Today there are very many categories and subcategories of printmaking. However, we can basically break these into four major areas or principals. These are Relief, Intaglio, Lithography and Serigraph.
Relief is the oldest form of printmaking. The earliest relief printmaking on paper goes back to the woodcuts of China, dating back to the 8th Century. Woodcuts appeared in Europe much later, in the 15th Century.
The basic principle of relief printing is to create an image on paper from the raised surface of the matrix. The artist draws onto a surface (the block or matrix) and then cuts away the areas that are not to form part of the image. These areas are the negative parts of the image, or the spaces around what we see generally consider to be the image. Thus the ink only reaches the areas the artist does not touch. The block is inked and a piece of paper laid over it. The artist then either rubs the paper using their hand or a hard, smooth object or runs it through a printing press. The image produced on the paper mirrors that on the block. Woodcuts and linocut are the most common examples of relief prints.
Intaglio is the precise opposite of relief printmaking. In this process the artist carves the image onto the matrix and then rubs ink into these carved lines, making sure that the untouched areas are cleaned of ink. In the intaglio process the paper is previously soaked in water. When it is laid over the matrix and the squashed through the printing press, the soft paper is pushed into the grooves of the inked lines, thus transferring the image onto the paper. Many intaglio processes involve creating the grooves with acids that eat into a metal plate. Variations of the Intaglio technique include Engraving, Etching, Aquatint, Mezzotint and Aquatint.
The distinct advantage of lithography is that a large number of prints can be made form any single matrix, without the image deteriorating in quality. Lithography was invented by Aloysius Senefelder (1771 – 1834), in Bavaria. The concept of lithography is based on the mutual incompatibility of oil and water; the capacity of limestone to absorb and retain water and the disposition of oily substances to adhere to limestone. The highly polished nature of the surface is receptive to the oil that is spread over it. Senefelder discovered that by chemically treating the surface of limestone, and drawing onto it with a grease crayon, only the areas touched by the grease crayon would take the printing ink. Therefore, by drawing onto the treated stone in this way, inking it, covering it with a damp paper and running it through a printing press, the image is transferred exactly onto the paper. Nowadays the technique is applied using a metal plate.
All serigraphic prints are based on the concept of stencil. The stencil technique uses a thin sheet of impenetrable, durable material with a design cut into it. This is placed over a receiving surface (paper, canvas, etc.). Thus the paint or dye applied over the surface of the stencil only reaches the receiving surface where the design has been cut away.
The techniques of stencil developed into Screen-printing in the UK in the 1920s. However, it did not become widely used until the 1960s, when Pop Art had its debut with Andy Warhol.
Nowadays Silkscreen or Screenprint is the most commonly known form of serigraphic printmaking. This technique is used in many day to day objects, such as posters, T. shirts, printed fabrics and wallpaper design. The most famous use of this technique can be seen in the works of Andy Warhol. ©picassomio