Printing Techniques


Lithography is a method of printing based on the immiscibility of oil and water.

The printing is from a stone or a metal plate with a smooth surface. 


The lithographs produced are original artworks of the artist using oil and water, rather than a traditional print which is a duplicate or copy. 


This printing process is based on grease and water not mixing.


The image is applied to a grained surface using a greasy medium such as an ink called tusche, crayon, pencils, lacquer, or synthetic materials. A solution is then applied over the surface, producing water-receptive non-printing areas and grease-receptive image areas.


The printing surface is kept wet so that a roller can be rolled over the surface, and ink will only stick to the grease-receptive area. Paper is then placed against the surface and the plate is run through a press.


Lithography came about in the late eighteenth century, initially using limestone as the printing surface. This made it possible to print a much wider range of marks and areas of tone than with earlier printmaking relief or intaglio methods. It also made colour printing easier: areas of different colours can be applied to separate stones and overprinted onto the same sheet.


Artists known for lithography include Toulouse-Lautrec, Daumier, Matisse, Mucha, Maurits and Escher. 


Etching is an intaglio technique and printmaking process where lines and areas are marked using acid into a metal plate to hold the ink. 


One of the most important masters who used etching was Rembrandt, who made over 300 etchings with great skill, capturing atmospheric qualities and depth. Other artists including Dürer, Bruegel, Rubens, and Goya produced art in this medium. 


The plate is first polished to remove scratches and imperfections from the surface. When the surface is completely smooth, it is covered with a layer of acid-resistant varnish called the ‘ground.’


Using an etching needle, the printmaker gently scratches away parts of the ground following the design, thereby exposing the metal beneath.


Once the design has been drawn, the plate is dipped in acid and the acid eats into the metal only in the exposed areas creating recesses that can retain ink. The recesses are determined by the length of time the plate is exposed to the acid: a longer exposure creates deeper recesses. 


After the ground is removed, the ink is spread across the face of the plate and the same material is used to remove most of the excess ink from the surface and the ink is retained in the incised lines. 


Printmakers wipe away the last bits of ink or can choose not to clean the plate entirely, but to leave a thin layer of ink on the plate to create tone. 


Once the surface of the plate is wiped clean, the plate is placed on the bed of a rolling printing press. Once printed onto its paper support, the etching’s design appears in reverse of the original on the plate. The pressure of the press forces the ink onto the damp paper and produces an outline of the outer edges of the metal plate in the paper, known as a plate mark.


Screen-printing is a process where ink is forced through a mesh screen onto a surface, making certain areas of the screen impervious to printing ink creating a stencil, which blocks the printing ink from passing through the screen. The ink that passes through forms the printed image.


Differing greatly from traditional techniques, major artists of the 20th century embraced screen printing production as this allowed for flat areas of vibrant hues to come forward on the page and for experimentation with different colours, collage techniques and various print combinations.


Perhaps the most well-known screen printing artist is pop artist Andy Warhol first who used the technique during the 1960s.

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