Monday, 4 November 2013

Design for Print Reseach



The listings below describe the principal techniques in traditional and contemporary printmaking. Each of the various methods of printmaking yields a distinctive appearance, and an artist will choose a technique in order to achieve a specific, desired effect. Artists may, and do, combine different techniques. Since some modern techniques are quite complicated, some artists collaborate with a master printer to help create the final work.

There are variants of these techniques (for example, crayon-manner engraving, stipple engraving, soft-ground etching) and combinations of techniques (etching and aquatint, lithography with pochoir coloring). There are also additional techniques, such as embossing, gypsography, sulfur tint and roulette, which have been used at specific times and places or in combination with other techniques. Finally, there are photo-reproductive techniques, such as heliogravure, gillotage, collotype, photo-lithography or photo-etching, the products of which are generally not considered to be original prints, but which may on occasion have been used in combination with other techniques to produce an original work.

In this technique, the artist sketches a composition on a block of material and then cuts away pieces from the surface, leaving a raised area which will receive the ink. A roller is then used to apply ink to this raised surface and the image transferred to paper with a press or by hand burnishing or rubbing. Since the recessed, cut-away areas do not receive ink, they appear white on the printed image. Relief prints are characterized by bold dark-light contrasts and an impress into the paper of the inked lines. They primary relief techniques are woodcut, wood engraving, and linocut.

Woodcut is the earliest and most enduring, in that it is still practiced, of all print techniques. While woodcuts were first seen in ninth-century China, Western artists have made woodcut prints since the fourteenth century. They were originally conceived as religions icons and sold as souvenirs of a pilgrimage to some holy site. Woodcut soon became a popular medium for the mass distribution of religious and instructive imagery in Europe, not least through books since, with the invention of movable type, the woodblock matrix could be set in the same press with the text and both text and image printed together. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, woodcuts were developed in Japan to an exceptional level of artistic achievement, what is known as the ukiyo-e period or style.

Wood Engravings are made from the end-grain surface of very hard wood, usually boxwood, as opposed to woodcuts, which are made from side-grain planks of wood neither so hard nor so expensive. Rather than cutting away non-printing areas with a knife, wood engravings are made with fine engraving tools which are used to engrave the non-printing areas with incredible precision and detail. As in woodcuts, it is the surface that takes the ink and prints.

Mei Chen Tseng. Isabella and the Pot of Basil 2008.

Tall Trees - Sue Scullard
Robert Smith - Badgers

Chiaroscuro Woodcuts involve the use of several blocks, often one for each color to be used and sometimes one to outline the composition of the image. The print is made by printing a sheet of paper with each of the blocks in turn, using some method of registration to avoid misplacement or overlapping. Where a non-printing area has been cut out of all the blocks, the natural white of the paper shows through in the finished print, giving the reason for the name Chiaroscuro (Light-Dark). Usually no more than three or four locks are used and the purpose of the technique is to imitate the appearance of a wash drawing, not to attempt to capture reality.

Albrecht Dürer - Lamentation - 
chiaroscuro woodcut using two blocks 1498

Jan Lievens (1607-1674) Bust of an old man, 
full face chiaroscuro woodcut, 1630-40

Color Woodcuts, a product of the nineteenth century in the West, use the same techniques as chiaroscuro but often carried to enormous complexity of multiple blocks and over-lapping, and they commonly employ more realistic colors. The greater the complexity, the greater the rate of failed or imperfect impressions, so impressions of many color woodcuts are both rare and expensive. In Japan the color woodcut had much earlier become the dominant print technique and the complexities and subtleties of the greatest masterpieces have probably never been equaled elsewhere.

blastedheath: Alice Bailly (Swiss, 1872-1938), Trachtenmädchen. 
Colour woodcut, 26 x 19 cm.

Wassily Kandinsky: Little Worlds VII, 1922 
colour woodcut

White Line Woodcut. This is a technique developed in America that allows a color woodcut print to be produced from a single block. The outline of the design is cut away (so that it will not print) and the desired colors are painted on the block, always separated by the cut-away outline. When printed, the image shows a white line delimiting each area of colour.

Viza Arlington - Peacock Feather
white line woodblock print

Scallawag, white line woodcut by Kate Hanlon

white-line, award winning woodcut by Hannah Phelps.

Linocuts are printed from a linoleum block, usually backed with wood for reinforcement. The linoleum is handled in exactly the same way as a wood block but, since it does not have a wood grain, the surface of the resulting print will have less texture. Color linocuts are produced by the same method as color woodcuts. The material takes all types of lines but is most suited to large designs with contrasting tints.

Intaglio comes from the Italian word intagliare, meaning, “to incise.” In intaglio printing, an image is incised with a pointed tool or “bitten” with acid into a metal plate, usually copper or zinc. The plate is covered with ink and then wiped so that only the incised grooves contain ink. The plate and a dampened sheet of paper are then run through a press which applies pressure to create the print. Usually the paper sheet is larger than the plate so that the physical impress of the plate edges, or the platemark, shows on the paper. The ink on the print tends to be slightly raised above the surface of the paper.

The intaglio family of printmaking techniques includes engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, etching, aquatint, and spitbite aquatint.

Engraving is a process in which a plate is marked or incised with a tool called a burin. A burn works on a copper plate like a plow on a field. As it is moved across the plate, copper shavings, called burr, are forced to either side of the lines being created and these are usually cleaned from the plate before inking. An engraved line may be deep or fine, has a sharp and clean appearance and tapers to an end. The process is slow and painstaking and generally produces formal-looking results.

1812 sea life original antique engraving 
black crawed crab

likeafieldmouse: Markus Raetz - Husk (1995) 

Etching Engraving Burin GINKGO Floral Original

Drypoint prints are created by scratching a drawing into a metal plate with a needle or other sharp tool. This technique allows the greatest freedom of line, from the most delicate hairline to the heaviest gash. In drypoint the burr is not scraped away from the surface but stays on the surface of the plate to print a velvety cloud of ink until it is worn away by repeated printings. Drypoint plates (particularly the burr on them) wear more quickly than etched or engraved plates and therefore allow for fewer satisfactory impressions and show far greater differences from first impression to last.

"Michael, Gabriel and Raphael" - Larry Vienneau
triptych, Soft ground etching, dry point and engraving.

Oceanica III / dry point / Tiina M. Suomela

Drypoint Print - Angie Hoffmeister

Mezzotint is a technique of engraving areas of tone rather than lines. In this method, the entire surface of the plate is roughed by a spiked tool called a rocker so that, if inked, at that point, the entire plate would print in solid black. The artist then works “from black to white” by scraping or burnishing areas so that they will hold less or no ink, yielding modulated tones. Because of its capabilities for producing almost infinite gradations of tone and tonal areas, mezzotint has been the most successful technique for the black-and-white adaptation of oil-painted images to the print medium.

Konstantin Chmutin. mezzotint

Mikio Watanabe. Un Papillon, 2005. Mezzotint.

Etching has been a favorite technique for artists for centuries, largely because the method of inscribing the image is so similar to drawing with a pencil or pen. An etching begins with a metal plate (originally iron but now usually copper) that has been coated with a waxy substance called a “ground.” The artist creates the composition by drawing through the ground with a stylus to expose the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath which “bites” or chemically dissolves the metal in the exposed lines. For printing the ground is removed, the plate is inked and then wiped clean. It is then covered with a sheet of dampened paper and run through a press, which not only transfers the ink but forces the paper into the lines, resulting in the raised character of the lines on the impression. Etched lines usually have blunt rather than tapering ends.

Map of Nowhere, purple variant etching 
by Grayson Perry, 2008

Félix Buhot, Rain and Umbrella (Pluie et parapluie) 1872

Aquatint is an etching process concerned with areas of tone rather than line. For this technique, the plate is covered with a ground or resin that is granular rather than solid (as in etching) and bitten, like etching, with acid. The acid bites between the granules. The design, wholly in tonal areas not line, is produced by protecting certain areas of the plate from the acid with an impervious varnish, by multiple bitings to produce different degrees of darkness, and by the use of several different resins with different grains.

Etching with Aquatint - Pigeons in Cannes

Kiki Smith Fawn, 2001. Etching and aquatint.

"Calamity Cat" by Setsuko YONEOKA, Japan, 

Spitbite Aquatint involves painting strong acid directly onto the aquatint ground of a prepared plate. Depending upon the time the acid is left on the plate, light to dark tones can be achieved. To control the acid application, saliva, ethylene glycol or Kodak Photoflo solution can by used. Traditionally, a clean brush was coated with saliva, dipped into nitric acid and brushed onto the ground, hence the term “spitbite.” An earlier but related technique, usually called lavis, involved painting the plate directly with acid, essentially drawing with acid rather than ink, and then washing it off when the desired effect had been achieved. Used usually – and only by certain artists- in conjunction with etching, there are few known works of pure lavis work.

Chosen Family, 2012.
 Etching, aquatint, spit bite and chine colle with tea bags.

Chuck Close - Arne 
Spitbite aquatint

Collaboration between Cherry Hood (Australian portrait artist) and Michael Kempson. 
Jack is Michael's son. Jack, 2002, collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
 intaglio etching and spit-bite aquatint, printed in colour, from three plates

As suggested by the name, planographic printing includes all those techniques in which the ink is neither pressed down onto the paper nor raised above the surface of the paper, but lies in a flat plane on the surface. In planographic techniques the pressure of the press, if indeed there is a press at all, is generally much lighter than with relief or intaglio printing.

Lithography. Invented in 1798, lithography is perhaps best known from the prints of the 1890s by artists like Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec. The process is based on the mutual antipathy of oil and water. To make a lithograph, the artist uses and oily or greasy medium such as a crayon or tusche (an oily liquid wash) to draw a composition on a flat, ground stone. The surface of the stone is then flooded with water, which is repelled by the greasy areas and stays only where the drawing isn’t. Printer’s ink (oily) is applied to the stone with a roller and it, in turn, sticks only to the greasy sections, as the water repels it elsewhere. The stone is then covered with a sheet of paper and run through the press to create the print. Though lithography literally means “stone drawing,” in modern times the expensive and unwieldy limestone block has often been replaced by a grained metal plate, in which case the print is sometimes called a zincograph. The stone or plate, it should be noted, is not etched or engraved in any way but simply acts as a solid surface for the antipathetic actions of oil and water. A transfer lithograph, in French parlance, an autographie, is one in which the original design was drawn on a paper made especially for the process and then mechanically (not photographically) transferred to the stone or plate.

Rosaceae - Rubus fruticosus Lithograpy in Belgium by G. Severyns.

Rockie Nolan

Marina Richterova(Russian, b.1962)
 Mystery japanese cycle 2006/ Print - lithography

A photo-lithograph is generally a reproduction and not an original print. Color lithographs are made through the use of several stones or plates to separate the colors and printing the same sheet of paper with each one of them in turn. A lithotint, in traditional usage and as made by J.A.M. Whistler, is a lithograph in which the image is created on the stone with a brush and oil-based ink in the manner of a wash drawing. It is otherwise handled and printed exactly like a crayon lithograph.

Screenprinting (serigraphy, silk screen) is a versatile printing process based on the stencil principle. It was made famous in the 1960s when artists such as Andy Warhol exploited its bold, commercial look to make Pop icons. To make a screenprint, a fine woven fabric is tightly stretched and attached to a metal or sturdy wood frame to form the printing screen. A stencil is created on the screen by applying a “blockout” (glue, paper, hand-cut film, or photosensitive emulsion or gelatin film) to all non-image areas. Ink is then applied to the entire screen using a squeegee which forces the ink to pass through the open area of the stencil onto paper or other material. For works with more than one color, a separate screen is required for each color.

Cliché-Verre, or glass print, is different from every other print technique in that the image on the paper is not produced with ink but with light-sensitive chemicals. The basic cliché-verre is made by coating a clear glass plate with collodion or printer’s ink and drawing a design through that coating with a stylus. A sheet of photosensitized paper is then placed under it and the assemblage exposed to light (usually sunlight). The image will be received onto the photo paper, exactly in the way that a photographic print is made from a negative, and the image is then chemically fixed. A more sophisticated technique involves painting the design on the glass, the varying densities of the ink or paint appearing on the final print as varying shades of white to black. The technique is proto-photographic, but no reproductive since there is no camera involved. It was especially popular with Corot, Daubigny and other Barbizon artists.

Digital Prints. Artists who create their works digitally or use digital manipulation in order to create a print may print them from a computer using a large-scale ink jet printer. The ink is dispersed by a sophisticated print head in a fine mist of minute droplets in order to deliver a continuous tone image. “Iris” prints are made using an ink jet printer manufactured by IRIS. These prints can be made using highly-saturated, archival, water-based inks. The Epson process is often used in projects that involve a combination of printing techniques.

Monotype/Monoprint. As their names imply, monotypes and monoprints (the words are often used interchangeably but shouldn’t be) are prints that have an edition of one, though sometimes a second, weaker impression can be taken from the matrix. A monotype is made by drawing a design in printing ink on any smooth surface, then covering that matrix with a sheet of paper and passing it through a press. The resulting image will be an exact reverse of the original drawing, but relatively flatter because of the pressure of the press.

A monoprint is made by taking an already etched and inked plate and adding to the composition by manipulating additional ink on the surface of the plate. This produces an impression different in appearance from a conventionally printed impression from the same plate. Since it is virtually impossible to manipulate the additional ink twice the same way, every monoprint impression will be different from every other one. Degas made monotypes; Whistler made monoprints.

Pochoir is a direct method of hand coloring through a stencil. The stencil itself is usually knife cut from thin-coated paper, paperboard, plastic or metal and the ink or paint is applied with a brush through the stencil to the paper beneath. Multi-colored pochoirs are produced with multiple stencils, and the technique has often been used to add colors to black and white lithographs. 

Collagraph takes its name from the French colle, meaning glue, and the Greek graphos, meaning drawing. An image is composed from a variety of textured materials glued onto a solid base such as cardboard or wood. This is the matrix. The plate may be printed as a relief by rolling ink onto the surface or, alternatively, it may be printed as an intaglio by spreading the ink over the entire matrix and then wiping it off the raised surface. Paper is placed over the inked plate and it is run through a press or printed with hand pressure to transfer the ink. Essentially, it is a print from a collage.

A Counterproof is made by placing a dampened sheet of paper on top of a pastel or charcoal drawing and applying pressure to transfer the image to the dampened paper.



TRI–DÉ KNIHA - Pop-up book (design & process)

Angela Bardakjian - Print Production Handbook

ABC3D - Marion Bataille 

Tim Wan: Lasercut Business card

Jonathan Finch & Stephanie Oglesby

Quotes on
  • Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent. - Joe Sparano
  • Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art; art and craft; intuition and reason; concept and detail; playfulness and formality; client and designer; designer and printer; and printer and public. -Valerie Pettis
  • Bad design is smoke, while good design is a mirror.-Juan-Carlos FernÃndez
  • Design is as much an act of spacing as an act of marking. -Ellen Lupton
  • Good design is a lot like clear thinking made visual. - Edward Tufte
  • Design is intelligence made visible. -Alina Wheeler
  • Design is not the narrow application of formal skills, it is a way of thinking. -Chris Pullman
  • Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.- Steve Jobs
  • Behavioral design is all about feeling in control. Includes: usability, understanding, but also the feel.- Don Norman


  1. Awesome blog. It is a privilege to be included!! I am the artist who did the soft ground, engraving of the three feathers.
    could you please credit me:
    Larry Vienneau,
    "Michael, Gabriel and Raphael", triptych,
    Soft ground etching, dry point and engraving.

    1. Hey, thanks for your comment!
      I have credited you above your work. I love the print, I have never tried dry point etching/ embossing before but I am hoping to try it soon.
      Is there anywhere I could see more of your work?

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