Four Basic Fine Art Printmaking Techniques

Fine art printmaking is the artistic process of creating a master plate from which multiple images can be replicated. To understand this concept in detail, it is imperative that we first understand the basic printmaking techniques.

Relief Printing

Relief printing is done from a raised surface. A good illustration of relief printing is when using a rubber stamp, which draws ink from the stamp pad onto the paper. This technique relies on printing plates often made from metal, wood, styrofoam, or linoleum, among others. The printing plate is curved to replicate the artist’s image then ink is applied on the raised surfaces.

An excellent example of relief printing is woodcuts, which have been extensively used to print textiles, and decorations, as well as poster prints, playing cards, book covers, and calendars, to mention a few.


Intaglio is quite similar to relief printing, but it is the inverse. Instead of printing using the raised sides, the plates here are curved inwards to create space for holding the ink before it’s transferred to the printing surface. Another difference is in the material used to create the plates. Intaglio uses metal plates or, at times, plexiglass.

One of the popular variants of intaglio is etching, which uses mordants and strong acids to dissolve parts of the unprotected metal. Another example of intaglio is engraving, which uses carved metal to create the design.


Planography printing is done on a flat surface. A flat stone or metal plate is the material used in this type of printing. The printing is done on a greasy surface, then ink and water are applied. The water is used on the non-print portion since water is ink resistant. The greasy part then absorbs the ink forming the image print portion.

The most popular type of planography is lithography. Here, metal or flat stone is used to create the non-image portion of the design.

Stencil (Serigraphy)

Stencil refers to a sheet of paper, metal, or plastic, among other materials with the design cut punched from the material. The process of printing involves producing a pattern or image by use of an object with designed gaps. The ink goes through the openings of the cut design material onto the print material placed below it.

One of the variants of stencil printing is serigraphy, also known as silk screening. This is a type of stencil printing which is done by fastening a stencil to a silk sheet. The silk sheet is stretched across a wooden frame which is placed against the print material. The ink is then pushed through the open areas onto the print material below using a squeegee.

There you have it folks, the four basic printmaking techniques. Which one is your favourite, and why?