Beginner’s Printmaking Glossary | Demystifying Printmaking
Updated: Sep 16
Printmaking is a wonderful way to explore art - with less pressure and a variety of new things to learn - but sometimes its language can be intimidating. So many terms and techniques! As a beginner, it can feel overwhelming to try and take on board how to do a thing, while trying to translate the instructions.
So here is a little glossary of some basic printmaking terms to get you started…
This is a roller, that you can roll into an ink patch and distribute ink evenly with. They come in all kinds of sizes.
In Collagraph, a plate is created by sticking various materials to a hard backboard. The materials are chosen mainly for their textural properties. The plate is then sealed with a substance such as button polish, to make it shiny. Ink is applied to the plate, paper placed on top, and a textural print created.
Drypoint is an intaglio method, where you create a plate by drawing into a surface such as plastic or metal with a sharp point. Ink is applied to the plate and then wiped off. The ink sticks inside the indented lines you’ve drawn. Damp paper is placed on top and, under pressure, the ink from inside the indented lines is transferred to the paper.
Sometimes you may take a print, and, on looking at your plate, you may feel there is still enough ink left on it for another print. When you take that second print (having not re-inked the plate, but just used what was left on the plate from the first inking) you’ll get a fainter version of your first print. It’s ghostly!
Ink in printmaking tends to fall into two categories - water-based and oil-based. Generally water-based inks dry faster than oil-based. If you want more time to experiment with water-based inks, you can mix them with an extender (a type of clear solution which keeps the moisture in and delays the drying times). Often oil-based inks will create crisper lines too. But for ease of cleaning up, water-based inks win the race.
Intaglio is a fancy term for any printmaking technique which involves indenting in some way. So the print is taken from the ink which sits below the general surface of the plate. It includes methods such as Drypoint and Etching.
Linocut / Lino Print (Method)
A monoprint is a “one of a kind” print, but with brothers and sisters. When you ink up a plate (made from a method such as Lino, Collagraph or Drypoint) each print taken from it will be individual. But, because you have a plate which is solid and consistent (sometimes called a “matrix”) you can always ink it up again and create further prints…which will look similar to the first, but will always be slightly different.
A monotype is a “one of a kind” print. It is where you create an artwork using ink or paint on a shiny surface - then paper is placed on top and pressed down. On pulling up the paper, a print has been taken…but the original art on the surface will be gone. So another exact print cannot be replicated, and the print you have is completely unique.
A plate is the surface you will be putting ink onto. It can be made from metal, plastic, cardboard…but whatever their material, they are usually treated to become shiny, so that ink transfers off of them easily.
A print is created by pressing paper (or fabric) on top of a surface which has fresh ink on it. Under pressure the ink transfers from the surface to the paper.
A proof is a first-run. When you’ve just created your plate, you don’t know how it will print. So the first time you ink it up, you are in for a surprise! Therefore, the first print could go very right, or very wrong…and the point is that it doesn’t matter which way it goes. The first “proof” print is just a test, a measurement of where to go from there.
This type of proof is different from an “Artist’s Proof”, which is a more formal and finished product. When an artist is having a professional printing made of their work, such as limited editions, they may do a few “proofs” during the process to check on the state of the plate and printing. The artist generally gets to keep an amount of the proofs for themselves.
Screen Printing (Method)
Screenprinting is a process where ink is pushed through a mesh screen, onto paper beneath it. Typically a squeegee is used to apply pressure which spreads the ink across the screen and onto the paper evenly.
Woodcut / Wood Print (Method)
This is not a comprehensive list of terms, but more a dip-your-toe-in list for newbies to feel a little more grounded with. As you delve further into printmaking you'll find there are more techniques and tools to discover, but there's no rush!
If you have any questions about any of the above, do get in touch! You can find me on Instagram or email me via my contact page. You can also check out my free videos on YouTube or classes on Skillshare for more printmaking adventures.
Keep making to make happy!
Love Gem x