Popular relief print techniques: Woodcut, Linocut, Rubber Stamp, Metalcut
The most endearing quality of relief print is the simplicity and directness of the method. As the name suggests, it is a process where only the surface areas of the plate are inked and printed. Depending on the type of plate used such as rubber, wood, or compressed foam, the outcome of images created from relief print techniques can result in various visual effects, often graphic in quality.
The germinal traces of relief print can be found in woodblock printing, first emerging in 9th-century China as religious illustrations accompanying Buddhist sutras. Its popularity in East Asia prevailed, being used to create block-books and textiles in India, and practiced by ukiyo-e artists like Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige in Edo Japan. Subsequently, relief print was found to be popular among 19th century French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet; it later also came to be an important, socially charged medium of expression in certain political climates, such as that of the Mexican revolution and post-war Singapore.
Popular intaglio print techniques: Etching, Aquatint, Engraving, Drypoint, Mezzotint
Unlike the raised surfaces of a relief print, images of the intaglio lie below the surface. Intaglio – which means to engrave, carve or cut – is a broad term used to describe printing techniques where the incised areas of the plate are inked. Interestingly, embossing also occurs during the printing process, as the paper conforms to the incised lines and outline of the plate. This is impossible to reproduce through other printing methods, and is unique to the intaglio print.
Since the Middle Ages, etching was used as a way of decorating metalware, particularly that of armour. In Germany in the 1430s, engraving and drypoint methods were also used to design playing cards. Such an approach was later adopted by goldsmiths in Europe, who would print and record on paper their exquisite engraved designs. Intaglio was a popular technique amongst artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, and mezzotint advocates William Hogarth and M. C. Escher, and till this day remains widely used in the creation of everyday items such as banknotes and passports.
Lithography is a planographic printing process that makes full use of the immiscible characteristics of grease and water. The plate used in this technique is most commonly either a lithographic limestone or a metal plate. The medium of lithography is known for its ability to produce fine detail and subtle differences in shading, almost like a drawing. It was a popular technique for creating maps and advertising materials like flyers and posters.
A printing process introduced in the 1790s, lithography was invented in Germany by author and actor Alois Senefelder. A medium of inexpensive reproduction, lithography was best known for perpetuating the visual culture of 19th century France, with artists like Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec venturing into the medium due to its ability to produce the quality and impression of charcoal drawing. Since the 1960s, the modern print technique of offset lithography has been the most common method of printing high-volume materials such as newspapers, magazines, brochures and books.
A popular and accessible printmaking technique, screenprint is a method where a mesh filters and transfers viscous ink onto a surface, printing an image only through the open areas on the mesh, and leaving the closed or impermeable parts of the mesh unprinted. Multiple screens bearing segmented parts of the image can be used to make a multi-coloured print. It is easy to be fooled by its supposedly simple appearance – this meticulous process, in actuality, demands technical exactitude and exceptional precision in registration in order to produce a multi-coloured, multi-layered image.
Screenprinting finds its origins in stenciling. It developed in the past century as a commercial enterprise for the production of posters and signs for a variety of campaigns – from advertising to social and political messaging. Popularised by the Pop Art movement, artists like Andy Warhol were drawn to the medium’s accessible and circulative nature, its allusion to consumerism and mass media, and the potential of layering and adding colour to printed pictures.