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Posted on : December 28, 2008 Author : the-artists.org


Fine art printmaking is based on the concept of creating a master plate, known as the matrix. This is used to transfer the image onto paper. Nowadays, printmaking is an art form that has many subdivisions, each of which is an art form in its own right: etching, lithography, linocut, etc. The printmaking process is generally a complex one, using a variety of different techniques, and medium, depending on the type of print. The printmakers create different surface textures, color effects and forms, just as in painting, producing a unique work of art, defined by the artist’s style and personality.


Printmaking is a process of making an artwork through printing. While this process may be wrongly associated with mass production, the printing process in creating these art masterpieces is still considered unique because of the intrinsic quality that makes every print different from each other.

There are different matrices used to achieve printmaking. The most common ones used are metal plates like zinc or copper; polymer plates, like in etching or engraving; stone, polymer, or aluminum like in lithography; wood for wood engravings and woodcuts; linoleum for linocuts; and silk screen or synthetic fabrics for screen printing.

Portrait of Otto Mueller by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner


Printmaking is not immediately considered as an art form. Rather, it is a medium of communication, especially after the printing press was invented. In the 18th century, art prints were not regarded as originals. So upon the entry of the 19th century, printmakers started to create limited editions of their works, signed their prints, and attached all the technical information needed to authenticate their work.                      

As An Art Form

There are many types and techniques involved in printmaking, thus making it worthy to be considered as a true art form. The common techniques involved are Relief, where the ink is applied to the surface of the matrix; Intalio, where the ink is applied beneath the surface of the matrix; Planographic, where the matrix is specially inked to allow image transfer; and Stencil, where the ink is pressed through a screen1.

The Relief technique is mostly used in woodcut, woodblock, wood engraving, metal cut, and linocut.  Intaglio, on the other hand, is used in engraving, mezzotint, etching, and aquatint. The Planographic technique is used for mono typing, lithography, and other digital techniques. The Stencil is used for screen printing and pochoir.

Self Portrait by Rembrandt

Famous Artworks

There are many great printmakers, both old and modern, that have used printmaking in their works. One of such painters is Rembrandt, who made his ‘Self-portrait’ in 1630 and ‘Christ Preaching’ in 1648 using the etching method.

The other famous pieces under the printmaking category are ‘There is No One to Help Them’ (1810) and ‘The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters’ both by Francisco Goya, created via aquatint and etching, respectively. There’s also Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s ‘Portrait of Otto Muller’ (1915) where he used the woodcut technique. Albrecht Durer’s ‘Melencolia I’ was created through engraving. ‘Mount Fuji’ by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusia was made through color woodcut. Felix Vallotton’s ‘The Cogent Reason’ (1898) was also made through woodcut.

Mt Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Famous Artists

Aside from the printmakers with notable works listed above, the other famous ones are Dulah Marie Evans, Gustave Baumann, Hanna Tompkins, Stanley William Hayter, Otto Dix, Kathe Kollwitz, James Ensor, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, Josef Albers, Andy Warhol, Istvan Horkay, and many more.2

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