Printmaking refers to the usage of a variety of media to be able to make a number of images, or several duplicates. With the development of digital printing, it is perhaps difficult to visualize that at some point in time all printed matters, both images and letters, were produced by hand. In printmaking, a completed original print is achieved with successive impressions created through exposure to an inked or uninked natural stone, woodblock, plate, or screen. This primary print will be different from printed reproductions of fine art which is present in other media just like painting as well as drawing.
Printmaking consists of four basic methods: 1. Planographic (lithography) 2. Relief (woodcut and wood engraving) 3. Intaglio (etching and engraving) 4. Stencil (serigraphy or screen printing).
In relief printing methods, a picture is made by chiselling away the surface area of a chunk of material, often timber, so that the original, uncut surface area of the chunk produces the inked graphic, as the lower, cut-away regions keep the piece of paper uncovered. The process of carving the graphic is subtractive, so the artisan need to think in the negative, getting rid of just what must not be printed.
The oldest and most common form of relief printing will be the woodcut. The process starts with a flat plank of wood cut along the grain, into which the artist carves making use of different blades, gouges, as well as chisels to be able to create the wanted picture. Part of the charm of a woodcut print will be in the visible artifacts of the operation, such as the wood grain consistency and wayward marks from high spots in carved regions.
Much less artifacts are obvious in prints from wood engravings, which are cut into the end grain of hardwoods. With these harder, more dense blocks, an artisan can acquire a finer outline and quality of line which is possible with a standard woodcut, approaching that of engravings in steel. In reality, wood engraving and copper engraving share the exact same principle tool, known as a burin. A standard burin has a knob-like handle made of wood and a shaft of square tool steel which is beveled at an angle to make a sharpened cutting point. By altering how much hand force put on the burin, an experienced engraver can cut smooth lines of varying width. Wood engraving is a quite recent invention, merely becoming popular in the 18th century. It quickly became the standard method for reproducing graphics alongside text; for that reason, wood engraving blocks are often sized the same height as letterpress type. The level of popularity of wood engraving declined with the prevalent use of photogravure as a means of reproducing photographs in print.
A much more recent type of relief print will be the linoleum block print, or linocut. A standard commercially-produced linoleum block has a 3 mm thick layer of gray linoleum installed on a substrate of composite wood such as particle board. The linoleum surface area is much softer and much more easily carved than wood, allows cuts to be made in any direction without regard to grain, and could be worked with relatively simple and affordable cutting materials. Those qualities, along with the low cost of the material, help make linocuts a popular relief printing method.
Printmaking is a very wide medium in art and can be studied almost anywhere, in art institutions or from printmakers. Once you know the basics, you will find there are many ways to make a really great print.