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 contain 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.
Mezzotint: This technique, which name derives from the Italian mezzo-tinto (half-painted), allows for the production of half tones (being the first tonal method used in printmaking) by making the surface of the plate rough through thousands of dots etched by means of a tool named Rocker. This rocker has a blade shaped like an arc, with tiny teeth that scratch the plate when rocked from side to side, suspended from a pendulum-like structure. The plate is rotated a number of times, and after successive passes of the rocker it becomes finely grained. Each of this tiny pits in the plate will hold ink, so if you were to print the grained plate you'd get a flat black impression.
Mezzotint techniques have been used here to produce the luminous and ethereal effects on ~mgruev "Creature of Light", achieving a full tonal range from deep black to shining white.
The image is created by smoothing parts of the plate by means of burnishing and scraping tools, which will cause the grain to hold little or no ink... therefore printing as a half-tone or white if completely burnished. Multiple tonalities can be achieved this way, and the results are exceptionally rich and luxurious.
Variations of the Mezzotint technique include selective roughening of certain areas of the plate, and using Aquatint (see below) as grain to be burnished, as in this deeply atmospheric print by ~WanderingFool
While machine-grained plates can be bought today, their quality is inferior to the carefully prepared plates obtained by using the Rocker. First used in the seventeenth century, mezzotint became widely used for reproduction of paintings and portraits done in other media, and was replaced by other techniques on mid-nineteenth century.
DYK? Pure Mezzotint prints are correctly categorized under "Drypoint", because it does not involve using acid in the process. However, since etching and other "wet" techniques are often used in combination with mezzo, it is correct to submit them to "Etching" in those cases.
Aquatint: Rarely used by itself (mostly combined/complementing etching), this technique involves lightly dusting powdered Rosin (solid resin, often called colophony) on the plate, which is then heated so each particle of rosin "melts" and sets on the plate. This leaves a finely grained, acid-resistant texture on the plate (much like the grained surface left by the rocker tool on Mezzotint). Tonal variations are achieved by the level of acid exposure on certain areas of the plate, while masking others with liquid, acid-resistant varnishes.
The white areas on ~Spippo's "untitled" skull were always protected from the acid, leaving intact the polished surface of the plate. Gray areas were left exposed differently to obtain different tones, and darkest areas were exposed the most. The tiny particles of rosin protected the plate from being totally "bitten" by the acid, allowing for the gray tones you can see. Line etching is also visible here.
While Mezzotint plates have a relatively short life, due to the pits on the plate not being very deep and becoming flattened though wiping and the repeated pressure of the press, Aquatint plates are much more durable, allowing for a great number of prints. Contemporary printmakers mimic this technique with spraypaint
DYK? Rosin is a health hazard and printmakers must wear protective equipment when using it (unlike old-time artists who just had to hold their breath!). Equipped studios usually use a rosin-box, which is a sealed box with a fan that suspends the particles of rosin, which fall evenly on the plate placed inside.
Collagraph This technique differs from all other we've seen, because it depends on adding material to the plate instead of removing it (thus called and "additive technique"). Collagraph (also called Collograph)plates can be made from any rigid material, such as cardboard, metal or wood. Almost anything can be glued or applied to the plate, and different things will leave different textures. String, dry-wall paste, sand (often leaving aquatint-like results), leaves... a limitation is the height of the textures, which must be kept more or less even to prevent it from punching through the paper when printing.
~JetJames has been polishing his collagraph skills for some time and it shows. Strips of tape, sand, glue and spray paint are among the materials used on this plate.
Collagraphy allows for striking effects and tonal ranges, since the textural qualities are limited only by the artist's imagination. Metal plates with epoxy and other solvent-resistant materials can be repeatedly inked and cleaned, while cardboard plates with fragile materials are covered in pyroxylin-based varnishes (collodion)for resistance and durability.
DYK? While Collagraphy is being considered here as an Intaglio technique, it can also be printed as Relief (or a combination of both) by rolling ink with a brayer. The print will then show the top of the textures instead of the inside (read here)
Drypoint This technique is much related to Engraving (read here), but the plate is cut into the plate with a sharp point instead of a burin, which makes it comparatively easier to master. No acid is involved in the process (hence the "dry" prefix), the image being created by the incisions on the plate and the resulting burr (the raised edge left on the metal by the point). This burr holds ink and is responsible for the characteristic, velvety quality of the lines. It also accounts for some unique effects: deep drypoint cuts will give a feathery line with a white center, because the burr prevents the paper from reaching the inside of the stroke. Lighter, perpendicular cuts leave little burr and result in sharper lines.
The contrasting effects of etching and Drypont lines can be seen in "Eating Crow" by ~apechute. Etched lines are sharp and defined, while Drypoint lines show the characteristic blurriness.
As we have read, the burr left by the point cutting the metal is what gives this technique its unique quality. Unfortunately, the burr itself is fragile and easily damaged by wiping and the pressure of the press, which flattens it and makes it lose its capacity for retaining ink. Shorter editions are obtained from Drypoint plates, often with as few as ten to thirty prints. Often combined with etching, it is believed that Drypoint dates back to the fifteenth century.
DYK? Drypoint is traditionally made on copper plates, but contemporary printmakers are using alternatives such as zinc, acrylic and other plastic plates.
Next Issue: Planographic Printing
Printmaking Series Two - Intaglio Printing I
Printmaking Series One - Relief Printing