Introduction to Printing


Learn the basics…

Last year GreatArt had the pleasure of meeting Printers in the Sticks in the rolling valleys of Wales. A tiny group who had tried printing at a work shop and enjoyed it so much they travel miles to work together in a small studio.

Printmaking is a popular workshop activity for groups and schools. Here we’ve introduced you to the basic types of technique to get you started!


Relief Printing

The oldest and easiest form of printmaking, especially for beginners as it can be performed without a press. Traditionally wood or lino are used for this method, but it is possible to experiment with other materials such as cardboard, polystyrene plates, cork board and even organic items such as potatoes.

In this technique the uppermost surface of the materials will hold the ink so the aim is to remove the areas of your material that you do not wish to appear in the print. This works best with bold designs as fine details are more difficult to cut out and it saves you from removing large areas.

You can choose to work spontaneously or if you prefer to have a guide simply sketch your design onto your chosen material and then begin to cut away areas to highlight the lines and shapes using hollow (‘U’ Shaped) and veining tools (‘V’ shaped). Once you have finished with your design, apply your printing ink evenly with a roller and lay your paper over the top. This can then be passed through a press or simply use a clean roller or barren to firmly and evenly press the back of the paper to the design.

When working with Lino, if you finding it difficult to make cuts this can be improved by warming the lino with a hairdryer. With wood it is easier to achieve smooth cuts by cutting in the direct of the grain.


Intaglio Printing

This is the polar opposite of relief printing as the design of the print is formed by the lower surfaces of the plate and includes processes such as etching, engraving, and dry point. This techniques requires more pressure between the two surfaces to achieve a print so a press is essential.

Dry point and engraving are the simplest process as it involves scratching the design with a needle onto a metal plate or plastic sheet such as Rhenalon. The indentations created by the needle can be filled with ink. No metal is actually removed from the plate it is simply displaced and forms what is known as a ‘burr’, a curve either side of the line which will help to hold the ink. This will gradually wear away with use of the plate which will weaken the appearance of the printed lines, so dry point plates should be treated with care.

Etching involves corroding the image into the metal plate using acid or other corrosive. The most common metals used for this are zinc and copper and the designs are achieved by drawing onto the plates through a layer of wax or etching ground. The etching ground will resist the acid and the exposed metal is then ‘bitten’ away to leave the design. You will not need to apply a lot of force when creating your drawing as the corrosive will be what forms the depth on the line. The deeper the line, the more ink it will hold and the darker it will appear.

All traces of ground should be removed prior to printing, when applying the ink it is necessary to use a ‘squeegee’ process to ensure the ink is moved across the plate and applied into the lines you have  created. Stiff card pieces can do this task quite effectively. Once the ink is applied wipe the upper surface clean. It is also possible to experiment with different effects by applying a different coloured ink to the upper surface of the plate as you would with relief printing.



Screen Printing

This is traditionally used for printing signs or on textiles. It involves dragging ink across a mesh using a blade so that the ink is allowed to pass through in only certain areas. The screen is formed with mesh on a wooden frame with a stencil applied. The screen filler stencil method involves applying a screen block medium to the non image areas of the mesh on both sides. Once fully dry and any pin holes filled, the ink can then be draw across the surface to form the print. If you are using multiple colours it is possible to block a little more of the screen between prints and achieve a layered design. There are other methods of creating stencils such as simple paper cut outs, or photo stencils which involve coating the mesh with a photo-sensitive medium and exposing an image onto it using light.

Screen printing inks were traditionally oil based but there are now more water based inks available and mediums which can be added to acrylic paints for inking, making clean up easier.


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One thought on “Introduction to Printing

  1. Janice Gordon on said:

    I would like more information/articles on printing with Rhenalon plates, I am learning by trial and error and would like to see what other artists are doing.