Printmaking produces images with visual qualities that are very different from those obtained through drawing or painting directly, and each technique adds its own peculiarities to the way each piece is conceived. Each of these techniques involves the use of a matrix or original surface which is manipulated in different ways, and from which multiple prints are produced. Each of these prints is an original, since they are not reproductions of another work of art.
However, with its odd and alchemical combinations of unusual materials, specific tools and enormous machines, Printmaking is often a strange and foreign territory even for artists accustomed to studio work on other disciplines.
While there are a great many different techniques, some of them done in ways dictated by ancient tradition and others spawned from modern technologies, it all comes down to four main categories:
Relief, Intaglio, Planographic and Screen Printing. These basic categories containing within themselves every specific category currently used by deviantART, and other important techniques not considered there, but also used by many deviants.
In this series, each of these main categories will be broken down so everyone can fully understand and appreciate the process involved in the making of the images you see in the Printing Gallery.
Intaglio: Including engraving, etching, mezzotint, aquatint, collograph and
It has been suggested that Intaglio printed images were first produced by goldsmiths from the 1400's, who recorded on paper the engravings they did on armors and other metalwork. This family of printing techniques is rich and complex, but its basic principle is simple: the image is incised or marked into the matrix, so the image is carried by the recessed areas instead of the surface as was the case of Relief.
The matrixes are usually copper, zinc or steel plates, in some cases replaced by acrylic. Prints are obtained by applying ink all over the plate and then wiping the surface, which causes ink to fill the recessed lines and areas and leaving the surface clean. The plate and the paper for the print are put through a high-pressure press, where the paper picks up the ink from the incisions (the paper is often moistened to make it softer). The polished surface holds no ink and shows white on the print. In most techniques, metal plates allow for several hundred impressions.
As seen in the case of Relief Printing, the image is also designed keeping in mind that the final print will be a mirror image of the plate's, since prints are obtained placing paper and plate face-to-face. In Intaglio printing, however, the artist works the plate in positive: the markings done on the plate are the ones that will hold ink and then show on the paper.
Engraving: Directly evolving from the goldsmith's engraving techniques, it is done using a steel tool called Burin or Graver. The design is cut into the plate by hand using the burin (with square or diamond-shaped tips), which gives a clean line. The technique is very hard to master, the right amount of pressure must be used to prevent the tip of the tool from skidding over the plate, leaving unwanted lines on its surface.
The textures (hatching and cross-hatching) on this beautiful engraving by ~Piotr-Naszarkowski are usually done with Florentine liners, a tool with a flat bottom with multiple lines incised into it. Make sure to full-view this!
From the old-master days, Engraving became a widely-used commercial way of graphic representation. Used for books and newspapers until the early 20th century, it lost ground to Etching much before that. Engraving can produce an almost microscopic degree of detail, which is why it is currently used for security-sensitive papers such as postage, currency and checks. Modern day printers just can't reproduce Engraving's fine linework!
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Etching: Evolving from goldsmiths' techniques, etching was quickly adopted as an easier way of obtaining results similar to engraving, and it is one of the most widely-used fine-art printing techniques. The lines in the matrix are made by covering the plate with a waxy varnish which is acid-resistant. The design is then drawn on the plate with a sharp tool, scratching the varnish (ground) which leaves those scratched markings exposed.
Soft Ground is another type of varnish. It doesn't harden like Hard Ground, which allows for pressing objects into it. When removed, the objects' textures remove the soft ground where they were impressed, leaving the metal exposed. In this Etching, ~yennie used Hard Ground for the linework and Soft Ground for the background, dress and fan textures. Note how well the leaves' textures were picked up.
The lines are then etched by submerging the plate in a strong acid, which cuts into the plate in the areas where the varnish was removed and the metal exposed. When the acid is washed off and the ground is removed, all the lines scratched before are now sunk into the surface of the metal plate. The matrix is now ready for printing in the same fashion as we saw in Engraving: inking the plate all over so the ink will fill the sunken lines, wiping the surface and running it through a press.
In this etching by ~raganiukas, darker areas are defined by concentration of lines. Stippling, dashes and lines are characteristic resources in etching.
This technique involves the use of metalwork tools, hazardous chemicals and corrosive acids, and prints are obtained using high pressure presses, requiring an equipped studio to work in an efficient and safe manner. Plates and papers are often expensive, but the expressive possibilities of Etching make it all worthwhile.
Next Issue: Intaglio II
Previous Issue: Printmaking Series One - Relief Printing