A brief look into the various, traditional, printmaking techniques used by artists and makers worldwide. Includes an insight into Lino, Silk Screen and Etching.
Traditional printmaking techniques have been used in the UK from as early at the 1400’s. Initially used to create books, often as slow as only six pages a day, printmaking now finds it’s roots within the art community. Many of the Artist and Illustrators we stock here at SEED use printmaking in their practice, from wallpaper to tote bags to cards, the realm of printmaking is seemingly endless. But what really is the difference between a lino-print and and etching? We’ve been reading up on the methods behind printmaking and have compiled a simple breakdown of what makes each on a different skill and what makes each method unique.
Lino is probably one the most accessible forms of printmaking and is something that can be easily done at home. Designs are carved into the lino using a lino cutter and then ink is applied in a thin layer using a roller. This inked up lino is then pressed onto the surface that you’re printing onto. At home, you can apply pressure using your hand or another method is to use the back of a spoon in smooth, evenly pressured, circles. Larger companies or artists will often use a printing press for this part of the process. Lino printing can be used on a variety of surfaces including paper and fabric. Woodcut prints are created in a very similar manner, but often have a more textured look, due to the design being carved into wood rather than the smooth surfaced lino.
In it’s most basic form, relief printing can be likened to potato printing that is often used a children’s activity. Materials such as word are carved away until on the shape of the image is raised, this is then inked and pressed into a surface. There are very similar elements to lino printing and woodcut used here but in a much more simplified form.
Silk Screen is another very popular printmaking technique. It’s widely used as a method to creature multiple runs of prints in a reasonable short time. Designs are transferred onto silk/nylon screens often via UV exposure, this effectively creates a stencil which the artist will then use to create the prints by pushing ink, in a very thin layer, through the screen using a squeegee. Unlike lino and relief printing, using silk screen means that you can easily use multiple colours in one print and create designs with incredibly fine details. This is a technique that can be traced as far back as Medieval Japan but was hugely popularised in the 1960’s by Andy Warhol.
Etching is an incredibly time consuming and tricky printmaking technique, there are multiple stages to the preparation of the plate and one print can take much longer to be transferred to paper that other methods. Often etching begins with a plate of copper or zinc being filed and polished until the surface is perfectly smooth- any scratches or marks left will become part of the final print. The plate is then coated with a material called ‘Ground’ which has a waxy texture when set. Using fine-pointed tools the artist will then draw the image onto the ground, making sure to go deep enough to make contact with the metal below. The plate is then immersed into an acid bath where the line work in the ground will cause the exposed metal to be dissolved. The ground is then removed and the printing plate can be inked for printing. To print from an etching plate, often a roller press is used. Damp paper is placed over the print before it is pushed through the press, the extreme pressure from the roller forced the paper into the fine lines of the plate and the image is transferred. Often, etchings are extremely detailed, in one colour and have an embossed quality to them.
This is another stage that can be incorporated into the etching process to add levels of tone and colour to a print. Instead of one bathing in acid, instead there will be multiple immersions. Layers of resin are added and removed at each stage to ensure that a different level of acid erosion occurs in various areas. The more that an area has been eroded by the acid the darker it will be at the inking stage and when printed.
For lithograph prints, the artist will work directly onto either a limestone, a grained film or an aluminium plate. Using greasy materials the artist creates the image directly onto the surface. The stone is then moistened, the water will be repelled by the greasy materials and a oil-based ink is then applied to these areas ready for printing. Lithography was first used in Germany in the 1700’s as a cheap method of replicating theatre works. A contemporary version of litho printing, called offset lithography, is one of the most popular printing methods used today for the production of books and magazines.
These have only been a few of the techniques that are used by artists and illustrators world wide. These ancient techniques have multiple variations and methods even within each style and the results that can be achieved are constantly being pushed by contemporary makers. With the rise of digital printing techniques, here at SEED we hope that traditional printmaking can continue to be explored and valued as an art practice, because there is something very special about things created with unique skill and by hand.