What Are the Nine Types of Printmaking?

Different types of printing in art are referred to as printmaking. Printmaking is believed to have existed for a long time, with the artistic processes to reproduce images and writing, gradually evolving.

printmaking techniques

The earliest known example, that of a woodblock print on silk, dates back to the Han Dynasty in China, which it means it was made anywhere between 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. However, it is believed that this and other some other print techniques may be even older. 

Throughout centuries, artists have been heavily involved in developing printmaking techniques using many different processes. Printmaking is a diverse art form that produces prints from a variety of original works. Ever wondered how to make prints? Different types of prints yield different results, so the first thing you have to do is study the different types od printmaking and do your art history homework to decide which types of printing in art you like best.

Printmaking can take the form of woodcuts, engraving, etching, lithography, screen printing, collagraphs, monoprints, and, last but not least, digital printing. Digital printing is the latest technology used to digitally reproduce images on a wide range of mediums such as vinyl or canvas through large format printers. But let’s take a look at the other most common printmaking techniques, and how they are done.


types of printing in art

Woodcuts are among the oldest types of art prints. These prints created from carving into wooden blocks using chisels and knives. The development of the woodcut printmaking process was a transformational force in the medieval era. It revolutionized printmaking, allowing literature and art to begin to spread beyond just the wealthy in society.

While the woodcut process of creating books allowed multiple prints, carving out each letter from a wood block was laborious. This restricted its use to only the most popular books, like the Bible.

As the name suggests, the artist can carve into the surface of the wood to create the design. The surface is coated in ink, leaving the cuts in the wood free of ink. The block can then be pushed onto a piece of paper to create an image.


What Are the Nine Types of Printmaking

Linocuts, like woodcuts, are another form of relief printing that produces a similar finish of smooth lines. Instead of carving into a wood block, linoleum is used.

The key difference between these two print types is that linoleum has the advantage over wood because it does not have a grain and is uniform and smooth.

The same engraving tools can be used as with woodcuts, though the soft linoleum is easier to carve. This makes this printmaking technique more accessible to beginners, with low startup costs and a simple print process.


print techniques

Collagraphs use textured materials glued onto board as well as paints and inks for unique prints with added dimension. Collagraphs are also a type of relief printing, though instead of carving into the surface, it involves adding to the printing plate. Collages can be glued on the printing plate made out of items including cardboard, fabric, plants, and any other items. There does need to be a limit of a quarter of an inch in height to avoid the risk of the paper tearing, however.

The completed collage can be coated in varnish to allow for repeated prints. When this is dry, ink can be applied and paper pressed onto the plate. This can be done by hand, or by using a press.

When the paper is removed from the plate, an impression of the collage will be left. This process can produce intricate and interesting textures, in contrast to the bold lines you tend to get with woodcuts or linocuts.


print methods

Engraving involves cutting designs onto metal plates with burins and other tools then inking the plate to reproduce the image on paper. Engraving is the original printmaking technique in the intaglio family, and it’s also the most difficult to pull off. Other intaglio types of printing or print methods include etching, mezzotint, aquatint, and drypoint. All of these print types differ in the way the incisions are created in the plate.

Different from the other techniques we’ve looked at, this printmaking technique involves cutting grooves or incisions into the printing plate and covering it with ink. The plate is then wiped so that the ink only remains in the carved grooves.

A printing press is used to force the paper to pick up the ink that remains in the grooves. When the paper is removed from the press, ink should only be in the places on the paper where the grooves were carved.

To produce the grooves in the plate the incisions are created by hand. A sharp tip rod is drawn across the metal plate to create the v-shaped grooves. This is far from an easy process, and errors are difficult to fix.


different types of printing

Etching uses acid to eat away at metal plates creating recesses which hold ink and can be transferred onto paper.  One of the more popular intaglio techniques, etching is a more delicate technique when compared to engraving. In etching, the metal plate is covered with a waxy layer known as the ground. The design can be drawn onto the plate using a needle, only requiring the needle to pierce through the ground layer.

When the design is complete, varnish is used to coat the back of the plate before it is dipped in an acid bath. The acid will eat away at the areas not protected by varnish or wax, hopefully just the design that has been scratched into the surface.

This process allows for very fine lines to be created in the plates. This is taken a step further, through a technique known as stopping out. This involves varying the strength of the acidity, or the amount of time the plate is left in the bath. This can create different depths of grooves, producing lighter marks on the paper when pressed.


print types

Aquatint is similar to etching and uses an acid bath to eat away at certain parts of the plate. Typically a copper or zinc plate is used and is covered with a pine resin known as rosin.

Tiny rosin particles are sprinkled across the plate evenly, this is then heated, melting the rosin on the plate. The plate is then placed in an acid bath, with the areas not covered by rosin eaten away.

To create specific shapes and designs on the plate, a stop out varnish can be used. The plate can be removed from the acid multiple times to add more varnish, producing lighter and darker areas in the final print.

Screen Printing

types of art prints

Screen printing is a printmaking technique that uses mesh cloth, and it was famously employed by Andy Warhol, among others. This printmaking method is very different from the others, using stenciling to print through a screen mesh.

Screen printing transfers ink or paint onto paper or fabric through a mesh material called a screen. Hand-cut stencils are the simplest way to start screen printing. Self-adhesive plastic can be cut to create a design, this can be stuck to the mesh screen above a sheet of paper. A squeegee can be used to apply ink through the cut-outs in the plastic film.


different types of print

How to print onto glass? One word (pun intended): monotype. Monotype is a common planographic printmaking technique. While the printmaking types cut grooves in the plates or add things to them, planographic printmaking doesn’t alter the surface depth. Monoprints are complex one-of-a-kind prints created by layering inks or paints on a plate before pressing it onto paper. 

While most of the techniques we have looked at print multiple times, monotype is only used for a single impression. A printing press isn’t required, which makes for beginner-friendly printmaking.

The design can be painted onto a non-absorbent smooth material, so glass is typically used. A roller is often used to coat the glass in paint, then some of the ink can be removed to create an image. This can then be laid on top of paper to produce the image.


types of printmaking

Lithography is another type of planographic printing and it is one of the most traditional printmaking techniques. It relies on oil and water not mixing and is a technique dating back to 1798 in Germany. 

Lithography uses an oily liquid on the surface to create images with different levels of shading. The image is created on a slab of limestone or a metal plate. The surface needs to be level before an acidic liquid can be applied. This is washed off and the image you want to print can be created using lithographic crayons or ink.

Liquid-etch solution, mineral spirits, resin, talcum powder, and other substances are used to layer the image on the stone. All of the marks left on the stone from the greasy substances will allow the ink to stick. The ink can be added and pressed onto the paper.