Making an Impression | Your quick guide to understanding print types
Prints represent some of the richest collector opportunities. The medium is accessible, always evolving and as diverse as can be. It’s also nuanced. With its specific terminologies and technologies, the world of printmaking can be bewildering. So, to help you busy collectors, we’ve devised a super quick breakdown of the five kinds of printmaking.
Think: woodblock and linocut prints.
Relief printing is like using a stamp. Where the artist gouges away the matrix (the surface which bears the artist’s design), is where the paper is left blank - meaning the design is transferred via the untouched areas of wood or linoleum.
Check out these relief prints if you like… vital, bold but pared back design. In the canon sits artists like Vic O'Connor, Rona Green and David Frazer.
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Think: etching, engraving, aquatint and mezzotint.
Intaglio printing sees an artist inscribe a plate (the surface that carries the artist's design). Ink then sits in these crevices and transfer to the page during the printing process.
Check out these intaglio prints if you like… distinctiveness. Etching allows for such flexibility, that almost any artist can carry their style to the medium. In 'Dancing Children (Blue)' for example, Charles Blackman's joie de vivre rings though. Described as a transcriber of the childhood experience, etching sees him continue and expand this point of view.
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Charles Blackman - 'Dancing Children (Blue)'
Lithography utilises the incompatibility of water and oil. Artists draw with grease crayons then dampen the plate. Because water repels oil, the ink only adheres to the drawing and that is thus, where the design will impress.
Check out these lithographs if you like… complexity. With lithography, ready yourself for some intricate images. In James Gleeson’s colour lithograph ‘Judgement of Paris V’, disembodied bodies gather, while in Euan Macleod’s ‘Person Walking by a Red Mountain (Black)’ there is only one figure - part immersed in thought, part immersed in the landscape.
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Henri Toulouse Lautrec - 'Ta Bouche (Your Mouth)'
Think: Screen Printing and Stencil Graffiti.
Serigraphs are produced by an artist cutting a design to make a stencil. This is then placed over the paper and covered with ink or paint. Where the paper is exposed is where the print will be. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image.
Check out these serigraph prints if you like… impact. Serigraphs are all about delivering a bam with minimal colours and detail. Just see Lin Onus's 'Reflection', where trees run like veins in the water's surface.
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Fine Art Digital Printing
Think: Archival Pigment Print on Paper.
The newest edition to the printmaking family, digital printmaking, engages the latest technology and archival grade materials. It enables the creation of digital art of all kinds. Some artists use photography as their starting point, others create solely on the computer and many combine both.
Digital printing may refer to an original or reproduction process. This means that unlike etching for example, originality is not inherent to the medium. That being said, many digital prints are indeed original, existing on the cutting edge of contemporary practices.
Check out these digital prints if you like… clarity. One of the advantages of digital printing is how crisp and rich the image can be. In Philippe Le Miere's 'Dense and Green' the real and surreal unite while Tim Silver’s conceptual work of art ‘Untitled (Adrift)’ flirts with ephemerality.
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Philippe Le Miere - 'Dense and Green'
We’ve kept it super brief here. To learn more, head back to our Confident Collector index or behold this gorgeous animated handbook from the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Think monotype, think: Unique prints
In the world of printmaking, monotypes stand alone. Unlike etchings, lithographs, screenprints or engravings, they exist not in editions but rather as unique works of art. Put simply, where an etching plate produces several identical works, a monotype substrate creates just one.
Dating back to the 15th century, the monotype is a single print pulled from a clean, unworked surface, that is, a plate that has not been etched or engraved in any way. The artist simply paints onto the plate then pulls their monotype. Described as a hybrid between printing and painting, monotypes have an alluring aura – sites of experimentation, they invite spontaneity in a way other printmaking methods avoid.
Check out monotypes if you like… serendipity. Rather than distinct bodies of work, the monotype exists more commonly in an artist’s oeuvre as a diversion – a way for them to experiment, hone their style and break new ground. They are off the beaten track; an adventure in their own right.
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Charles Blackman - 'Barbara' (c. 1953)
To find out why reproduction prints are collectible, click here.
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