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The Fine Art of Printmaking: A look at 7 major printmaking methods

To most readers, the word print might suggest mechanically mass-produced commercial products, such as books, newspapers, and textiles; however, in this blog the word print refers to the original creation of an artist practicing the fine art of printmaking. Printmaking, simply put, is any art form that involves transferring an image, from one surface to another. The techniques of printmaking are divided into three major processes: relief, intaglio, surface. The surface processes are subdivided into two categories: planographic (lithography) and stencil methods. Below we take a look at 7 of the most common printmaking techniques:


The oldest printmaking technique, woodcuts involve carving an image into a wooden surface, which is then inked and printed—leaving the carved-out image in negative, as well as occasional traces of the wood’s grain. The bold mark of a woodcut and the oftentimes apparent wood grain impression contrasts with the more fluid mark of the shapes.

Katsushika Hokusai

Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura)

ca. 1830-32

Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper

10 1/8 x 14 15/16 in. (25.7 x 37.9 cm)

Käthe Kollwitz
Woman in the Lap of Death
Woodcut on cream wove paper
9 3/8 x 11 1/4 inches (23.8 x 28.6 cm)
Edition of 150


A more modern counterpart to woodcuts, linocuts are made using linoleum; the softness of the material allows for cleaner, freer, and more fluid lines. Linoleum was a cheaper alternative to produce, and offered an easier surface to carve than wood and metal, especially when heated. Due to the soft nature of the linoleum fine details created by plates of a harder surface are more difficult to achieve.

Pablo Picasso
Femme au bandeau
Linocut in three colors
350 x 270 mm
Cyril Edward Power
The Tube Station
25.8 x 29.5 cm
Albert Potter
Modern Music
9 x 12 inches
edition of 40


To create an etching, artists incise a composition onto a wax-coated metal plate, usual copper, then soak the entire plate in acid. The acid corrodes the exposed lines and leaves the wax intact, so that when the plate is inked and pressed, the paper absorbs the image in reverse. Rembrandt is one of the original masters of this technique.

Grayson Perry
Animal Spirit (Blue)
63.5 × 77.3 cm
edition of 68
Kerry James Marshall
Untitled (Handsome Young Man)
hardground etching
22 1/2 x 19 inches
edition of 50


A less forgiving version of etching, in this process artists engrave their image directly onto a hard flat surface, usually metal plate, which is then inked and printed. Engraving was a historically important in mapmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines.

Hendrick Goltzius
The Dragon Devouring the Companions of Cadmus
252 x 315 mm. Sheet 255 x 319 mm
Paul Landacre
Smoke Tree Ranch
Wood Engraving
Image size 6 3/4 x 10 1/16 inches (171 x 256 mm)
Edition of 60


Unlike most other printmaking techniques, the monotype method produces unique editions. Artists draw, paint, or otherwise manipulate ink or paint to create a composition on a smooth surface, which is then produced in reverse when applied to a sheet of paper. Sometimes a second and weaker impression, referred to as a “ghost”, can also be pulled from the inked surface.

Mary Beth McKenzie

Morning Papers



8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm)

Tai-Shan Schierenberg
There Are Days When Birds Come Back
30 x 44¼ in


Generally seen as the most difficult printmaking method, lithography involves drawing directly on a flat surface, usually stone, with an oil-based implement, then coating it with a water-based liquid. When oil-based ink is applied, it’s repelled by the water and inks in just the image, allowing it to be transferred onto a paper ground.

Robert Rauschenberg




42 x 30

edition of 40

Pink Store Front Project
color lithograph with brown wrapping paper collage
22 1/2 x 18 inches
edition of 100
Robert Pruitt
Negra Es Bella
Two-color lithograph
37.50 x 26 inches
edition of 20


One of the most widely produced printmaking techniques today, screen printing starts with an ink-blocking stencil applied to a screen. When ink is wiped across the screen, it selectively passes through the mesh, transferring the image to the ground. Look no

further than Andy Warhol for iconic examples of this technique.

Andy Warhol creating a screen print.
Andy Warhol
Sitting Bull Screen print on Lenox Museum Board. 1986 36″ x 36″
The See Red Women's Poster Collective

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