Guide to Printmaking Techniques: Part 1

When you visit our Galerie d'Orsay, you'll encounter striking Salvador Dalí etchings, romantic Marc Chagall lithographs, and timeless Henri Matisse linocuts among the many exquisite artworks adorning our walls. Printmaking is a fascinating and intricate medium that encompasses myriad methods (all of which can achieve varying effects!) — but how do you tell them apart?


Granted, our knowledgable Fine Art Consultants will be delighted to tell you about each work, and artists quite often use more than one printing method in a single work, but should the occasion ever arise and you'd love to identify a print yourself — to impress your date or significant other, for example — take a peek below for examples of the most common printmaking methods you will find in our gallery.


There are three basic categories of printmaking: relief, intaglio, and planographic (in this post, we will focus on the first).


Relief printmaking is one of the most straightforward methods, in which material is carved away to create the protruding design that will be printed; only the uppermost surface design appears on the paper.



Relief


Woodcut

Woodcuts are one of the oldest types of relief printmaking for which the artist carves out the negative space from a wood block, leaving only the lines and shapes of the design they want to appear in the print. Ink is then applied to this flat area and the image is printed onto a sheet. One can often see the residual wood grain texture the block leaves behind.





Linocut

Linocuts are made in the same way but use sheets of linoleum rather than wood. As this smooth and soft material has no directional grain, the artist is free to carve in any direction and the printed surface leaves a flat, slightly spongy texture behind on the paper. Woodcuts and linocuts often have a graphic feel because the relief process creates flat planes of color and fluid lines. Modern Master artists Picasso and Matisse relished the freedom this method offered and created many of their most sought-after printed works with a linocut!