Five Printing Techniques You May Not Have Heard Of (But Should Try)

If you have some experience with printing or are interested in trying it for yourself, there are a few techniques you may already be familiar with. These are often relief type prints where a block of wood is carved into, and the raised areas of the block are coated with ink or paint, and then pressed onto the final material. All printing methods are fantastic for both practical and creative endeavors, and there are some you may not be aware of that could be perfect for your next project.

Office printer

Etching

Etching uses the opposite technique of a relief-based print and involves creating recesses or indents into a printing plate, and then filling these with ink or paint and pressing them with force. Etching is done on a metal plate covered with a thin layer of a wax-like substance called a ‘ground.’ You can then create your design using a small tool to remove parts of the wax to reveal the metal underneath. When you’re happy with your design, the whole plate is submerged into a bath of acid, which the ground is impervious to, but the metal isn’t. When left in the acid, the areas that you left bare will erode these areas, creating a groove that your ink or paint can fill. Several baths may be used to create depth in etching, with additional etching done into the ground between each submersion or filling areas that have already been submerged. Giving specific details, multiple treatments in the acid bath is called biting out, and will provide a deeper print compared to areas that have only been treated once.

Aquatint

Another technique used in etchings, this is used to create less defined lines and to add texture to an etched print. A ground that’s not entirely impervious to the acid is used, meaning that when the plate is submerged, some of the acid can get through, creating a granular or pebble-like look to the metal plate. Like regular biting in acid, multiple sessions or different timings in the acid may be used to deepen or soften this look.

Screenprinting

Screenprinting is the process of pushing ink through a stencil or mesh to create the design you’re looking for. A combination of materials that the ink can’t pass through and cut-outs are used to prevent the ink from reaching certain parts of the material, and only one color can be used at a time. Using this technique, you can create very vivid designs that look fantastic and makes it accessible for making custom clothing, as the lines on what you print onto are immaculate. A few methods are used to create cut-outs and achieve the design you want, from using masking tape to cover certain parts of the material being printed on, using screen blockers such as glue, and light-sensitive emulsion that’s then developed in a similar way to a photograph. Screenprinting does involve some tools to do the job, so if you like the designs that the technique provides, but aren’t ready to invest, then a company like Thrive screenprinting will take custom designs and print them for you.

Monotype

As mentioned, when using a relief printing technique, the surface is raised and used to print onto a surface. Then, in intaglio printing, the opposite method is used like in the etching example above. The final type of printing method is called planographic printing and refers to techniques where the print and the surface you’re printing on are of the same depth and completely flat. The most common planographic printing method is monotype printing and is a great option to try if you’re new to print as the materials and tools needed are minimal.

Other printing techniques are specifically designed to create multiple impressions from one print, and professional artists will often create a run of copies from a single plate. Monoprints get their name because they are usually only able to create one impression, and at most two or three, each new impression becomes less defined, leading them to be often called ‘ghost prints.’ Monoprints are often made with glass, but any non-absorbent material can be used, and even paper at home will work just fine. If you’re just getting started with printing, try some monoprints to see if you enjoy the process, which is very simple. If you’re using glass, you can cover the whole thing in ink, and remove it to make your design. You then take it while still wet and press the glass against the material you’re printing on. Another method is to cover the glass with ink as before and lay the paper directly on the ink then, taking a pointed tool, draw into the back of the paper not facing the ink. You’ll find that the ink adheres to the areas you pressed against, and a lot of intricate details can be created in this way.

Lithography

Lithographs have been used for centuries to create prints and use the idea that oil and water won’t mix to create an impression. Stone is generally used as the base of the print, and then a design is applied directly to the stone with an oil-based gum. The whole stone is submerged into a thin layer of water and ink is then applied to the print, which will only attach itself to where the oil is and nowhere else due to the water being present. You can then press the stone onto any material to transfer the impression of the image. Like monographs, this is a planographic technique as the surface of the stone is completely flat, but gives you the ability to create multiple prints at a larger scale and on more materials that use glass and ink. Lithography is a time and effort-intensive technique and less practical to try at home, but can create some fantastic-looking prints, and you can connect with the process that printers had to go through generations ago.

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