Types of Printmaking: A Beginner's Guide - Gel Press

Types of Printmaking: A Beginner's Guide

As an art form that marries creativity with technical prowess, printmaking is a versatile medium that continues to captivate artists and art enthusiasts alike. Its rich history and wide variety of techniques make it a rewarding journey for any budding printmaker. 

For beginners looking to delve into the world of print, understanding the different types of printmaking is crucial. Each technique boasts its own unique process, materials, and results, ensuring that there's a perfect match out there for every artist. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore several types of printmaking, providing you with the foundational knowledge to embark on your own printmaking odyssey.

Introduction to Printmaking

Printmaking is an artistic process of creating a master image that can then be transferred onto paper, fabric, or another surface, resulting in a duplicate of the original. The impact and details of the original image are captured in the print, making it a valuable form of artistic expression and a cornerstone of the art world. Printmaking is known for its capacity to create multiples, making it accessible while also offering a deeply contemplative side through the creation of series and variations on a theme.

The beauty of printmaking is that it marries creativity and technique; every type of printmaking presents a different set of tools, materials, and approaches that an artist can use to bring their vision to life. By understanding the plethora of techniques available, you can expand your artistic repertoire and push the boundaries of your creativity. This post is crafted specifically to aid printmaking beginners in navigating the many paths available in this diverse art form.

Relief Printing

Relief printing is one of the oldest and most straightforward printmaking techniques. It involves cutting away the non-printing parts of the block, leaving the image in relief—the printing process transfers ink from the raised portions of the matrix onto paper. This category is characterized by its ease of use, making it a favorite starting point for many new printmakers.

Popular Examples:

  • Woodcut: A design is carved into a block of wood, with the raised surface printing the image.
  • Linocut: Similar to woodcut, but uses linoleum as the carving surface for a smoother carving experience.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Easy for beginners, requires minimal tools, relatively low-cost materials.
  • Cons: Limited detail due to the nature of the carving surface, can be labor-intensive for complex designs.

Intaglio Printing

Contrasting with relief, intaglio prints are made from a recessed design where the ink lies below the surface of the plate. After the plate is inked, the surface is wiped clean, leaving ink only in the recesses. This approach often results in prints with much finer detail.

Popular Examples:

  • Etching: A metal plate is covered with an acid-resistant 'ground,' which is then removed with a stylus to etch the desired lines into the plate.
  • Engraving: Lines are incised into a plate using a tool called a burin, which creates a smooth line.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Exceptional detail, capable of rendering a wide tonal range, allows for a high degree of expressiveness.
  • Cons: Can be technically demanding, requires potentially dangerous chemicals, and equipment.


Monoprinting is a form of printmaking that creates unique, one-off prints. Each print in this method is slightly different and can incorporate a variety of materials and methods, including stencils, gel plates, textured surfaces, and multiple layers of ink. As its results are quite unpredictable, monoprinting is often an exciting adventure for artists interested in exploring an experimental and spontaneous direction.

Popular Examples:

  • Painterly Print: Ink is applied to a flat surface, and the paper is pressed down on it to create a unique transfer.
  • White-Line Woodcut: A single block is used to print multiple colors by carving out areas and inking them with different pigment.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Allows for a great degree of individuality and spontaneity, encouraging experimentation and creativity.
  • Cons: Results can be unpredictable, and re-creating the same print is extremely difficult.


A planographic printing process, lithography involves the principle that oil and water don't mix. An image is drawn with a greasy medium on a special stone or metal plate. The entire surface is moistened, and then ink sticks only to the greasy areas, which can then be transferred onto paper using pressure.

Popular Examples:

  • Lithographic Limestone: A stone is used to draw the image, which will later be inked and printed.
  • Offset Lithography: A modern form of lithography that usually involves a metal plate and a rubber blanket.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: High level of detail, capable of reproducing paintings and photographs, can produce large editions efficiently.
  • Cons: Expensive and specialized materials like lithographic limestone, and the chemistry involved can be toxic if not handled properly.

Screen Printing

Screen printing, sometimes called silk screening, is a printmaking technique that uses a mesh to transfer ink onto a substrate, except where a blocking stencil has been applied. It's typically used to print on various materials, from paper and fabric to glass and metal.

Popular Examples:

  • Stencils Screen Printing: Stencils are used to block parts of the screen, allowing ink to pass through the unblocked areas and onto the paper.
  • Photoemulsion Screen Printing: A photo-sensitive emulsion is used to create the stencil by exposing it to light through a designed transparency.

Pros and Cons:

  • Pros: Versatile, can print on various materials, including T-shirts and posters, allows for bright and bold colors.
  • Cons: Screen preparation can be time-consuming, sometimes less suitable for fine detail work.

Other Types of Printmaking

Beyond the more well-known types, there exist a myriad of printmaking techniques, each with its own set of tools, materials, and methodology. These include:

  • Collography: Printing from a plate that has been built up with a variety of materials like fabric, paper, and organic items.
  • Aquatint: A variation of etching that uses a powdered resin to create areas of tone.
  • Drypoint: Similar to etching but involves scratching lines directly into a plate without the use of acid.

Each technique has its own unique characteristics, which can add a distinct quality to the final print. As you grow in your practice, don't hesitate to explore these less trodden paths to discover new ways to express yourself through print.


Printmaking is a versatile and endlessly fascinating art form brimming with possibilities. As a beginner, the key is to experiment with various types of printmaking to find the techniques that resonate with you. Each method offers invaluable lessons in composition, texture, and color, and the skill sets developed are transferable, allowing you to grow not only as a printmaker but as an artist in the broader sense.

As you begin your journey, remember that practice and patience are your allies. Embrace the creative process, and don't be afraid to make mistakes—they often lead to the most compelling discoveries. Printmaking is an art of layers, both literal and figurative. By exploring the layers of technique, expression, and creativity, you're bound to uncover the depth printmaking has to offer. 

Happy printing!