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The History of Printmaking

interior history Printmaking is an art form that dates back to at least the 15thcentury and flourished at the hand of Rembrandt in the 17thcentury. Today there are hundreds of printmaking departments among universities as well as independent printmaking workshops in the United States alone. Printmaking is a fast growing medium among artists.


The methods used in printmaking require detailed and precise training and expertise. Printmaking requires a matrix such as a copper plate, woodblock, linoleum, etc. that is worked, inked, and printed onto high quality paper, often handmade.

The printmaking process is indirect in that the artist creates the surface that will make the work of art as opposed to painting directly onto the art. There is often times more labor involved in creating a print than a painting, but because several editions, or multiples, can be created, prints are generally more affordable than paintings or drawings. Each image in an edition is an original work of art as each piece varies slightly from another and is distinct.

Aquatint is an intaglio method on a copper or zinc plate. The varying colors are produced with rosin. Darker tones are created when the acid bites deeper into the plate.

Chine colle is a method of placing colored paper onto the larger paper at the time of printing.

Collagraphs is a print that utilizes other materials that are glued onto a metal or board plate as a collage.

Etchings are created by using a matrix such as a copperplate. A ground is applied the plate. A steel pen carves, or draws the image onto the ground exposing the copper. The copperplate is placed into a bath of hydrochloric acid and water which "bites" the exposed copper. The plate is then inked and pressed onto the paper creating the image. This is an intaglio method of printmaking.

Intaglio is a method of printing that incises lines onto a plate. The plate is then inked with the incisions holding ink and the excess is wiped away. A damp piece of paper is then placed over the plate and it is run through the press. The ink is then transferred onto the paper with the pressure of the printing press. Etching, engraving, aquatintmezzotint and collagraphs are all intaglio techniques.

Linoleum Cut is an intaglio or relief process that uses linoleum as its matrix. A sheet of linoleum is cut to create a texture or image. The linoleum is then inked and printed.

Lithography is a process based on the fact that water and oil do not mix. The matrix is usually limestone. An ink with a high concentration of grease is used to draw onto the stone. The stone is then chemically treated to set the image. When dampened with water and rolled with ink the blank areas on the stone will reject the ink while the image area will accept the ink and print onto the paper.

Mezzotint is an intaglio technique in which the entire surface of the metal plate is worked with a serrated toll to create a rough texture. This method produces a rich color when inked.

Monotypes are made by painting with water or oil based inks and paints directly onto a smooth, nonabsorbent surface (linoleum, Plexiglas, vinyl, glass, copper, zinc etc.). This surface or plate is "unworked" in that it has not been engraved. The plate is laid on a piece of presoaked paper and run, or "pulled" through a press. Monotype means "one image." Unlike other printmaking methods, monotypes are not created in a series.

Monoprint differ from Monotypes in that the plate used in the printing process contains an incised image.

Photogravure is an intaglio process that uses manipulated photographs to create continuous tones.

Relief is a method of printmaking in which the surface is carved. When the matrix is inked the areas cut away will not print, only the raised surface. Woodblock and linoleum cut are types of relief printmaking.

Woodblock prints use wood as the matrix. The wood is carved or grooved with special tools. Ink is applied directly onto the wood. The carved areas will not print and will show as white. The wood is then pressed into the paper creating a relief image or texture.

Ground is an acid resistant substance, such as beeswax or resin, which is used to coat the metal plate in the etching process. The image is drawn through the ground onto the plate to expose the plate.

Drypoint is an etching method using a sharp needle to scratch lines onto a metal plate. The line creates a "burr", or raised metal to hold the ink. This process produces richer color and a softer line than an incised line.

Floating a print is an alternative to matting in the framing process. This centers the print onto a larger backing or mat before it is framed. This process allows the collector to see the edges of the paper.

Soft Ground is an acid resistant coating, such as petroleum jelly, that will stay pliable so that textures can be impressed into the ground. This is used in the etching process.



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