Engraving’s Techniques

Engraving’s Techniques by Antoni Gelonch-Viladegut, for the GELONCH VILADEGUT COLLECTION.





Is a surrealist method in which a stencil, which would have been used in spray painting, is replaced by a three-dimensional object. Examples can be seen in the works of Man Ray.

An airbrush is a small, air-operated tool that sprays various media including ink and dye, but most often paint by a process of nebulization.

Airbrush technique is the freehand manipulation of the airbrush, medium, air pressure and distance from the surface being sprayed in order to produce a certain predictable result on a consistent basis with or without shields or stencils. Airbrush technique will differ with the type of airbrush being used.

Since the inception of airbrush technology, commercial artists and illustrators realized airbrushes allowed them to create highly rendered images and a high level of realism. Artists often use the airbrush in combination with cut stencils or items held freehand to block in controlled manner the flow of paint onto the paper (or digital alternatives) with fantasy and science fiction artists. Airbrush images can be found today in advertising, publishing (e.g., book covers), comic books and graphic novels.

In Japanese literally means “blue printed picture”. The term usually refers to Japanese woodblock prints that are printed entirely or predominantly in blue. When a second color is used, it’s usually red. Even if only a single type of blue ink was used, variations in lightness and darkness (value) could be achieved by superimposing multiple printings of parts of the design or by the application of a gradation of ink to the wooden printing block (bokashi).

Anodic etching has been used in industrial processes for over a century. The etching power is a source of direct current. The item to be etched (anode) is connected to its positive pole. A receiver plate (cathode) is connected to its negative pole. Both, spaced slightly apart, are immersed in a suitable aqueous solution of a suitable electrolyte. The current pushes the metal out from the anode into solution and deposits it as metal on the cathode.

In the earlier block books were printed on only one side of the paper.

Is an intaglio printmaking technique, a variant of etching.

Intaglio printmaking makes marks on the matrix (in the case of aquatint, a copper or zinc plate) that are capable of holding ink. The inked plate is passed through a printing press together with a sheet of paper, resulting in a transfer of the ink to the paper. This can be repeated a number of times, depending on the particular technique.

Like etching, aquatint uses the application of acid to make the marks in the metal plate. Where the etching technique uses a needle to make lines that print in black (or whatever color ink is used), aquatint uses powdered resin which is acid resistant in the ground to create a tonal effect. The tonal variation is controlled by the level of acid exposure over large areas, and thus the image is shaped by large sections at a time.

An aquatint begins with a copper or zinc plate. The artist applies a ground by either dissolving powdered resin in spirits or applying the powder directly to the surface of the plate.

The plate is then heated; if the plate is covered with powder, the resin melts forming a fine and even coat; if it is in spirits, the spirits evaporate and the result is essentially the same. Now the plate is dipped in acid, producing an even and fine level of corrosion (the “bite”) sufficient to hold ink. At this point, the plate is said to carry about a 50% halftone. This means that, were the plate printed with no further biting, the paper would display a gray color more or less directly in between white (no ink) and black (full ink).

At some point the artist will then etch an outline of any aspects of the drawing he wishes to establish with line; this provides the basis and guide for his later tone work. He may also have applied (at the very start, before any biting occurs) an acid-resistant “stop out” (also called an asphalt or hard ground) if he intends to keep any areas totally white and free of ink, such as highlights.

The artist then begins immersing the plate in the acid bath, progressively stopping out (protecting from acid) any areas that have achieved the designed tonality. These tones, combined with the limited line elements, give aquatints a distinctive, watery look. Also, aquatints, like mezzotints, provide ease in creating large areas of tone without laborious cross-hatching; but aquatint plates, it is noted, are generally more durable than mezzotint plates.

The first etch should be for a short period of time (30 seconds to 1 minute, with a wide variation depending on how light the lightest tones are meant to be). A test piece may be made with etching times noted, as the strength of the etchant will vary. More than thirty minutes should produce a very dark area. Etching for many hours (up to 24) will be as dark as etching for one hour, but the deep etch would produce raised ink on the paper.

Contemporary printmakers often use spray-paint instead of a powder.


Banhua is the Chinese umbrella term for any printed art objects, and especially for those made by woodblock printing, the term used for woodcuts from Asia.

The direct translation of Banhua is “printed picture”; it is a general term for original prints or printmaking as an art form. Banhua’s meaning does not limited in prints in Chinese style.

Benizuri –e (“crimson printed pictures”) are a type of “primitive” ukiyo-e style Japanese woodblock prints. They were usually printed in pink (beni) and green, occasionally with the addition of another color, either printed or added by hand.

The etching process is known as biting.


Is a steel cutting tool which is the essential tool of engraving.

An engraving burin is used by engravers, but also by relief printmakers in making wood engravings. Its older English name, still often used, is graver. The burin consists of a rounded handle shaped like a mushroom, and a tempered steel shaft, coming from the handle at an angle, and ending in a very sharp cutting face.

In use, it is typically held at approximately a 30 degree angle to the surface. The index and middle finger guide the shaft, while the handle is cradled in the palm.

Burins typically have a square or lozenge shape face, though several other types are used. A tint burin consists of a square face with teeth, enabling the creation of many fines, closely spaced lines. A stipple tool allows for the creation of fine dots. A flat burin consists of a rectangular face, and is used for cutting away large portions of material at a time.


Is a technique that employs two or three tints of a single color, other than gray, to create a monochromatic image without regard to local or realistic color. When a picture is monochromatically rendered in gray, it is called grisaille; when in yellow, cirage.

Camaïeu can also refer, following the French usage, to chiaroscuro woodcut prints that imitate highlighted drawing on tinted paper. However the correct term in English for these is chiaroscuro woodcuts.


A canvas print, also known as a stretched canvas or canvas art, is the result of an image printed onto canvas which is stretched, or gallery-wrapped, onto a frame and displayed.

Reproductions of original artwork have been printed on canvas for many decades using offset printing. The canvas print material is generally cotton or a cheaper alternative plastic based.

Printers such as these allow artists and photographers to print their works directly onto canvas media.

After the image is printed, the canvas is trimmed to size and glued or stapled to traditional stretcher bars or a wooden panel and displayed in a frame or as a gallery wrap. A print that is designed to continue round the edges of a stretcher frame once gallery-wrapped is referred to as full-bleed. This can be used to enhance the three-dimensional effect of the mounted print.

This is an etching technique. Tiny particles of carborundum grit are mixed into the acid-resistant ground, which is brushed onto the bare metal as usual and allowed to dry. When that mixture has dried, the metal stylus is used on the plate and thereby removes some of the grit particles, so that minuscule areas of copper are exposed to the acid and etched; they will eventually hold the ink for the printing process. Thus the image on paper has a texture similar to that of a charcoal drawing.

Is a collagraph printmaking technique in which the image is created by adding light passages to a dark field. It is a relatively new process invented during the 1930s that allow artists to work on a large scale. Normally, cardboard or wood plates are coated in a layer of carborundum or screen, and the lights are created by filling in the texture with screen filler or glue. Carborundum prints may be printed as intaglio plates.

Carborundum was originally used by printmakers to grind down lithography stones and is now used in collagraph prints to create gradients of tone and a sandy texture. It works because when the carborundum adheres to the plate the ink sits around it. It can be applied in a number of different ways, e.g., using stencils to apply the glue and sprinkling different amounts of carborundum through the different stencils.

To print a carborundum print, the surface is covered in ink, and then the surface is wiped clean with tarlatan cloth or newspaper, leaving ink only in the texture of the screen or carborundum. A damp piece of paper is placed on top, and the plate and paper are run through a printing press that, through pressure, transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate to the paper. Very large editions are not possible as a small amount of carborundum comes off every time it is wiped down.

Chiaroscuro woodcuts do not necessarily feature strong contrasts of light and dark, but are old master prints in woodcut using two or more blocks printed in different colors. They were first invented by Hans Burgkmair in Germany in 1508. In Germany the technique was only in use for a few years, but Italians continued to us it throughout the 16th century, and later artists like Goltzius sometimes made use of it. In the German style, one block usually had only lines and is called the “line block”, whilst the other block or blocks had flat areas of color and are called “tone blocks”. The Italians usually used only tone blocks, for a very different effect, much closer to the drawings the term was originally used for, or watercolors.


Chromoxylography was a color printing process popular in the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because the process was inexpensive, chromoxylography was generally used to produce illustrations in inexpensive children’s books, weekly or monthly serializations of mysteries, penny dreadful and romances, as well as the cover-art for yellow-backs.

In the chromoxylography process, the printer engraved the image on the woodblock, carving away areas that were not to be printed (or linked). A separate wood block was used for each of the three primary colors, with the ink coating the uncut areas. For a chromoxylograph the printer engraved the image to the finer end grain of the woodblock and, by the addition of fine hatchings to the wood allowed for the ability to break colors into more intricate areas.

For more complicated work the carver worked on the end grain of the wood, and with the use of fine hatchings to the wood that were inked separately achieved the look of intricate colors.

By hatching lines in the wood, that allowed colors to be overprinted, a variety of hues tones were achieved. If, for instance, an area of the print was to have a solid color it was left “as is” on the block, but to create a blend of colors, blocks were hatched horizontally and diagonally to allow applications of multiple colors that resulted in browns, greens and greys. Variations in tone were achieved with skillful carving to create the appearance of stipple. Overlapping diagonal lines were carved to create dot-like shapes on the surface that look less ink and resulted in paler tones. A separate wood block was used for each of the three primary colors, with the ink coating the uncut areas.


A technique used by several French etchers in the 19th century, notably Corot and Daubigny. The surface of a glass plate was covered with an opaque ground, and the artist would draw onto this ground with a point, leaving the glass transparent were to print black. The glass plate was then used as an ordinary photographic negative, and a print produced by exposing light through it onto sensitized photographic paper.

In monotyping technique, a second print from the original plate is called a “ghost print” or “cognate”.

Collage is the assemblage of different forms creating a new whole. For example, an artistic collage work may include newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, photographs, etc., glued to a solid support or canvas.

Collagraph (sometimes misspelled collagraphy) is a printmaking process in which materials are applied to a rigid substrate (such as cardboard or wood).

The plate can be intaglio-inked, inked with a roller or paintbrush, or some combination thereof. Ink or pigment is applied to the resulting collage, and the board is used to print onto paper or another material using either a printing press or various hand tools. The resulting print is termed a collagraph. Substances such as carborundum, acrylic texture mediums, and sandpapers, string, cut card, leaves and grasses can all be used in creating the collograph plate. In some instances, leaves can be used as a source of pigment by rubbing them onto the surface of the plate.

Different tonal effects and vibrant colors can be achieved with the technique due to the depth of relief and differential inking that results from the collograph plate’s highly textured surface. Collography is a very open printmaking method. Ink may be applied to the upper surfaces of the plate with a brayer for a relief print, or ink may be applied to the entire board and then removed from the upper surfaces but remaining in the spaces between objects, resulting in an intaglio print. A combination of both, intaglio and relief methods, may also be employed. A printing press may or may not be used.



Collotype is a dichromate-based photographic process and was used for large volume mechanical printing before the existence of cheaper offset lithography. It can produce results difficult to distinguish from metal-based photographic prints because of its microscopically fine reticulations which comprise the image.

The collotype plate is made by coating a plate of glass or metal with a substrate composed of gelatin or other colloid and hardening it. Then it’s coated with a thick coat of dichromate gelatin and dried carefully at a controlled temperature so it “reticulates” or breaks up into a finely grained pattern when washed later. The plate is then exposed in contact with the negative using an ultraviolet (UV) light source which changes the ability of the exposed gelatin to absorb water later. The plate is developed by carefully washing out the dichromate salt and dried without heat. The plate is left in a cool dry place to cure for 24 hours before using it to print.

To produce prints, the plate is dampened with a glycerin/water mixture which is slightly acidic, then blotted before inking with collotype ink using a leather or velvet roller. Collotypes are printed using less pressure than is used in printing intaglio, or stone lithography. While it is possible to print by hand using a roller or brayer, an acceptable consistency of pressure and even distribution of ink is most effectively achieved using a press.


There is a fundamental distinction between “color prints” and “colored prints”. A color print is one printed with inks of different colors; a colored print is printed in ink of one color and has had extra coloring added by hand.

Intaglio plates printed in colors may either be printed from one plate inked in different colors or from several plates each inked in a separate color. Color woodcuts, lithographs and screen-prints are normally produced using different stones or screens for each color.

Colored woodcut first appeared in ancient China. European woodcut prints with colored blocks were invented in Germany in 1508 and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts. However color did not become the norm, as it did in Japan, in the ukiyo-e and other forms.

In Europe and Japan, color woodcuts were normally only used for prints rather than book illustrations.

In the 19th century a number of different methods of color printing using woodcut (technically Chromoxylography) were developed in Europe.

In the 20th century, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of the Die Brücke group developed a process of producing colored woodcut prints using a single block applying different colors to the block with a brush “à la poupée” and then printing (halfway between a woodcut and a monotype).

Contact lithography, also known as contact printing, is a form of photolithography whereby the image to be printed is obtained by illumination of a photo mask in direct contact with a substrate coated with an imaging photoresist layer.

Contact lithography is still commonly practiced today, mainly in applications requiring thick photoresist and/or double-sided alignment and exposure.




Modern crayons made in the form of sticks are composed of colors combined with oily, waxy or greasy binding media, or with combinations of water-soluble and fatty binders.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the word was used to describe both, chalk and pastel drawings and seems generally to have implied the employment of color. By the late 18th and early 19th centuries the modern form of wood-encased crayon (with its essential greasy nature) began to be developed, and various recipes for the manufacture of crayons were proposed, and needed to use them in the new invention of lithography.

A technique invented in 1757 by a French engraver, J.C. François, in order to imitate the chalk drawings of artists such as Boucher. He developed new varieties of roulettes and ‘mattoirs’ (tools with rounded spiked heads) which be used not directly onto the plate, but onto an etching ground in order to soften the effect. By printing on a suitable paper in a red or brown ink he produced deceptively accurate facsimiles of drawings.



This became the most common method in mezzotint process. The whole surface (usually) of a metal, usually copper, plate is roughened evenly, manually with a rocker, or mechanically. If the plate were printed as this point it would show as solid black. The image is then created by selectively burnishing areas of the surface of the metal plate with metal tools: the smoothed parts will print lighter than those areas not smoothed by the burnishing tool. A burnisher has a smooth, round end, which flattens the minutely protruding points comprising the roughened surface of the metal printing plate. Areas smoothed completely flat will not hold ink at all: such areas will print “white”, that is, without ink. By varying the degree of smoothing, mid-tones between black and white can be created, hence the name mezzo-tinto which is Italian for “half-tone” or “half-painted”. This is called working from “dark to light” or the “subtractive” method.

In the screen-printing technique, most screens are ready for recoating after the reclaiming process, but sometimes screens will have to undergo a further step called dehazing. This additional step removes haze or “ghost images” left behind in the screen once the emulsion has been removed. Ghost images tend to faintly outline the open areas of previous stencils, hence the name. They are the result of ink residue trapped in the mesh, often in the knuckles of the mesh, those points where threads cross.

Digital prints refers to editions of images printed using a digital printer instead of a traditional printing press. These images can be printed to a variety of substrates including paper and cloth or plastic canvas. Accurate color reproduction and the type of ink used are key to distinguishing high quality from low quality digital prints. Metallics (silvers, gold’s) are particularly difficult to reproduce accurately because they reflect light back to digital scanners. High quality digital prints typically are reproduced with very high-resolution data files with very high-precision printers. The substrate used has an effect on the final colors and cannot be ignored when selecting a color palette.


Display typography is a potent element in graphic design, where there is less concern for readability and more potential for using type in an artistic manner. Type is combined with negative space, graphic elements and pictures, forming relationships and dialog between words and images.

Color and size of type elements are much more prevalent than in text typography. Most display typography exploits type at larger sizes, where the details of letter design are magnified. Color is used for its emotional effect in conveying the tone and nature of subject matter.

Display typography encompasses posters, book covers, graffiti, poster design and other large scale lettering signage and word marks and typographic logos (logotypes).



Dry point is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family, in which an image is incised into a plate (or “matrix”) with a hard-pointed “needle” of sharp metal or diamond point. Traditionally the plate was copper, but now acetate, zinc or Plexiglas is also commonly used. Like etching, dry point is easier for an artist trained in drawing to master than engraving, as the technique of using the needle is closer to using a pencil than the engraver’s burin.

The lines produced by printing a dry point are actually formed by the burr thrown up at the edge of the incised lines, in addition to the depressions formed in the surface of the plate. A larger burr, formed by a steep angle of the tool, will hold a lot of ink, producing a characteristically soft, dense line that differentiates dry point from other intaglio methods such as etching or engraving which produce a smooth, hard-edged line. The size or characteristics of the burr usually depend not on how much pressure applied, but on the angle of the needle. A perpendicular angle will leave little to no burr, while the smaller the angle gets to either side, the larger the burr pileup. The deepest dry point lines leave enough burr on either side of them that they prevent the paper from pushing down into the center of the stroke, creating a feathery black line with a fine, white center. A lighter line may have no burr at all, creating a very fine line in the final print by holding very little ink. This technique is different from engraving, in which the incisions are made by removing metal to form depressions in the plate surface which hold ink, although the two methods can easily be combined. Because the pressure of printing quickly destroys the burr, dry point is useful only for comparatively small editions; as few as ten or twenty impressions with burr can be made, and after the burr has gone, the comparatively shallow lines will wear out relatively quickly.

Any sharp object can theoretically be used to make a dry point, as long as it can be used to carve lines into metal. Dentistry tools, nails and metal files can all be used to produce dry points. However, certain types of needles created specifically for dry points are preferred:
-Diamond-tipped needles carve easily through any metal and never need sharpening, but they are expensive,
-Carbide-tipped steel needles also can be used to great effect, and are cheaper than diamond-tipped, but they frequently need sharpening to maintain a sharp point. Steel needles were traditionally used.

Printing is essentially the same as for the other intaglio techniques, but extra care is taken to preserve the burr. After the image is finished, or at least ready to proof, the artist applies ink to the plate with a dauber. Too much pressure will flatten the burrs and ruin the image. Once the plate is completely covered with a thin layer, a tarlatan cloth is used to wipe away excess ink, and paper may be used for a final wipe of the lightest areas of the image. Some printmakers will use their bare hand instead to wipe these areas. Once the desired amount of ink is removed, the plate is run through an etching press along with a piece of dampened paper to produce a print.



Electro etching is a metal etching process that involves the use of a solution of an electrolyte, an anode and a cathode. The metal piece to be etched is connected to the positive pole of a source of direct electric current. A piece of the same metal is connected to the negative pole of the direct current source and is called the cathode. In order to reduce unwanted electro-chemical effects, the anode and the cathode should be of the same metal. Similarly the caption of the electrolyte should be of the same metal as well. When the current source is turned on, the metal of the anode is dissolved and converted into the same caption as in the electrolyte and at the same time an equal amount of the caption in the solution is converted into metal and deposited on the cathode. Depending on the voltage used and the concentration of the electrolyte, other, more complex electrochemical effects can take place at the anode and the cathode but the solution at the anode and deposition at the cathode are the main effects.

In this system, in contrast to certain non-toxic etching methods, an etched plate can be reworked as often as the artist desires. The system uses voltages below 2 volts which exposes the uneven metal crystals in the etched areas resulting in superior ink retention and printed image appearance of quality equivalent to traditional acid methods. With polarity reserved the low voltage provides simpler method of making mezzotint plates as well as the “steel facing” copper plates.

Etching is the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio in the metal (in modern manufacturing other chemicals may be used on other types of material). As an intaglio method of printmaking it is, along with engraving, the most important technique for old master prints, and remains widely used today.

In pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he wants a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The “échoppe”, a tool with a slanted oval section is also used for swelling lines. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid, technically called the “mordant” (French for biting) or etchant, or has acid washed over it. The acid “bites” into the metal, where it is exposed, leaving behind lines sunk into the plate. The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate. The plate is inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in the etched lines.

The plate is then put through a high-pressure printing press together with a sheet of paper (often moistened to soften it). The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines, making a print. The process can be repeated many times; typically several hundred impressions (copies) could be printed before the plate shows much sign of wear. The work on the plate can also be added to by repeating the whole process; this creates an etching which exists in more than one state.

The process as applied to printmaking is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer of Aubsburg.

In modern technique, a waxy acid-resist, known as a ground, is applied to a metal plate, most often copper or zinc but steel plate is another medium with different qualities. There are two common types of ground: hard ground and soft ground.


Faux-bite or over-biting is common in etching, and is the effect of minuscule amounts of acid leaking through the ground to create minor pitting and burning on the surface. This incidental roughening may be removed by smoothing and polishing the surface, but artists often leave faux-bite, or deliberately court it handling the plate roughly, because it is viewed as a desirable mark of the process.


Flexography (often abbreviated to flexo) is a form of printing process which utilizes a flexible relief plate. It is basically an updated version of letterpress that can be used for printing on almost any type of substrate including plastic, metallic films, cellophane and paper. It is widely used for printing on the non-porous substrates required for various types of food packaging.

Fumage is a technique in which impressions are made by the smoke of a candle or kerosene lamp on a piece of paper or canvas.


In monotyping technique, a second print from the original plate is called a “ghost print” or “cognate”.

Giclée is a neologism for the process of making fine art prints from a digital source using ink-jet printing. The intent of that name was to distinguish commonly known industrial “Iris proofs” from the type of fine art prints artists were producing on those same types of printers. The name was originally applied to fine art prints created on Iris printers but has since come to mean any high quality ink-jet print and is often used in galleries and print shops to denote such prints.

Beside its association with Iris prints, in the past few years, the word “giclée”, as a fine term, has come to be associated with prints using fade-resistant, archival inks (pigment based, as well as newer solvent based inks), archival substrates, and the inkjet printers that use them.

Artists generally use giclée inkjet printing to make reproductions of their original two-dimensional artwork, photographs or computer-generated art. Per print, professionally-produced inkjet prints are much more expensive than the four-color offset lithography process traditionally used for such reproductions. Inkjet printing has the added advantage for allowing artists total control of the production of their images, including the colors and the substrates on which they are printed, and it is even feasible for an individual artist to own and operate their own printer(s).

From the late 17th to the early 19th centuries, mezzotints, usually of popular genre or mythological subjects, were frequently glued face down onto glass and abraded from behind to remove all the paper. The film of ink left behind was then hand-colored and the glass framed.


A French term adopted into English and derived from ‘gris’, meaning grey. The term covers works executed in grey or other monotones in bodycolor, washes or oils, sometimes to give an impression of low relief. The technique was employed by Mantegna and was later used particularly by sculptors for preparatory studies.

See also CAMAIEU.

In etching technique, is a waxy acid-resist.

Gyotaku is a traditional form of Japanese fish printing, a form of nature printing used by fishermen to record their catches. There are two methods used in gyotaku. The direct approach is the best way to do gyotaku. In order to make a gyotaku print, one places the subject (e.g., fish, crab, scallop shell) on a wooden bench and paints one side with sumi ink. Modern gyotaku artists often substitute acrylic or other painting material for the traditional sumi.

Gyotaku is also practiced as a form of art, and is very popular among young children both in Japan and Western countries. Sometimes, rubber fish replicas are used.


Halftone is the reprographic technique that stimulates continuous tone imagery through the use of dots, varying either in size, in shape or in spacing. Halftone can also be used to refer specifically to the image that is produced by this process.

Where continuous tone imagery contains an infinite range of colors or grays, the halftone process reduces visual reproductions to a binary image that is printed with only one color of ink. This binary reproduction relies on a basic optical illusion –that these tiny halftone dots are blended into smooth tones by the human eye.

Dry point wiping techniques vary slightly from other intaglio techniques. Less pressure is applied to achieve desirable lines, because the burrs forming the image are more fragile than etched or engraved lines, but also because the ink rests on the plate surface, instead of pressed down into indentations. Also, because of the characteristics of the way the burrs catch ink, the direction of the wiping matters. Ink tends to pile up in the lee of the burr during the application of the ink and wiping with the tarlatan, so if the printer wipes in the direction of the lines with his hand, he may remove of the ink, leaving a light gray line. However, if he wipes perpendicularly to the line, he can actually increase the pile of ink on the other side of the line, darkening the printed line.

In the etching process, hard ground can be applied in 2 ways. Solid hard ground comes in a hard waxy block. To apply hard ground of this variety, the plate to be etched is placed upon a hot-plate (set at 70º C), a kind of metal worktop that is heated up. The plate heats up and the ground is applied by hand, melting onto the plate as it is applied. The ground is spread over the plate as evenly as possible using a roller. Once applied the etching plate is removed from the hot-plate and allowed to cool which hardens to ground.

After the ground has hardened the artist “smokes” the plate, classically with 3 beeswax tapers, applying the flame to the plate to darken the ground and make it easier to see what parts of the plate are exposed. Smoking not only darkens the plate but adds a small amount of wax. Afterwards the artist uses a sharp tool to scratch into the ground, exposing the metal.

The second way to apply hard ground is by liquid hard ground. This comes in a can and is applied with a brush upon the plate to be etched. Exposed to air the hard ground will harden. Some printmaker’s uses oil/tar based asphalt or bitumen as hard ground, although often bitumen is used to protect steel plates from rust and copper plates from aging.

Hatching is an artistic technique used to create tonal or shading effects by drawing (or painting or scribing) closely spaced parallel lines. When lines are placed at an angle to one another, it is called cross-hatching.

Hatching is especially important in essentially linear media, such as drawing, and many forms of printmaking, such as engraving, etching and woodcut.

Artists use the technique, varying the length, angle, closeness and other qualities of the lines, most commonly in drawing, linear painting, engraving and ethnic art.

The main concept is that the quantity, thickness and spacing of the lines will affect the brightness of the overall image, and emphasize forms creating the illusion of volume. Hatching lines should always follow the forms. By increasing quantity, thickness and closeness, a darker area will result.

An area of shading next to another area which has lines going in another direction is often used to create contrast.

Line work can be used to represent colors, typically by using the same type of hatch to represent particular tones. For example, red might be made up of lightly spaced lines, whereas green could be made of two layers of perpendicular dense lines, resulting in a realistic image.


Intaglio is a family of printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface, known as the matrix or plate. Normally, copper or zinc plates are used as a surface, and the incisions are created by etching, engraving, dry point, aquatint or mezzotint. Collographs may also be printed as intaglio plates. To print an intaglio plate, ink is applied to the surface and then rubbed with tarlatan cloth to remove most of the excess. The final smooth wipe is often done with newspaper or old public phone book pages, leaving ink only in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top and the plate and paper are run through a printing press that, through pressure, transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate to the paper.

Intaglio techniques are often combined on a plate. For example Rembrandt’s prints are referred to as “etchings” for convenience, but very often they have engraving and dry point work as well, and sometimes no actual etching at all.

Intaglio and relief, as well as planographic printing processes, print a reversed image (a mirror-image of the matrix), which must be allowed for in the composition, especially if it includes text.

Intaglio engraving, as a method of making prints, was invented in Germany by the 1430s, well after the woodcut prints.

An IRIS printer is a large-format color inkjet printer designed for prepress proofing. It is also used in the fine art reproduction market as a final output digital printing press.

IRIS printers have also been used since the late 1980s as final output digital printing devices in the production of fine art reproductions on various media, including paper, canvas, silk, linen and other textiles. There were many printers, photographers, artists, and engineer who saw the merit in using this industrial proof printer as a way to produce high-resolution color accurate reproductions. It’s came up with the word “giclée” as a coined name for the process.
Prints produced by an IRIS printer are commonly called “Iris prints”, “Iris proofs”, or simply “Irises”.

In the pochoir technique, sections of the remaining template which are isolated inside removed parts of the images are called islands.




In the Chiaroscuro Woodcuts German style, one block usually had only the lines.

Line engraving is a term for engraved images printed on paper to be used as prints or illustrations. The term is now much less used and when is, it is mainly in connection with 18th or 19th century commercial illustrations for magazines and books, or reproductions of paintings.

Engraving for the purpose of printmaking can create either intaglio or relief prints. Intaglio engravings are made by carving into a plate of a hard substance such as copper, zinc, steel or plastic. Afterward ink is rubbed into the carved areas and away from the flat surface. Moistened paper is placed over the plate and both are run through the rollers of an intaglio press. The pressure exerted by the press on the paper pushes it into the engraved lines and prints the image made by those lines. In an intaglio print, the engraved lines print black.

Relief engravings are most commonly made by carving into fine-grained hardwood blocks. Ink is rolled onto the surface of the block, dry paper is placed on top of the block and it is printed either by rolling both through a press, or by hand, using a baren to rub the ink from the surface of the block onto the paper. In a relief print, the engraved lines show white.

The most important of the tools used in line engraving is the burin, or graver, a bar of steel with one end fixed in a handle, somewhat resembling a mushroom with one side cut away. The burin is shaped so that the sharpened, cutting end takes the form of a lozenge, and points downward. The burin acts exactly as a plough in the earth: it makes a furrow and turns out a shaving of metal in the same way a plough turns the soil of a field. The burin, unlike a plough, is pushed through the material. This particular characteristic at once establishes a wide separation between it and all the other instruments employed in the arts of design, such as pencils, pens, brushes and etching needles.

Lineography is the art of drawing without lifting the pen, pencil or paintbrush that s being used. In some instances, entire landscapes and still lives have been drawn or painted using this lineographic technique.


Linocut is a printmaking technique, a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for the relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. The linoleum sheet is inked with a rolled (called a brayer) and then impressed onto paper or fabric. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a press.

As the material being carved has no particular direction to its grain and does not tend to split, it is easier to obtain certain artistic effects with Lino than with most woods, although the resultants prints can lack the often angular grainy character of woodcuts and engravings. Lino is much easier to cut than wood; especially when heated, but the pressure of the printing process degrades the plate faster and it is difficult to create larger works due to the material’s fragility.

Linocuts can also be achieved by the careful application of Sodium hydroxide in a paste to parts of the surface of the Lino. This creates a surface similar to a soft ground etching and these Caustic-Lino plates can be printed in either a relief, intaglio or a viscosity printing manner.

Color linocuts can be made by using a different block for each color as in a woodcut, but such prints can also be achieved using a simple piece of linoleum in what is called the ‘reductive’ print method. Essentially, after each successive color is imprinted onto the paper, the artist then cleans the lino plate and cuts away what will not be imprinted for the subsequently applied color.

Due to ease of use, linocut is widely used in schools to introduce children to the art of printmaking; similarly, non-professional artists often cut lino rather than wood for printing.

Lithography is a method for printing using a stone (lithographic limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface. Invented as a low-cost method of publishing theatrical works, lithography can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or another suitable material.

Lithography originally used an image drawn in wax or other oily substance applied to a lithographic stone as the medium to transfer ink to the printed sheet. In modern times, the image is often made of polymer applied to a flexible aluminum plate. The flat surface of the plate or stone is slightly roughened or etched and divided into hydrophilic regions that accept a film of water and thereby repel the greasy ink, and hydrophilic regions that repel water and accept ink because the surface tension is higher on the greasier image area which remains dry. The image may be printed directly from the stone or plate (in which case it is reserved from the original image) or may be offset by transfer to a flexible sheet, usually rubber, for transfer to the printed article.

This process is different from gravure or intaglio printing where a plate is engraved, etched or stippled to make cavities to contain the printing ink and in woodblock printing and letterpress where ink is applied to the raised surfaces of letters or images.

Most books, indeed all types of high-volume text, are now printed using offset lithography, the most common form of printing production. The word lithography also refers to photolithography, a micro fabrication technique used to make integrated circuits and microelectromechanical systems, although these techniques have more in common with etching than with lithography.

Lithography uses simple chemical processes to create an image. For instance, the positive part of an image is a hydrophobic, or “water hating” substance, while the negative image would be hydrophilic or “water loving”. Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible printing ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image. This allows a flat print plate to be used, enabling much longer and more detailed print runs than the older physical methods of printing.

In the early days of lithography, a smooth piece of limestone was used. After the oil-based image was put on the surface, a solution of gum Arabic in water was applied, the gum sticking only to the non-oily surface. During printing, water adhered to the gum Arabic surfaces and avoided the oily parts, while the oily ink used for printing did the opposite.

High volume lithography is used today to produce posters, maps, books, newspapers and packaging –just about any smooth, mass-produced item with print and graphics on it.

Lithography works because of the mutual repulsion of oil and water. The image is drawn on the surface of the print plate with a fat or oil-based medium (hydrophobic) such as a wax crayon, which may be pigmented to make the drawing visible. A wide range of oil-based media is available, but the durability of the image on the stone depends on the lipid content of the material being used, and its ability to withstand water and acid. Following the drawing of the image, an aqueous solution of gum Arabic, weakly acidified with nitric acid is applied to the stone. The function of this solution is to create a hydrophilic layer of calcium nitrate salt and gum Arabic on all non-image surfaces. The gum solution penetrates into the pores of the stone, completely surrounding the original image with a hydrophilic layer that will not accept the printing ink. Using lithographic turpentine, the printer then removes any excess of the greasy drawing material, but a hydrophobic molecular film of it remains tightly bonded to the surface of the stone, rejecting the gum Arabic and water, but ready to accept the oily ink.

When printing, the stone is kept wet with water. Naturally the water is attracted to the layer of gum and salt created by the acid wash. Printing ink based on drying oils such as linseed oil and varnish loaded with pigment is then rolled over the surface. The water repels the greasy ink but the hydrophobic areas left by the original drawing material accept it. When the hydrophobic image is loaded with ink, the stone and paper are run through a press which applies even pressure over the surface, transferring the ink to the paper and off the stone.

The Little Masters is a term for a group of several printmakers, who all produced very small finely detailed engravings for a largely bourgeois market, combining in miniature elements from Dürer and from Marcantonio Raimondi, and concentrating on secular, often mythological and erotic, rather than on religious themes.


A faint second impression from an intaglio plate, taken without re-inking in order to clean the ink completely out of the lines.


In hot metal typesetting, a matrix (often abbreviated to “mat”) is a mould for casting the letters known as sorts used in letterpress printing.

In letterpress typography the matrix of one letter is inserted into the bottom of a hand mould, the mould is locked and molten type metal is poured into a straight-sided vertical cavity above the matrix. When the metal has cooled and solidified the mould is unlocked and a newly-cast metal sort is removed, ready for composition with other sorts.

In continuous casting and composition casting typography, the mats for a complete font are loaded into a matrix-case and inserted into a casting machine, which casts the required sorts for a page composition automatically.

Metalcut is a relief printmaking technique, belonging to the category of old master prints. It was almost entirely restricted to the fifteenth century, and mostly in Northern Europe, mainly Germany and France. There was a late flowering of the original method around 1500 in France, with a series of lavish Books of Hours.

There were actually two different techniques for making metalcut prints, with very different results.

The first technique is essentially that of woodcut but using a thin metal plate rather than a wooden block. The areas not to print are cut away, or hammered back with punches. These prints look very much like normal woodcuts of the period, and it can sometimes be hard for experts to tell them apart. In both, the subject matter is almost entirely religious.

The second technique worked from black to white, meaning that the print showed white lines on a black background, rather than the other way round as in the first technique. Usually the main lines of the figures and landscape were done in engraving. Then using metalwork punches, the rest of the image is composed of repeated use of the same pattern of punch in a particular area. These might be dots, circles, lozenges, stars, and letters making text inscriptions or more complicated shapes for the borders. Usually very little space is left undecorated.

Despite the limitations of the technique, many of the artists who used the second technique were very talented, and the best prints have considerable power. Compared to contemporary engravings and woodcuts, they were usually large, as the technique needed space on the plate.

As with the other contemporary print techniques, very few metal cut prints have survived. Prints made by the second technique are sometimes called prints in the dotted manner or dotted prints.

It was also possible to combine the techniques on the same plate, with figures using black lines, and backgrounds with punched white dots on a black background.

Mezzotint is a printmaking process of the intaglio family, technically a dry point method. It was the first tonal method to be used, enabling half-tones to be produced without using line or dot-based techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. Mezzotint achieves tonality by roughening the plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth, called a ‘rocker’. In printing, the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved.

In Mezzotint printmaking existing two different methods: Dark to light method and Light to dark method. Printing the finished plate is the same for either method, and follows the normal way for an intaglio plate; the whole surface is inked, the ink is then wiped off the surface to leave ink only in the pits of the still rough areas below the original surface of the plate. The plate is put through a high-pressure printing press next to a sheet of paper and the process repeated.

Because the pits in the plate are not deep, only a small number of top-quality impressions (copies) can be printed before the quality of the tone starts to degrade as the pressure of the press begins to smooth them out. Perhaps only one or two hundred really good impressions can be taken.

Plates can be mechanically roughened; one way is to rub fine metal filings over the surface with a piece of glass; the finer the filings, the smaller the grain of the surface. Special roughening tools called rockers have been in use since at least the 18th century. The method commonly in use today is to use a steel rocker approximately 5 inches wide, which has between 45 and 120 teeth per inch on the face of a blade in the shape of a shallow arc, with a wooden handle projecting upwards in a T-shape. Rocket steadily from side to side at the correct angle; the rocker will proceed forward creating burrs in the surface of the copper. The plate is then moved –either rotated by a set number of degrees or through 90 degrees according to preference- or then rocked in another pass. This is repeated until the plate is roughened evenly and will print a completely solid tone of black.

Mezzotint is known for the luxurious quality of its tones: first, because an evenly, finely roughened surface holds a lot of ink, allowing deep solid colors to be printed; secondly, because the process of smoothing the plate with burin, burnisher and scraper allows fine gradations in tone to be developed.

A mimeogram is a type of automatic art made by peeling off the backing sheets of mimeograph stencils.

Monoprinting is a form of printmaking that has images or lines that cannot exactly be reproduced. There are many techniques of monoprinting, including collage, hand-painted additions and a form of tracing by which thick ink is laid down on a table, paper is placed on top and is then drawn on, transferring the ink onto the paper. Monoprints can also be made by altering the type, color and pressure of the ink used to create different prints. Examples of standard printmaking techniques which can be used to make monoprints include lithography, woodcut and etching.

The difference between monoprinting and monotyping is that monoprinting has a matrix that can be reused, but not to produce an identical result. With monotyping there are no permanent marks on the matrix, and at most two impressions (copies) can be obtained.

Monoprints are known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques; a monoprint is often regarded as a non-editionable kind of print and is essentially a printed painting. The characteristic of this method is that no two prints are alike. The beauty of this medium is also in its spontaneity and its combination of printmaking, painting and drawing media.

Monoprinting and monotyping are very similar. Both involve the transfer of ink from a plate to the paper, canvas or other surface that will ultimately hold the work of art. In the case of monotyping the plate is a featureless plate. It contains no features that will impart any definition to successive prints. The most common feature would be the etched or engraved line on a metal plate. In the absence of any permanent features on the surface of the plate, all articulation of imagery is dependent on one unique inking, resulting in one unique print. Monoprints, on the other hand, are the results of plates that have permanent features on them. Monoprints can be thought of as variations on a theme, with the theme resulting from some permanent features being found on the plate –lines, textures- that persist from print to print. Variations are confined to those resulting from how the plate is inked prior to each print. The variations are endless, but certain permanent features on the plate will tend to persist from one print to the next.

A monotype is a print made by drawing or painting on a smooth, non-absorbent surface.

Monotyping is a type of printmaking made by drawing or painting on a smooth, non-absorbent surface. The surface, or matrix, was historically a copper etching plate, but in contemporary work it can vary from zinc or glass to acrylic glass. The image is then transferred onto a sheet of paper by pressing the two together, usually using a printing press. Monotypes can also be created by inking an entire surface and then, using brushes or rags, removing ink to create a subtractive image, e.g. creating lights from a field of opaque color. The inks used may be oil based or water based. With oil based inks, the paper may be dry, in which case the image has more contrast, or the paper may be damp, in which case the image has a 10% greater range of tones.

Unlike monoprinting, monotyping produces a unique print, or monotype, because most of the ink is removed during the initial pressing. Although subsequent reprinting is sometimes possible, they differ greatly from the first print and are generally considered inferior. A second print from the original plate is called a “ghost print” or “cognate”. Stencils, watercolor, solvents, brushes and other tools are often used to embellish a monotype print. Monotypes are often spontaneously executed and with no previous sketch.

Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses movable components to reproduce the elements of a document (usually individual letters or punctuation).

Neither movable type system was widely used, probably because of the enormous amount of labor involved in manipulating the thousands of ceramic or metal tablets. Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced what is generally regarded as an independent invention of movable type in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin and antimony, the same components still used today.

Compared to woodblock printing, movable-type pacesetting was quicker and more durable for alphabetic scripts. The metal type pieces were more durable and the lettering was more uniform, leading to typography and fonts. The high quality and relatively low price of the Gutenberg Bible (1455) established the superiority of movable type, and printing presses rapidly spread across Europe, leading up to the Renaissance, and later all around the world. Today, practically all movable type printing ultimately derives from Gutenberg’s movable-type printing.


Nishiki-e refers to Japanese multi-colored woodblock printing; this technique is used primarily in ukiyo-e.

Previously, most prints had been in black-and-white, colored by hand or colored with the addition of one or two color ink blocks. A nishiki-e print is created by carving a separate woodblock for every color, and using them in a stepwise fashion. This technical innovation allows many blocks of separate colors to fit perfectly onto the page where they ought to, relative to one another, in order to create a single complete image.

This style and technique is also known as Edo-e, referring to Edo, the capital city of the time.

Growing concerns about the health effects of acids and solvents led to the development of less toxic etching methods in the late 20th century. An early innovation was the use of floor wax as a hard ground for coating the plate. Others, has developed systems using acrylic polymers as a ground and ferric chloride for etching. The polymers are removed with sodium carbonate (washing soda) solution, rather than solvents. When used for etching, ferric chloride does not produce a corrosive gas, as acids do, thus eliminating another danger of traditional etching.

The traditional aquatint, which uses either powdered rosin or enamel spray paint, is replaced with an airbrush application of the acrylic polymer hard ground. Again, no solvents are needed beyond the soda ash solution, though a ventilation hood is needed due to acrylic particulates from the air brush spray.

The traditional soft ground, requiring solvents for removal from the plate, is replaced with water-based relief printing ink. The ink receives impressions like traditional soft ground, resists the ferric chloride etchant, yet can be cleaned up with warm water and either soda ash solution or ammonia.


In offset lithography, which depends on photographic processes, flexible aluminium, polyester, Mylar or paper printing plates are used in place of stone tablets. Modern printing plates have a brushed or roughened texture and are covered with a photosensitive emulsion. A photographic negative of the desired image is placed in contact with the emulsion and the plate is exposed to ultraviolet light. After development, the emulsion shows a reverse of the negative image, which is thus a duplicate of the original (positive) image. The image on the plate emulsion can also be created through direct laser imaging in a CTP (Computer-To-Plate) device called a plate setter. The positive image is the emulsion that remains after imaging. For many years, chemicals have been used to remove the non-image emulsion, but now plates are available that do not require chemical processing.

The plate is affixed to a cylinder on a printing press. Dampening rollers apply water, which covers the blank portions of the plate but is repelled by the emulsion of the image area. Ink, which is hydrophobic, is then applied by the inking rollers, which is repelled by the water and only adheres to the emulsion of the image area –such as the type and photographs on a newspaper page.

If this image were directly transferred to paper, it would create a mirror image and the paper would become too wet. Instead, the plate rolls against a cylinder covered with a rubber blanket, which squeezes away the water, picks up the ink and transfers it to the paper with uniform pressure. The paper rolls across the blanket drum and the image is transferred to the paper. Because the image is first transferred, or offset to the rubber drum, this reproduction method is known as offset lithography or offset printing.

Many innovations and technical refinements have been made in printing processes and presses over the years, including the development of presses with multiple units (each containing one printing plate) that can print multi-color images in one pass on both sides of the sheet, and presses that accommodate continuous rolls (webs) of paper, known as web presses.

Offset printing is a commonly used printing technique where the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket. When used in combination with the lithographic process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat (planographic) image carrier on which the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a water-based film (called “fountain solution”), keeping the non-printing areas ink-free.

Compared to other printing methods, offset printing is best suited for cost-effectively producing large volumes of high quality prints in an economically sound manner that requires little maintenance.

Offset lithography is one of the most common ways of creating printed matter. A few of its common applications include newspapers, magazines, brochures, stationery and books.

Many modern offset presses use computers to plate systems as opposed to the older computers to film workflows, which further increase their quality.

A 19th century process in which an ordinary color lithograph was varnished and/or impressed with a canvas grain in order to make it look more like an oil painting.





Photochrom prints (also called the Aäc process) are colorized images produced from black and white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates. The process is properly considered a photographic variant of chromolithography, a broader term referring to color lithography in general.

A table of lithographic limestone, known as a “litho stone”, is coated with a light-sensitive coating, comprising a thin layer of purified bitumen dissolved in benzene. A reserved half-tone negative is then pressed against the coating and exposed to daylight for a period of 10-30 minutes in summer, up to several hours in winter. The image on the negative allows varying amounts of light to fall on different areas of the coating, causing the bitumen to harden and become resistant to normal solvents in proportion to the amount of light that falls on it. The coating is then washed in turpentine solutions to remove the unhardened bitumen and retouched in the tonal scale of the chosen color to strengthen or soften the tones as required. Each tint is applied using a separate stone bearing the appropriate retouched image. The finished print is produced using at least six, but more commonly from 10 to 15 tint stones.

It’s a stenciling technique. In this technique the original image is created on a transparent overlay such as acetate or tracing paper. The image may be drawn or painted directly on the overlay, photocopied or printed with an inkjet or laser printer, as long as the areas to be inked are opaque. A black-and-white positive may also be used (projected on to the screen). However, unlike traditional plate-making, these screens are normally exposed by using film positives.

A screen must then be selected. There are several different mesh counts that can be used depending on the detail of the design being printed. Once a screen is selected, the screen must be coated with emulsion and let to dry in the dark. Once dry, the screen is ready to be burned / exposed.

The overlay is placed over the emulsion-coated screen, and then exposed with a light source containing ultraviolet light. The UV light passes through the clear areas and creates a polymerization (hardening) of the emulsion.

The screen is washed off thoroughly. The areas of emulsion that were not exposed to light dissolve and wash away, leaving a negative stencil of the image on the mesh.

Photographic screens can reproduce images with a high level of detail, and can be reused for tens of thousands of copies. The ease of producing transparent overlays from any black-and-white images makes this the most convenient method for artists who are not familiar with other printmaking technique. Artists can be obtains screens, frames, emulsion and lights separately; there are also preassembled kits.

Photoengraving, also known as photo-chemical milling, is a process of engraving using photographic processing techniques. The full form of photoengraving is photo mechanical process in the graphic arts, used principally for reproducing illustrations. The subject is photographed, and the image is recorded on a sensitized metal plate, which is then etched in an acid bath. In the case of line cuts (drawings in solid blacks and whites without gradations of color), the photoengraving is done on zinc and the result is called a zinc etching. In the case of halftone cuts, the work is done on copper. The halftone effect is accomplished by photographing the subject through a wire or glass screen, which breaks the light rays so that the metal plate is sensitized in a dotted pattern; the larger dots create the darker areas, the smaller dots the high lights. The finer the screen, the greater the precision of detail in the printed product. Halftones made with a screen having 65 lines to the inch are considered coarse. Those having 150 lines to the inch are considered fine.

The most common type of photo-engraving involves using a material that is photosensitive and resistant to acids or other etching compounds. This material, called a photo-resist, is applied to a metal to be engraved. It is then exposed to light (usually strong ultraviolet) through a photographic negative causing it to harden where the negative allows light to pass. The photo-resist is then developed by washing in a solvent that removes the unhardened parts. Finally, the metal to be engraved is exposed to an acid or other etching compound which dissolves the exposed parts of the metal.

Photo-engraving is used to make printed circuit boards, printing plates, foil-stamping dies and embossing dies.

Light sensitive polymer plates allow for photorealistic etchings. A photo-sensitive coating is applied to the plate by either the plate supplier or the artist. Light is projected onto the plate as a negative image to expose it. Photopolymer plates are either washed in hot water or under other chemicals according to the plate manufacturers’ instructions. Areas of the photo-etch image may be stopped-out before etching to exclude them from the final image on the plate, or removed or lightened by scraping and burnishing once the plate has been etched. Once the photo-etching process is complete, the plate can be worked further as a normal intaglio plate, using dry point, further etching, engraving, etc. The final result is an intaglio plate which is printed like any other.

Photogravure is an intaglio printmaking or photo-mechanical process whereby a copper plate is coated with a light-sensitive gelatine tissue which had been exposed to a film positive, and then etched, resulting in a high quality intaglio print that can reproduce the detail and continuous tones of a photograph.

Because of its high quality and richness, photogravure was used for both original fine art prints and for photo-reproduction of works from other media such as paintings. Photogravure is distinguished from rotogravure in that photogravure uses a flat copper plate etched rather deeply and printed by hand, while in rotogravure, a rotary cylinder is only light etched and it’s a factory printing process for newspapers, magazines and packaging.

Photogravure registers a wide variety of tones, through the transfer of etching ink from an etched copper plate to special dampened paper run through an etching press. The unique tonal range comes from photogravure’s variable depth of etch, that is, the shadows are etched many times deeper than the highlights. Unlike half-tone processes which merely vary the size of dots, the actual quantity and depth of ink wells are varied in a photogravure plate and are often blended into a smooth tone by the printing process.

Printing a photogravure is similar to printing any other intaglio plate, especially a finely etched aquatint. A stiff, oily intaglio printing ink is applied to the whole surface of the plate with a rubber brayer, or a small stiff squeegee or a rolled tamper. The plate is then gently wiped with tarlatans to remove the excess ink and drive it into the recesses (wells). It’s finally wiped with the fatty part of the palm of the hand in quick glancing strokes. This removes all remaining ink from the polished highlights and high points and leaves ink only in the etched recesses. After the edges are cleaned, the plate is placed on the printing bed of an intaglio press. It is covered with a sheet of dampened rag paper and then two to three layers of thin wool blankets. It’s then run through the press at high pressure. The high pressure pushes the fibbers of the dampened paper into the wells of the plate which then transfers the ink onto the paper thereby creating the impression. The paper is carefully peeled off the plate and placed between blotters and weighted so it will dry flat. The plate can now be re-inked for another impression or it can be cleaned for storage.

Photolithography (or optical lithography) is a process used in micro-fabrication to selectively remove parts of a thin film or the bulk of a substrate. It uses light to transfer a geometric pattern from a photo mask to a light-sensitive chemical photo resist, or dimply “resist”, on the substrate. A series of chemical treatments then engraves the exposure pattern into the material underneath the photo resist.

Photolithography shares some fundamental principles with photography in that the pattern in the etching resist is created by exposing it to light, either using a projected image or an optical mask. This procedure is comparable to a high precision version of the method used to make printed circuit boards. Subsequent stages in the process have more in common with etching than to lithographic printing. It is used because it affords exact control over the shape and size of the objects it creates, and because it can create patterns over an entire surface simultaneously. Its main disadvantages are that it requires a flat substrate to start with, it is not very effective at creating shapes that are not flat, and it can require extremely clean operating conditions.

The term ‘photomechanical’ covers any process by which an image is photographically transferred onto a printing surface. A variety of such techniques have been developed for surfaces to be printed by relief, intaglio or ‘planographic’ (i.e. using a flat surface) processes. The standard relief process uses the ‘line block’ and the ‘half-tone block’; the intaglio process is called ‘photogravure’, and there are two planographic processes, ‘photolitography’ and ‘collotype’. Their complexity forbids any description in a work of this length, but with the exception of collotype they involve the use of a half-tone screen for reproducing graduated tones and colors. The screen breaks up the image into a series of dots of varying size, which are an unmistakable sign of photomechanical reproduction. In recent years, with the increase of interest in photographic and commercial imagery, artists have often incorporated photomechanically reproduced imagery into their prints.

The most common kind of offset printing is derived from the photo offset process, which involves using light-sensitive chemicals and photographic techniques to transfer images and type from original materials to printing plates.

In current use, original materials may be an actual photographic print and typeset text. However, it is more common, with the prevalence of computers and digital images that the source material exists only as data in a digital publishing system.

Planographic printing means printing from a flat surface, as opposed to a raised surface (as with relief printing) or incised surface (as with intaglio printing). Lithography and offset lithography are planographic processes that utilize the property that water will not mix with oil. The image is applying a tusche (greasy substance) to a plate or stone.

Stencil technique in visual art is also referred to as pochoir. See STENCIL.

In woodblock printing techniques, there are three methods of printing, one of them is printing in a press: presses only seem to have been used in Asia in relatively recent times. Simple weighted presses may have been used in Europe, but firm evidence is lacking.




In the screen-printing technique, the screen can be re-used after cleaning. However if the design is no longer needed, then the screen can be “reclaimed”, that is cleared of all emulsion and used again. The reclaiming process involves removing the ink from the screen then spraying on stencil remover to remove all emulsion. Stencil removers come in the form of liquids, gels or powders. The powdered types have to be mixed with water before use, and so can be considered to belong to the liquid category. After applying the stencil remover the emulsion must be washed out using a pressure washer.

Is a photo-mechanical (“line-block”) variant was the dominant form of commercial printing for images. A similar process to etching, but printed as a relief print, so it’s the “white” background areas which are exposed to the acid, and the areas to print “black” which are covered with ground.

A relief print is an image created by a printmaking process, such as woodcut, where the areas of the matrix (plate or block) that are to show printed black (typically) are on the original surface; the parts of the matrix that are to be ink free having been cut away, or otherwise removed. Printing the image is therefore a relatively simple matter of inking the face of the matrix and bringing it in firm contact with the paper; a printing-press may not be needed as the back of the paper can be rubbed or pressed by hand with a simple tool such as a brayer or roller.

This contrasts with an intaglio print, such as an engraving or etching (although there can also be relief etching), where the areas to print black are below the original surface of the matrix, and the original surface of the matrix will print blank. To print these, the whole matrix is inked, and the ink then wiped away from the surface, so that it remains only in the lines (classically) that the artist has made below the surface of the matrix. Much greater pressure is then needed to force the paper into the channels containing the ink, and a high-pressure press will normally be required.

The relief family of techniques includes woodcut, metalcut, wood engraving, relief etching, linocut, and some types of collography. Traditional text printing with movable type is also a relief technique, which meant that woodcuts were much easier to use as book illustrations, as they could be printed together with the next, whilst intaglio prints such as engravings had to be printed separately.

A refinement of intaglio printing used to achieve a softening and more atmospheric effect. Fine muslin, passed lightly over the surface of an inked and wiped plate, catches a small amount of the ink in the lines and draws it slightly upwards; these traces of ink at the side of the lines cause them to lose some of their sharpness of definition when printed.


Rotogravure (roto or gravure for short) is a type of intaglio printing process, that is, it involves engraving the image onto an image carrier. In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a copper cylinder because, like offset and flexography, it uses a rotary printing press. The vast majority of gravure presses print on rolls (also known as webs) of paper, rather than sheets of paper.

A rotogravure printing press has one printing unit for each color, typically CMYK or cyan, magenta, yellow and key (printing terminology for black). The number of units varies depending on what colors are required to produce the final image. There are five basic components in each color unit: an engraved cylinder (whose circumference can change according to the layout of the job), an ink fountain, a doctor blade, an impression roller, and a dryer. While the press is in operation, the engraved cylinder is partially immersed in the ink fountain, filling the recessed cells. As the cylinder rotates, it draws ink out of the fountain with it. Acting as a squeegee, the doctor blade scrapes the cylinder before it makes contact with the paper, removing ink from the non-printing (non-recessed) areas. Next, the paper gets sandwiched between the impression roller and the gravure cylinder. This is where the ink gets transferred from the recessed cells to the paper. The purpose of the impression roller is to apply force, pressing the paper onto the gravure cylinder, ensuring even and maximum coverage of the ink. Then the paper goes through a dryer because it must be completely dry before going through the next color unit and absorbing another coat of ink.

Because gravure is capable of transferring more ink to the paper than other printing processes, gravure is noted for its remarkable density range (light to shadow) and hence is a process of choice for fine art and photography reproduction, though not typically as clean an image as that of sheet fed litho or web offset litho.
Gravure is an industrial printing process mainly used for the high-speed production of large print magazines and runs at a constant and top quality, such as in the printing of large numbers of magazines and mail order catalogues. Other use for the gravure process is in wallpaper and laminates for furniture where quality and consistency are desired.

Gravure printing is a direct printing process that uses a type of image carrier called intaglio. Intaglio means the printing plate, in cylinder form, is recessed and consists of cell wells that are etched or engraved to differing depths and/or sizes. These cylinders are usually made of steel and plated with copper and a light-sensitive coating. After being machined to remove imperfections in the copper, most cylinders are now laser engraved. If the cylinder was chemically etched, a resist (in the form of a negative image) was transferred to the cylinder before etching. The resist protects the non-image areas of the cylinder from the etchant. After etching, the resist was stripped off. The operation is analogous to the manufacture of printed circuit boards. Following engraving, the cylinder is proofed and tested, reworked if necessary, and then chrome plated.

Gravure cylinders nowadays are typically engraved digitally by a diamond tipped or laser etching machine. On the gravure cylinder, the engraved image is composed of small recessed cells (or ‘dots’) that act as tiny wells. Their depth and size control the amount of ink that is transferred to the substrate (paper or other material, such as plastic or foil) via pressure, osmosis, and electrostatic pull.

Rubber stamping, also called stamping, is a craft in which some type of ink made of dye or pigment is applied to an image or pattern that has been carved, molded, laser engraved or vulcanized, onto a sheet of rubber. The rubber is often mounted onto a more stable object such as a wood, brick or an acrylic block. Temporary stamps with simple designs can be carved from a potato. The ink coated rubberstamp is pressed onto any type of medium such that the colored image is transferred to the medium. The medium is generally some type of fabric or paper. Other media used are wood, metal, glass, plastic, rock. High volume batik uses liquid wax instead of ink on a metal stamp.

As rubber stamping increasingly gains popularity, mostly in the United States, it also gains a reputation as an art form.
Other materials besides rubber may be used to produce a stamp. Woodcut and linocut are art forms based on the same principles. Linoleum is much harder than rubber and thus requires special tools. In Europe, linocut is more popular, especially with students and hobby artists.

Apparently the most common for Far Eastern printing on paper at all times. Used for European woodcuts and block-books later in the 15th century, and very widely for cloth. The block goes face up on a table, with the paper or fabric on top. The back is rubbed with a “hard pad, a flat piece of wood, a burnisher, or a leather frotton”.


Screen printing is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink or other printable materials which can be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A roller or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing or pumping ink past the threads of the woven mesh in the open areas.

Screen printing is also a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of silk or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance, and ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface. It is also known as Screen Printing, silkscreen, seriography, and serigraph.

A screen is made of a piece of porous, finely woven fabric called mesh stretched over a frame of aluminum or wood. Originally human hair then silk was woven into screen mesh; currently most mesh is made of man-made materials such as steel, nylon, and polyester. Areas of the screen are blocked off with a non-permeable material to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed; that is, the open spaces are where the ink will appear.

The screen is placed atop a substrate such as paper or fabric. Ink is placed on top of the screen, and a fill bar (also known as a flood bar) is used to fill the mesh openings with ink. The operator begins with the fill bar at the rear of the screen and behind a reservoir of ink. The operator lifts the screen to prevent contact with the substrate and then using a slight amount of downward force pulls the fill bar to the front of the screen. This effectively fills the mesh openings with ink and moves the ink reservoir to the front of the screen. The operator then uses a squeegee (rubber blade) to move the mesh down to the substrate and pushes the squeegee to the rear of the screen. The ink that is in the mesh opening is pumped or squeezed by capillary action to the substrate in a controlled and prescribed amount. As the squeegee moves toward the rear of the screen the tension of the mesh pulls the mesh up away from the substrate (called snap-off) leaving the ink upon the substrate surface.

There are three common types of screen-printing presses. The ‘flat-bed’, the ‘cylinder’, and the most widely used type, the ‘rotary’.
Textile items printed with multi-color designs often use a wet on wet technique, or colors dried while on the press, while graphic items are allowed to dry between colors that are then printed with another screen and often in a different color after the product is re-aligned on the press.
Screen-printing is more versatile than traditional printing techniques. The surface does not have to be printed under pressure, unlike etching or lithography, and it does not have to be planar. Screen-printing inks can be used to work with a variety of materials, such as textiles, ceramics, wood, paper, glass, metal, and plastic.



As a special form of lithography, the Serilith process is sometimes used. Serilith are mixed media original prints created in a process where an artist uses the lithograph and serigraph process. The separations for both processes are hand drawn by the artist. The serilith technique is used primarily to create fine art limited print editions.


The term is used to distinguish a form of “hybrid” fine art printing technique which has become more common in recent years. Seriolithographs are a combination of lithography (offset, stochastic, photo-mechanical or continuous tone) with serigraphy, a fine art stencil printing technique… Fine art prints of this type are published by numerous artists and publishers worldwide, and are widely accepted and collected.

The shin hanga (lit. “new prints”) art movement in early 20th century Japan, during the Taishō and Shōwa periods, revitalized traditional ukiyo-e art which had its roots in the Edo and Meiji periods (17th–19th century). It maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system (hanmoto system) where the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in division of labor, as opposed to the sōsaku hanga (creative prints) movement which advocated the principles of “self-drawn” (jiga), “self-carved” (jikoku) and “self-printed” (jizuri), according to which the artist, with the desire of expressing the self, is the sole creator of art.
Inspired by European Impressionism, the artists incorporated Western elements such as the effects of light and the expression of individual moods, but focused on strictly traditional themes of landscapes (fukeiga), famous places (meishō), beautiful women (bijinga), kabuki actors (yakusha-e), and birds and flowers (kachōga).

Shin hanga is often defined as “neo-ukiyo-e” under the shadow of the ukiyo-e tradition. While shin hanga prints retain much of the ukiyo-e tradition in terms of subject matter, they reveal vastly different techniques and sensibilities. Inspired by Western Realism, shin hanga artists produce hybrids that combine modern design with traditional subjects. The use of naturalistic light, colored lines, soft colors, 3-dimensionality, and deep space are artistic innovations that break with the ukiyo-e tradition.

The shin hanga movement is often defined in opposition to the sōsaku hanga movement (creative print movement) that began in the 1910s.

Shunga is a Japanese term for erotic art. Most shunga are a type of ukiyo-e, usually executed in woodblock print format. While rare, there are extant erotic painted hands-crolls which predate the Ukiyo-e movement.[1] Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means picture of spring; “spring” is a common euphemism for sex.

The ukiyo-e movement as a whole sought to express an idealization of contemporary urban life. Following the aesthetics of everyday life, Edo period shunga sought to express the sexual mores of the chonin in the widest variety of forms possible, and therefore depicted heterosexual and homosexual, old and young alike, as well as a wide range of fetishes.
Almost all ukiyo-e artists made shunga at some point in their careers, and it did not detract from their prestige as artists.

Shunga prints were produced and sold either as single sheets or—more frequently—in book form, called enpon. These customarily contained twelve images, a tradition with its roots in Chinese shunkyu higa.

The quality of shunga art varies, and few ukiyo-e painters remained aloof from the genre. Experienced artists found it to their advantage to concentrate on their production.


Single-leaf woodcut is a term for a woodcut presented as a single image or print, as opposed to a book illustration.


Soft-ground etching uses a special softer ground. The artist places a piece of paper (or cloth in modern uses) over the grounds and draws on it. The print ressembles a drawing.

Soft ground also comes in liquid form and is allowed to dry but it does not dry hard like hard ground and is impressionable. After the soft ground has dried the printmaker may apply materials such as leaves, objects, hand prints and so on which will penetrate the soft ground and expose the plate underneath.

The Sōsaku hanga (literally “creative prints”) art movement in early 20th century Japan, during the Taishō and Shōwa periods advocated the principles of “self-drawn” (jiga), “self-carved” (jikoku) and “self-printed” (jizuri), according to which the artist, with the desire of expressing the self, is the sole creator of art. As opposed to the shin hanga (“New Prints”) movement that maintained the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative system (the hanmoto system) where the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in division of labor, creative print artists distinguished themselves as artists creating art for art’s sake.

Spit-biting is a process whereby the printmaker will apply acid to a plate with a brush in certain areas of the plate. The plate may be aquatinted for this purpose or exposed directly to the acid. The process is known as spit-biting due to the use of saliva once used as a medium to dilute the acid, although gum Arabic or water are now commonly used.

In woodblock printing, one method of printing is stamping. Stamping is used for many fabrics, and most early European woodcuts (1400–40) This were printed by putting the paper or fabric on a table or other flat surface with the block on top, and pressing or hammering the back of the block.


Steel engraving is a commercial engraving technique for printing illustrations, based on steel instead of copper. It has been rarely used in artistic printmaking, although was much used for reproductions in the 19th century.

The new technique only partially replaced the other commercial techniques of that time as woodcut, wood engraving, copper engraving and later lithography.
Most engraving is done by laying out the broad, general outline onto the plate first. This is commonly referred to simply as etching. After this step is complete the artist can move to strictly engraving the work. The tool most commonly used for engraving is the burin, which is a small bar of hardened steel with a sharp point. This is pushed along the plate to produce thin strips of waste metal and thin furrows. This is followed by a scraper which removes any burs as they will be an impediment to the ink. It is important to note that engraving must be done in the reverse or mirror image, so that the image faces the correct way when the die prints. One trick of the trade was for engravers to look at the object that they were engraving through a mirror so that the image was naturally reversed and they would be less likely to engrave the image incorrectly. Steel plates can be case hardened to ensure that they can print thousands of times with little wear. Copper plates can not be case hardened but can be steel-faced or nickel-plated to increase their life expectancy.


There are several ways to create a stencil for screen-printing. An early method was to create it by hand in the desired shape, either by cutting the design from a non-porous material and attaching it to the bottom of the screen, or by painting a negative image directly on the screen with a filler material which became impermeable when it dried. For a more painterly technique, the artist would choose to paint the image with drawing fluid, wait for the image to dry, and then coat the entire screen with screen filler. After the filler had dried, water was used to spray out the screen, and only the areas that were painted by the drawing fluid would wash away, leaving a stencil around it. This process enabled the artist to incorporate their hand into the process, to stay true to their drawing.

A stencil technique is employed in screen-printing which uses a tightly woven mesh screen coated in a thin layer of emulsion to reproduce the original image. As the stencil is attached to the screen, a contiguous template is not necessary.


Stippling is the creation of a pattern simulating varying degrees of solidity or shading by using small dots. Such a pattern may occur in nature and these effects are frequently emulated by artists.

In printmaking, dots may be carved out of a surface to which ink will be applied, to produce either a greater or lesser density of ink depending on the printing technique. In engraving, the technique was invented by Giulio Campagnola in about 1510. Stippling may also be used in engraving or sculpting an object even when there is no ink or paint involved, either to change the texture of the object, or to produce the appearance of light or dark shading depending on the reflective properties of the surface: for instance, stipple engraving on glass produces areas that appear brighter than the surrounding glass.

The technique became popular as a means of producing shaded line art illustrations for publication, because drawings created this way could be reproduced in simple black ink. The other common method is hatching, which uses lines instead of dots. Stippling has traditionally been favored over hatching in biological and medical illustration, since it is less likely than hatching to interfere visually with the structures being illustrated (the lines used in hatching can be mistaken for actual contours), and also since it allows the artist to vary the density of shading more subtly to depict curved or irregular surfaces

In etching, this is the technique of letting the acid bite lightly over the whole plate, then stopping-out house parts of the work which the artist wishes to keep light in tone by covering them with ground before bathing the plate in acid again.



In etching technique designs in a syrupy solution of sugar or Camp Coffee are painted onto the metal surface prior to it being coated in a liquid etching ground or stop out varnish. When later the plate is placed in hot water the sugar dissolves and lifts off leaving the image. The plate can then be etched.

Sumizuri-e (literally means “ink printed pictures”) – is a monochrome printing using only black ink

Is a tone created in an intaglio print by leaving films of ink on the plate in the wiping. This can be accidental, but certain artists, deliberately created great variations in design and atmosphere by carefully controlling the amounts of ink left on different parts of the plate.


In Japan woodcut color technique Tan-e represents the orange highlights using a red pigment called tan.

A thermal printer (or direct thermal printer) produces a printed image by selectively heating coated thermo-chromic paper, or thermal paper as it is commonly known, when the paper passes over the thermal print head. The coating turns black in the areas where it is heated, producing an image. Two-color direct thermal printers are capable of printing both black and an additional color (often red), by applying heat at two different temperatures.
A thermal printer comprises these key components:

  • Thermal head — generates heat; prints on paper
  • Platen — a rubber roller that feeds paper
  • Spring — applies pressure to the thermal head, causing it to contact the thermo-sensitive paper
  • Controller boards — for controlling the mechanism

In order to print, one inserts thermo-sensitive paper between the thermal head and the platen. The printer sends an electrical current to the heating resistor of the thermal head, which in turn generates heat in a prescribed pattern. The heat activates the thermo-sensitive coloring layer of the thermo-sensitive paper, which manifests a pattern of color change in response. Such a printing mechanism is known as a thermal system or direct system.

The paper is impregnated with a solid-state mixture of a dye and a suitable matrix. When the matrix is heated above its melting point, the dye reacts with the acid, shifts to its colored form, and the changed form is then conserved in metastable state when the matrix solidifies back quickly enough.
Controller boards are embedded with firmware to manage the thermal printer mechanisms.
Thermal printers print faster and quieter than dot matrix printers. They are also smaller, lighter and consume less power, making them ideal for portable and retail applications.

Thermal printers print faster and quieter than dot matrix printers. They are also smaller, lighter and consume less power, making them ideal for portable and retail applications.

Thermal transfer printing is a related method that uses a heat-sensitive ribbon instead of heat-sensitive paper.

In the Chiaroscuro woodcuts German style whilst the other block or blocks had flat areas of color.

Through and through describes a situation where an object, real or imaginary, passes completely through another object, also real or imaginary. The phrase has several common uses:
In Printmaking techniques, an image may be through and through in the following cases:

  • ink or paint has penetrated to the other side
  • inlaying with another material, stained glass, patchwork, woodwork, linoleum, marble, etc.
  • carving out (e.g. wood carving), cutting out, perforation: this may concern the outside shape, shaped holes, and patterns of holes (e.g. in a punched card; also a passport may have its number perforated in the pages, to make forgery more difficult).
  • embroidery etc.

Through and through images are more durable; they do not easily wear off.
In the case that the image can be viewed from the other side, we see the mirror image, just like in the case of a transparent image, such as a drawing on a transparent sheet.

It’s a lithographic process in which the artist draws his image on specially prepared transfer paper, from which it is transferred to the stone and then printed in the usual manner.

Typography is the art and technique of arranging type, type design, and modifying type glyphs. Type glyphs are created and modified using a variety of illustration techniques. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing), adjusting the spaces between groups of letters (tracking) and adjusting the space between pairs of letters (kerning).
Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic designers, art directors, comic book artists, graffiti artists, and clerical workers.
In contemporary use, the practice and study of typography is very broad, covering all aspects of letter design and application. These include:

  • graffiti
  • poster design and other large scale lettering such as signage and billboards
  • word-marks and typographic logos (logotypes).


Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints (or woodcuts) and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters. It is the main artistic genre of woodblock printing in Japan.
Usually the word ukiyo is literally translated as “floating world” in English, referring to a conception of an evanescent world, impermanent, fleeting beauty and a realm of entertainments (kabuki, courtesans, geisha) divorced from the responsibilities of the mundane, everyday world; “pictures of the floating world”, i.e. ukiyo-e, are considered a genre unto themselves.

The original subject of ukiyo-e was city life, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district. Beautiful courtesans, bulky sumo wrestlers and popular actors would be portrayed while engaged in appealing activities. Later on landscapes also became popular. Political subjects and individuals above the lowest strata of society (courtesans, wrestlers and actors) were not sanctioned in these prints and very rarely appeared. Sex was not a sanctioned subject either, but continually appeared in ukiyo-e prints. Artists and publishers were sometimes punished for creating these sexually explicit shunga.

Ukiyo-e prints were made using the following procedure:

  • The artist produced a master drawing in ink
  • An assistant, called a hikkō, would then create a tracing (hanshita) of the master
  • Craftsmen glued the hanshita face-down to a block of wood and cut away the areas where the paper was white. This left the drawing, in reverse, as a relief print on the block, but destroyed the hanshita.
  • This block was inked and printed, making near-exact copies of the original drawing.
  • A first test copy, called a kyōgo-zuri, would be given to the artist for a final check.
  • The prints were in turn glued; face-down, to blocks and those areas of the design which were to be printed in a particular color were left in relief. Each of these blocks printed at least one color in the final design.
  • The resulting set of woodblocks were inked in different colors and sequentially impressed onto paper. The final print bore the impressions of each of the blocks, some printed more than once to obtain just the right depth of color.

Urushi-e, literally meaning “lacquer picture,” refers to two types of Japanese artworks: paintings painted with actual lacquer, and particular woodblock printing styles which use regular ink but are said to resemble the darkness and thickness of black lacquer.

Urushi-e woodblock prints were made using thick, dark black lines, and were sometimes hand-colored. The ink was mixed with animal-based glue called nikawa, which thickened it and gave it a lustrous shine, said to resemble lacquer. Most often, this was used not in creating the entire print, but only in enhancing a particular element, such as an obi or a figure’s hair, to give it shine and make the image more luxurious overall.

Prints which include urushi-e elements are likely to also feature the use of mica, metal dusts, and other elements which enhanced the appearance, quality and value of the works.


Viscosity printing is a multi-color printmaking technique that incorporates principles of relief printing and intaglio printing. The process uses the principle of viscosity to print multiple colors of ink from a single plate, rather than relying upon multiple plates for color separation. It is a fine art printmaking technique, as it is too slow and allows too much variation between proofs to make the printing of a large edition feasible. There are a number of different types of original prints to be aware of.

Color viscosity printing is among the latest developments in intaglio printmaking.

In the process description is important to know that two to three colors of ink are mixed, each of a different viscosity. This property is adjusted by the addition of solvents such as linseed oil.

Metal plates, usually copper or zinc, are used, as in the intaglio processes. The artist produces images on the plate by etching lines or textures. The plate is then inked in several stages. The first ink would be fairly dense — of a relatively high viscosity. The application of the high-viscosity ink is carried out as in any intaglio process: by forcing it into the recesses of the plate and then wiping off the plate’s surface with a tarlatan.
Ink of a second color, and of a thinner viscosity, is then applied to the surface of the plate with a rubber brayer. The varying viscosities of the ink prevent them from mixing. A third color, of even thinner viscosity, can also be applied at this point. This color is spread out on a glass plate, which is then pressed against the printing plate so that the ink only adheres to the highest points of the metal plate.

A sheet of printing paper is then placed on the upright plate and passed through a printing press, which prints all of the colors simultaneously. This is of a certain advantage, as in some other multi-color printing processes registration of the blocks presents a difficulty.


This woodcut technique just carves the image in mostly thin lines, not unlike a rather crude engraving. The block is printed in the normal way, so that most of the print is black with the image created by white lines. This process was invented by the sixteenth-century Swiss artist Urs Graf, but became most popular in the nineteenth and twentieth century, often in a modified form where images used large areas of white-line contrasted with areas in the normal black-line style. This was pioneered by Félix Vallotton.

Wood engraving is a printing technique where the image is printed from incised grooves, such as in intaglio, as opposed to relief printing where the image is printed from a raised surface. Wood engraving traditionally utilizes the end grain of wood as a medium for engraving, thus differing from the older technique of woodcut, where the softer side grain is used.

Engraving on wood in this manner produced highly detailed images, which are distinct in style from those produced by engraving on copper plates. Since wood engraving is a relief process (ink is applied to the raised surface of the block) while metal engraving is an intaglio technique, wood engravings deteriorated much less quickly than copper-plate engravings and had a distinctive white-on-black character.

Wood engraving blocks are typically made of boxwood or other hardwoods such as lemonwood or cherry. They are expensive to purchase because end-grain wood must be a section through the trunk or large bough of a tree. Some modern wood engravers use substitutes made of PVC or resin, mounted on MDF, which produce similarly detailed results of a slightly different character.

The block is manipulated on a “sandbag” (a sand-filled circular leather cushion), enabling curved or undulating lines to be produced with minimal manipulation of the actual tool being used.

Wood engravers use a range of specialist tools. The lozenge graver is similar to the burin used by copper engravers and comes in different sizes; there are also various sizes of V-shaped graver used for hatching. Other more flexible tools include the spitsticker, which will produce fine undulating lines; the round scorper, which is excellent for textures involving curves; and the flat scorper which is useful for clearing larger areas.

Wood engraving is generally a black-and-white technique. However there are a handful of wood engravers who also work in color, using three or four blocks of primary colors, a similar principle to the four-color process in modern printing.

Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later paper.

Ukiyo-e is the best known type of Japanese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique on paper are covered by the art term woodcut, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century.

Regarding the technique process, the wood block is carefully prepared as a relief matrix, which means the areas to show ‘white’ are cut away with a knife, chisel, or sandpaper leaving the characters or image to show in ‘black’ at the original surface level. The block was cut along the grain of the wood. It is only necessary to ink the block and bring it into firm and even contact with the paper or cloth to achieve an acceptable print. The content would of course print “in reverse” or mirror-image, a further complication when text was involved. The art of carving the woodcut is technically known as xylography, though the term is rarely used in English.

For color printing, multiple blocks are used, each for one color, although overprinting two colors may produce further colors on the print. Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks.

There are three methods of printing to consider:
Used for many fabrics, and most early European woodcuts (1400–40) These were printed by putting the paper or fabric on a table or other flat surface with the block on top, and pressing or hammering the back of the block.

Apparently the most common for Far Eastern printing on paper at all times. Used for European woodcuts and block-books later in the 15th century, and very widely for cloth. The block goes face up on a table, with the paper or fabric on top. The back is rubbed with a “hard pad, a flat piece of wood, a burnisher, or a leather frotton”.

Printing in a press
Presses only seem to have been used in Asia in relatively recent times. Simple weighted presses may have been used in Europe, but firm evidence is lacking.

The three necessary components for woodblock printing are the wood block, which carries the design cut in relief; dye or ink, which had been widely used in the ancient world; and either cloth or paper. Woodblock printing on papyrus seems never to have been practiced, although it would be possible.

Woodcut—formally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges. The areas to show ‘white’ are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or image to show in ‘black’ at the original surface level. The block is cut along the grain of the wood (unlike wood engraving where the block is cut in the end-grain). In Europe beech-wood was most commonly used, in Japan, a special type of cherry wood was used.

The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.

Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks (where a different block is used for each color). The art of carving the woodcut can be called “xylography”, but this is rarely used in English for images alone, although that and “xylographic” are used in connection with block-books, which are small books containing text and images in the same block. Single-leaf woodcut is a term for a woodcut presented as a single image or print, as opposed to a book illustration.

In both Europe and Japan, traditionally the artist only designed the woodcut, and the block-carving was left to specialist craftsmen, called block-cutters, or Formschneider in Germany. The formschneider in turn handed the block on to specialist printers. There were further specialists who made the blank blocks.

There were various methods of transferring the artist’s drawn design onto the block for the cutter to follow. Either the drawing would be made directly onto the block (often whitened first), or a drawing on paper was glued to the block. Either way, the artist’s drawing was destroyed during the cutting process. Other methods were used, including tracing.

This is why woodcuts are sometimes described by museums or books as “designed by” rather than “by” an artist; but most authorities do not use this distinction. The division of labor had the advantage that a trained artist could adapt to the medium relatively easily, without needing to learn the use of woodworking tools.

Compared to intaglio techniques like etching and engraving, only low pressure is required to print. As a relief method, it is only necessary to ink the block and bring it into firm and even contact with the paper or cloth to achieve an acceptable print.

Colored woodcut first appeared in ancient China. European woodcut prints with colored blocks were invented in Germany in 1508 and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts. However color did not become the norm, as it did in Japan, in the ukiyo-e and other forms.

In Europe and Japan, color woodcuts were normally only used for prints rather than book illustrations.

In Japan color technique, called nishiki-e in its fully developed form, spread more widely, and was used for prints. Text was nearly always monochrome, as were images in books, but the growth of the popularity of ukiyo-e brought with it demand for ever increasing numbers of colors and complexity of techniques. By the nineteenth century most artists worked in color. The stages of this development were:

  • Sumizuri-e (“ink printed pictures”) – monochrome printing using only black ink
  • Benizuri-e (“crimson printed pictures”) – red ink details or highlights added by hand after the printing process;green was sometimes used as well
  • Tan-e – orange highlights using a red pigment called tan
  • Aizuri-e (“indigo printed pictures”), Murasaki-e (“purple pictures”), and other styles in which a single color would be used in addition to, or instead of, black ink
  • Urushi-e – a method in which glue was used to thicken the ink, emboldening the image; gold, mica and other substances were often used to enhance the image further. Urushi-e can also refer to paintings using lacquer instead of paint; lacquer was very rarely if ever used on prints.
  • Nishiki-e (“brocade pictures”) – a method in which multiple blocks were used for separate portions of the image, allowing a number of colors to be utilized to achieve incredibly complex and detailed images; a separate block would be carved to apply only to the portion of the image designated for a single color. Registration marks called kentō were used to ensure correspondence between the applications of each block.

In the 19th century a number of different methods of color printing using woodcut (technically Chromoxylography) were developed in Europe.






In the case of line cuts (drawings in solid blocks and whites without gradations of color), the photoengraving is done on zinc and the result is called a zinc etching.