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Printmaking 101

April 7, 2011

Printmaking has been around since the fifteenth century.  There are many types of printmaking processes, such as woodcuts, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and monotypes. The earliest print technique, the woodcut, was used to illustrate books. To make a woodcut, the artist carved a design from a piece of wood and inked the block. Ink would only stay on the areas of the block that were not carved. Eventually, artists looked for new ways to create images, which resulted in etchings and engravings.  

Etchings and engravings were favored by artists. To make either type of print, an image is drawn onto a metal plate with a v-shaped tool called a burin.  The plate is coated in an acid-resistant surface and ink is beaten into the incised lines with a tool called a dabber. Then, the plate is submerged in an acid bath, which opens up the lines and exposes the metal surface. The acid creates the depth of line by reacting with the areas of exposed metal. Afterwards, the plate go through a printing press. In the engraving process ink rests in the engraved lines and the plate is run through a press. Both prints allowed for greater flexibility with images and a variety of lines and tones in the final product. 

Advances in the print world saw the emergence of  lithographs and monotypes during the nineteenth century. Lithographs are a direct medium; the image is drawn on a flat stone with a greasy oil or crayon and run through a printing press. Monotypes have ink drawn onto a glass or copper plate and transferred to paper. Monotypes produce one image; printing another image results in deteriorated quality.

To help you better understand prints, I included some images of the printmaking process. I hope you enjoy seeing how they are created! If you would like to explore works on paper in the DMA’s galleries, prints by the following artists can be found in the collection: Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre Bonnard.

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Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching

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