Today there are many categories and subcategories of printmaking. However, we can basically break these into five major areas or principals. These are Giclée, Relief, Intaglio, Lithography and Serigraph.
One of the techniques most recently developed by the Fine Art Printing world is the giclée (pronounced 'jeeclay'), and its popularity has soared in recent years. This method of printmaking, is sometimes referred to as the 'Iris' (after the original machine that produced the print). Giclée reproductions were originally developed in 1989 as a digital method of fine art printing. The word giclée is French for 'to spray on' or 'to spray ink'. Images are scanned and digitally stored in a computer and sent directly to a super high resolution, inkjet printer.
Like other methods of printmaking (lithographs, serigraphs, off-set prints) the giclée starts with a highly sophisticated photograph of the original painting. The photograph is then scanned, digitized and entered into a data retrieval system. Then, once the artist and technician feel they have the most faithful representation of the original painting, the image is sent electronically to the printer. Tiny ink jets, finer than the human hair, spray inks onto canvas or paper, one line at a time, until the image is created. This process can take up to a half hour.
The giclée produces a print that is completely faithful to the artist's original intent, yet in and of itself has the look and feel of an original watercolour painting on paper. After the image is 'fixed' with a UV protective coating, similar to that which is used on water colour paintings, the print becomes as archival and as long-lasting as any other work of art on paper. From the point of view of the art collecting public, the giclée Fine Art Print offers the collector the same physical properties of an original painting and the advantages of a Fine Art Print.
Relief is the oldest form of printmaking. The earliest relief printmaking on paper goes back to the woodcuts of China, dating back to the 8th Century. Woodcuts appeared in Europe much later, in the 15th Century.
The basic principle of relief printing is to create an image on paper from the raised surface of the matrix. The artist draws onto a surface (the block or matrix) and then cuts away the areas that are not to form part of the image. These areas are the negative parts of the image, or the spaces around what we see generally consider to be the image. Thus the ink only reaches the areas the artist does not touch. The block is inked and a piece of paper laid over it. The artist then either rubs the paper using their hand or a hard, smooth object or runs it through a printing press. The image produced on the paper mirrors that on the block.
WOODCUTS and LINOCUTS are the most common examples of relief prints.
Intaglio is the precise opposite of relief printmaking. In this process the artist carves the image onto the matrix and then rubs ink into these carved lines, making sure that the untouched areas are cleaned of ink. In the intaglio process the paper is previously soaked in water. When it is laid over the matrix and the squashed through the printing press, the soft paper is pushed into the grooves of the inked lines, thus transferring the image onto the paper. Many intaglio processes involve creating the grooves with acids that eat into a metal plate.
Variations of the Intaglio technique include ENGRAVING, ETCHING, AQUATINT and and MEZZOTINT.
The distinct advantage of lithography is that a large number of prints can be made form any single matrix, without the image deteriorating in quality.
Lithography was invented by Aloysius Senefelder (1771 – 1834), in Bavaria. The concept of lithography is based on the mutual incompatibility of oil and water; the capacity of limestone to absorb and retain water and the disposition of oily substances to adhere to limestone. The highly polished nature of the surface is receptive to the oil that is spread over it. Senefelder discovered that by chemically treating the surface of limestone, and drawing onto it with a grease crayon, only the areas touched by the grease crayon would take the printing ink. Therefore, by drawing onto the treated stone in this way, inking it, covering it with a damp paper and running it through a printing press, the image is transferred exactly onto the paper. Nowadays the technique is applied using a metal plate.
All serigraphic prints are based on the concept of stencil. The stencil technique uses a thin sheet of impenetrable, durable material with a design cut into it. This is placed over a receiving surface (paper, canvas, etc.). Thus the paint or dye applied over the surface of the stencil only reaches the receiving surface where the design has been cut away.
The techniques of stencil developed into Screen-printing in the UK in the 1920s. However, it did not become widely used until the 1960s, when Pop Art had its debut with Andy Warhol.
Nowadays SILKSCREEN or SCREENPRINT is the most commonly known form of serigraphic printmaking. This technique is used in many day to day objects, such as posters, T. shirts, printed fabrics and wallpaper design. The most famous use of this technique can be seen in the works of Andy Warhol.