Relief printing is the oldest form of printmaking and a technique that most people have tried whether they are aware of it or not. If you’ve ever used a rubber stamp you have tried relief printmaking. The most common matrix (block or plate that is created to carry ink during the printing process) for relief printing is wood, but a variety of materials can be used including linoleum, rubber, or polymer. Using a variety of tools, the artist will cut or carve away the negative areas of their image from the relief block, resulting in a raised image. To print this image, ink is applied to the raised surface of the printing block with a brayer or roller. A piece of paper is then placed over the inked up block, and a printing press is used to apply pressure to the surface, transferring the image to the paper.
In Italian intaglio means “engraved work” and is derived from the word intagliara, which means “to cut in” or “to incise.” An intaglio print is created by incising an image into a metal plate, typically zinc or copper, through either engraving or etching techniques. Intaglio is an umbrella term that encompasses engraving, including drypoint and mezzotint, in which the artist uses sharp pointed tools to create the image, and etching, including aquatint and spit bite, in which the artist uses various grounds, resists, and acids to etch the image into the plate.
Once the image is created, ink is applied to the plate, pushed into the recessed lines of the image, and polished off the plate’s surface, so that only the image areas hold the ink. The plate, along with a dampened sheet of paper, is run through an intaglio press to create the print. The pressure from the press pushes the damp paper into the incised lines of the plate, pulling the ink out and transferring it to the paper. The high amount of pressure required during the intaglio printing process also physically embosses the plate and image into the paper.
Lithography is a planographic printing process based on the chemical nature of oil and water to repel each other. In traditional stone lithography, an image is drawn or painted on a slab of prepared limestone using mediums that have high grease contents such as lithographic crayons or liquid tusche. Once the image is complete, the stone is chemically treated with a mixture of nitric acid and gum arabic to stabilize the image in preparation for the printing process. During the lithographic printing process, the surface of the stone is sponged with water. The water is absorbed by the negative areas of the image and repelled by the greasy drawing. While the stone is wet, it is rolled up with oil based ink. The ink sticks to the greasy image but is repelled away from the damp negative areas of the stone. Once the image is fully inked, it is covered with a sheet of paper, and the stone is ran through a lithographic press. The pressure from the press transfers the ink from the stone to the sheet of paper.
The word collograph (also spelled collagraph) is derived from the Greek word koll or kolla, meaning glue, and graph, meaning the activity of drawing. Unlike the reductive methods used to create an image in a relief block or intaglio plate, collograph plates are additively created by building up the plate’s surface. A variety of materials are glued to a rigid substrate (typically wood or heavy cardboard) and coated with a sealant. This results in a highly textured image. Once the collograph plate is complete, it can be inked up either as an intaglio, by pushing ink into the grooves and recessed areas of the plate and wiping the raised areas clean, or it can be printed as a relief, by rolling ink over the raised surfaces of the plate. After the ink is applied to the plate, it is covered with a sheet of paper and ran through a printing press to transfer the ink to the paper.
Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between a monoprint and a monotype. Both monoprints and monotypes are one-of-a-kind prints that are not editioned, however the creation of a monoprint includes the use of a repeatable matrix (such as an intaglio plate or a relief block) while monotypes do not have any reproducible elements.
Monotypes are essentially a printed transfer of an image. To create a monotype, the artist paints on glass or another smooth substrate to create a unique image which is then transferred onto paper using a printing press. After printing, some residual ink is left on the printing surface which could be printed again resulting in a faint impression of the image; this is referred to as a ghost or cognate impression. The residual ink on the printing surface could also serve as the basis for the next monotype as the artist could add more ink and rework it before printing another impression. This process of reworking an image between printings can support the production of an evolving series of individual, unique prints.
Monoprints are approached in a similar manner to monotypes except that they will include at least one repeatable matrix. Instead of inking the matrix the same way each time, as you would when creating an edition, the matrix is inked in a unique manner each time to create a one-of-a-kind image. This can be achieved by changing ink colors, adding a la poupée (selective wiping) techniques, hand painting, or incorporating collage elements, just to name a few of the various possibilities.