaving a pattern of tiny dots to resist the acid. Or, the plate may be coated with a thin coat of spray paint. If the plate has instead a cover of dry hard ground, a piece of sandpaper may be placed over it with the sanded side against the ground, then be run through the press. When the sandpaper is removed, it will leave a pattern of dots in the ground, this will also make a tone when etched, but of black dots instead of the other methods white dots in a dark area. Areas the artist desires to have white in the print are painted with a stop-out solution that will block the action of the acid. Succeeding layers of stop-out in succeeding etches will cause areas of varied tones, as the longer etching times create darker values.
- a flat object used to hand print relief blocks and collagraphs, or monotypes printed from a smooth surface.
- a small roller used to spread a thin layer of ink on a plate.
- a smooth, rounded tool for smoothing and polishing parts of a metal intaglio plate.
- Carborundum Print
- a print made from a plate which has had the image painted onto it with a paste-like mixture of abrasive carborundum powder and glue. This heavy texture can produce a dense black in the print.
- Chine Collé (sheen collay’)
- the process of adhering a thin piece of paper to a heavier sheet, usually with starch paste. This may be done during printing.
- Collagraph (or collograph)
- a print made from a collage of materials glued together on to a cardboard, metal or other base to make a plate. A collagraph plate may be printed either as a relief print or as an intaglio print, or as a combination of both, usually on an etching press.
- the technique of scratching a metal plate with a hard, sharp-pointed tool that throws up ridges of metal – called burrs -- alongside the drawn lines. These burrs hold more ink than the shallow scratched lines, printing with a soft velvety effect.
- printing a plate without ink to create three-dimensional effects. A deeply bitten intaglio or deeply textured collagraph will display the effects of embossment whether inked or not.
- the technique of cutting lines into a metal plate using a sharp burin. This tool removes the metal (the burr produced is cut off at the end of the stroke with a scraper) and leaves a clean, precise line that swells and tapers according to the pressure applied. Also refers to a print created by this method.
- using acid to eat lines, open areas, or textures into a metal plate.
- Foamcore or Foamboard Intaglio
- this technique uses a piece of the smooth, glossy-surfaced foamcore as the plate. The surface may be scored or dented with knives, needles, ballpoint pens or other hard objects, to create lines and textures, or the glossy top layer may be peeled away to make tonal areas. The plate is often sealed with acrylic medium or a similar substance, to make it last a little longer, and is printed as an intaglio. Such a fragile plate does not yield many impressions.
- Giclée (ghee-clay) prints
- digital reproductions of an image printed on large-format, high-quality commercial inkjet printers, using archival, very fade-resistant inks, often in more ink colors than the usual four of basic color inkjet printers. Once the digital scan is made and stored, images may be printed on many different materials, such as a large range of papers or canvas.
- a process of printing in which ink is forced into recesses of a multi-level plate and wiped off the surface. The print must be made using heavy pressure to pull the ink out off these recesses, so a press is usually required. (please see the longer explanation of the technique above for more information)
- Liftground, Sugarlift
- Liftground etching involves drawing or painting the design in a water-soluble solution, which can be made with sugar or salt and soap. The plate is then covered with a thin coat of hard ground. The drawing is dissolved in warm water, lifting the ground that covered it. The areas thus exposed may be bitten as they are, called an open bite, or an aquatint ground may be sprayed over them, depending on the effect desired.
- Relief printing that employs metal or wooden type to print text. Images may be printed if the blocks are the same height as the type.
- a relief print made from a piece of linoleum.
- Lithography is possible because of the chemical properties of water and grease that cause them to resist each other. The image is worked in a greasy substance on the surface of a plate or piece of smooth, flat limestone rather than by creating different physical levels or depths in the plate, and as the non-greasy areas are kept moist during printing, the greasy ink is repelled in those areas and sticks only to the greasy image. (please see the longer explanation of the technique above for more information).
- a tonal technique worked from dark to light. The dense black tone is made by repeatedly working a curved, serrated mezzotint rocker over a copper plate until its surface is completely and evenly roughed into tiny dents and burrs, an arduous task. The lighter tones are then worked out by smoothing this texture with a scraper and a burnisher. A mock mezzotint can be made by beginning with a deeply bitten aquatint, or a texture made with a tool such as an electric engraver.
- a one-of-a-kind print made using a repeatable matrix such as an etching plate, wood block, silkscreen stencil, collagraph, lithographic plate or stone, etc.
- a one-of-kind-print made without a repeatable matrix (see Monoprint). Printing ink, paint, or other materials are painted, rolled, daubed, or drawn onto a plate, and maybe be removed in many ways as well, such as scratching and wiping, employing stencils, or pressing textured materials into the ink and pulling them off again. Experimentation is constantly finding new ways to create monotypes and monoprints.
- Open Bite
- an etching technique in which large open areas of the metal plate are exposed to the acid. The edges of these areas will hold ink, making a dark, irregular line, but the open areas will hold much less, yielding a mottled tone.
- various photographic methods and materials may be used to create an image to be printed intaglio. These include light-sensitive films and spreadable emulsions, as well as negative and positive images on transparent or translucent papers or films, stencils, tonal screens, and so on. Once the image has been fixed into the light sensitive substance on the plate it may be etched and then printed intaglio or relief. Many of the newer photo-sensitive films are durable enough to hold the ink for an intaglio print without the need to etch the metal, especially if only a few impressions are desired. The film may then be dissolved off the plate, which may be reused.
- Relief Printing
- a process which involves creating different levels or depths in a plate or block, either by cutting or etching into the surface or by building up layers above the surface. Then the top surface alone is inked and printed, usually using a roller or brayer. (please see the longer explanation of the technique above for more information).
- Screen Print, Serigraph, Silkscreen
- these are all terms used to describe a print made by a medium which employs a piece of fabric stretched over a frame – the screen. (please see the longer explanation of the technique above for more information).
- Soft Ground Etching
- commercial soft ground comes in a ball or a paste, and is spread onto a warmed metal plate with a roller or brayer. It stays tacky, at least for a while, so can be employed in several ways. One technique is to lay a sheet of textured paper over the grounded plate, then to draw on the back of it with a hard pencil, a ballpoint pen, or a more blunt object, if a wider line is desired. The paper will pick up the ground and the acid bath will etch the exposed lines. The ground is quite sensitive to pressure, so you must be careful not to lean on the paper, but you can use this to make tones by pressing with your hand. In a similar manner, you can lay grasses, leaves, pieces of cloth, or other textures on the plate, pressing them firmly into the ground, so that they remove it when pulled away. Soft ground can also be carefully applied to a previously bitten plate with a hard roller, so that it leaves the etched lines open. Tones can be added as above, and once dry, more drawing may be done, or lines may be stopped out, to further develop the image.
- an etching technique in which the diluted acid is painted onto the plate to produce freer, looser effects.
- Viscosity printing
- when higher viscosity (more dry and stiff) ink is rolled over lower viscosity (more oily and runny) ink, the oily ink will resist the stiff. This chemical principle allows the creation of multicolor prints from one printing of a flat surface. Combined with the varied depths of a deeply bitten intaglio plate and the use of rollers of differing degree of hardness, this technique yield many a variety of colors and effects without the need to register (perfectly align) additional plates or run a print through the press multiple times.