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Glossary of printmaking techniques

Collagraph: Collagraph involves adding layers of adhesive or solid material to the surface of a printing plate, in addition to being created by scoring and drawing into the surface of the plate. Therefore making it possible to incorporate both intaglio and relief methods on one plate. Standard collagraph plates are normally made out of card and coated in a French polish to seal the plate after the image has been created.

Drypoint: This is the simplest of the intaglio engraving techniques. The printmaker scratches directly into the plate with a needle, throwing up a burr of metal on either side. As a result, the lines in the first few impressions print with a rich smudge caused by the ink printed from the rough metal edge.

Embossing: A technique which involves printing etching plates without ink to create a white-on-white image in relief. Strictly speaking, this is not an intaglio process but rather an embossing technique developed by Japanese printmakers.

Engraving: This constitutes the earliest intaglio technique, whereby V-shaped, tapering lines are cut into the plate. A tool called a burin is used to make these incisions. The plate is then filled with ink and when paper is pressed into the plate, the image is printed upon it. Engraving is an intaglio method that does not use acid.

Etching: A technique that uses a metal plate often made of copper or zinc. The plate is first coated with an acid-resistant substance called a ground through which the design is drawn with a sharp tool, exposing the metal beneath. The acid eats the plate through the exposed lines; the more time the plate is left in the acid, the thicker and deeper the lines. In brief, the plate is then inked and the exposed surface rubbed clean. The ink in the lines is transferred to paper when passed under a press.

Intaglio: The lines of the design are incised into a metal plate, normally copper or zinc. Ink is then applied to the recessed areas and the surface of the plate wiped clean. At the printing stage the pressure of a press forces damp paper into these lines, to pick up ink. The first intaglio techniques were used to create linear designs.

Letterpress: Letterpress is a relief method of printing letters. It is sometimes referred to as typography although this can often refer to digital methods.

Linocut: The same process as for woodcut, except that linoleum is used as the printing surface, rather than wood.

Lithography: A printmaking process which relies on the antipathy between oil and water. The artist draws on a limestone slab or specially prepared zinc plate using a greasy crayon or ink. To print the prepared stone is dampened with water and rolled with a greasy ink. This layer of ink sticks only to the drawn marks on the stone and is repelled by the water in the undrawn areas. A lithography press is then used to transfer the image from the smooth limestone surface to a sheet of paper.

Mezzotint: The plate is uniformly roughened through the means of a sharp rocker to create tiny indentations that will hold the ink with a rich black effect. The indentations are then smoothed away in areas that are to be printed lighter with the aid of a scraper or burnisher. The process produces soft, subtle gradations with a characteristic dark, smoky quality.

Monoprint: Monoprint is when just one impression is taken no matter what technique is used.

Monotype: Monotype is a single printing of an image incapable of being identically printed again; the most common technique involves painting or rolling an image on glass or metal, or using an open screen in screenprinting.

Relief Printing: A relief impression prints the uncut or raised areas of the plate or block. The image is created by cutting away the printing surface to leave the image in relief. Ink is then rolled onto the raised area with a roller. Linocut, woodcut and wood engraving are methods of relief printing.

Screenprint (also known as a Silkscreen or Serigraphy): Originating from China, silk screen printing is a stencil based process. A wooden or aluminium frame is stretched with a woven fabric, originally made of silk, but now more commonly made of synthetic material. Ink is forced through a stencil of the negative image placed upon the fabric. Areas that are not part of the image are blocked out with a variety of stencil based methods such as cut paper or photographic emulsion. A squeegee is then used to press ink through the unblocked area of the screen, directly onto to paper or fabric.

Solar plate: Solar plate is a photo-etching process using photopolymer plates that are developed and ‘etched’ in water. Simpler than traditional photo-etching, the process captures very fine detail and can produce beautiful prints from photographic or drawn imagery.

Woodcut: The printmaker uses knives, chisels and gouges to cut into a woodblock made from a plank of soft wood such as boxwood, cherry, pear or apple wood. A design is left on the surface. Ink is then rolled onto the surface of the woodblock and printed onto paper, either in a press or by hand-rubbing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon or baren.

Wood-engraving: A tool called a graver is used to engrave in fine detail on the smooth, polished surface of the end grain of a hard wood such as box or holly.

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