Print Processes

1 C-Type Print – Digital
2 C-Type Print – Hand 
3 Digital Transfer 
4 Etching 
5 Foil Block 
6 Giclée 
7 Gravure 
8 Lenticular 
9 Lithography 
10 Monoprint 
11 Photogravure 
12 Silkscreen 
13 Woodcut

1 C-Type Print – Digital

A digital C-type print is one that uses conventional chromogenic photographic paper (known as 'wet-process paper', chromogenic paper is used in the standard photographic print process in which an image is first formed with silver, then replaced with one made with dye), but uses an image taken from a digital file as its source, rather than one taken from a colour negative or transparency. The final print is produced by a machine that uses lasers or LEDs to expose the digital image onto the light-sensitive photographic paper, which is then developed in a standard processor using silver-based photographic chemicals. The digital C-Type process offers artists the quality and archival properties of a photographic print as well as the creative flexibility and consistency that can only be achieved by using a digital source.

2 C-Type Print – Hand

As its name indicates, a 'C-Type hand print' describes a photographic print made from a colour negative or transparency using an entirely analogue process. Here an enlarger is used to expose the source image by hand onto chromogenic photographic paper [see 'C-Type Print – Digital', above]. The paper is then submerged in a chemical bath that causes its three emulsion layers (each sensitive to a different primary colour) to react, creating a full-colour image.

3 Digital Transfer

A digital transfer is a way of producing outputs of full-colour images that are too complex to be screen-printed. Here the image is digitally printed (using inkjet or laser technology) onto a transfer paper or film. The transfer is applied via a traditional heat process, in which heat releases the image from the paper and pressure then causes it to adhere permanently to the final object or surface. It's worth noting, however, that the transfer process used for Mat Collishaw's 'Last Meal on Death Row' prints used an alcohol-based solvent solution to release the transfer from the film, with the image then pressed onto the goatskin parchment without heat, to eliminate distortion. This non-heat process also ensured that the finest-quality archival inks could be used to ensure the artworks' maximum longevity. (The inks used in a standard heat-transfer process are not designed for archival printing, so they can't capture the same high level of detail that process offers.)

4 Etching

One of what's known as the 'intaglio' print techniques, etching is the process that allows acid to 'bite' into the unprotected areas of a metal plate. The plate is protected with what's known as a 'resist' – traditionally wax – through which the design is drawn. After the plate is immersed in acid, the resist is removed and the plate covered with ink, which is then pushed into the lines and pits that the acid has created on unprotected areas. After the excess ink is carefully removed with a type of cloth known as 'scrim', a sheet of damp paper is laid onto the plate before both are run through a mangle-style printing press, forcing the softened fibres of the paper into contact with the ink, drawing out the image. Along with engraving, etching was the most important technique for Old Master prints, and remains widely used today.

Here is an artist talking about their experience of making an etching, watch the video  on our blog.

5 Foil Block

Foil blocking is the process of applying metal foil to a surface. It uses a metal die – like a stamp – onto which a design is either chemically etched or crafted by hand from supplied artwork. Dies are made from various metals and can be either 'flat' (foil only) or 'combination' (when both foiling and embossing is done in one pass). This technique produces effects that are practically impossible to achieve using traditional ink-based printing.

6 Giclée

The term 'giclée' (pronounced 'gee-clay' and derived from the French word meaning ‘to squirt or spray’), refers to the inkjet printing process used to produce archival-standard prints that ensure both fidelity to the original and an incredibly fine level of detail. To further enhance the final piece, varnishes, metallics and other finishes can be silkscreened onto giclée prints.

7 Gravure

In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a highly polished cylinder with a solid-steel centre and a thinly laid, soft-copper 'coat' wrapped around it that is engraved with the desired design. The ink is applied directly to the cylinder and fills its engraved (recessed) areas. The surface is then 'wiped' with a razor-sharp steel strip known as a 'doctor blade', leaving the non-image area clean while the ink remains in the recessed areas. A sheet of paper is then pressed against the engraved cylinder and rubber roller, onto which the ink is transferred, thus printing the design. The major benefit of gravure printing is its ability to print fine tonal work and gradation of colour using a single cylinder; it's often used for high-volume, high-quality print runs in, for example, wallpaper manufacture.

8 Lenticular

Lenticular printing is a technology in which lenticular lenses are used to produce images with an illusion of depth, or that appear to change or move as they are viewed from different angles. This process begins with several images being sliced into strips and interlaced together. A plastic sheet containing a set amount of prism-like linear lenses is then placed on top, and perfectly aligned with the images. Each lens acts as a magnifying glass to enlarge and display a portion of the image that changes depending on where the viewer is standing. The combination of multiple lenses and interlaced images works together to create a 'topographical' image: this is because each eye views the print from a slightly different angle, seeing perspective views of the same subject, and thus producing a stereoscopic, three-dimensional effect.

9 Lithography

Lithographic printing relies on the principle that oil and water don't mix. In a modern lithographic process, the printing plate is made from aluminum covered in a polymer coating. To create an image to print from, the image area of the coated plate is hardened using thermal fusing while the non-image area remains soft. Once the image is set in this way, the plate is fixed around a cylinder in the printing machine and 'dampened' by a system of rollers, then passes under a set of ink rollers. At this point the greasy ink is repelled by the moisture on the plate and only sticks to the image area, thus 'inking up' the plate. The most common form of lithographic printing is 'offset'. In this process, an in-reverse image is offset onto a rubber sheet known as a 'blanket' that, wrapped round a cylinder, is then used to make a 'right reading' print of the image on paper.

To reproduce full-colour pictures using lithography, it is necessary to print in the three primary colours plus black.

10 Monoprint

A 'one-off' technique, monoprint produces only a single copy of an exact image rather than multiple copies as other print techniques do – even if the resulting prints are very similar one to the next, they will never be exactly the same. Essentially a printed painting, a monoprint is made in one of two ways. In the 'subtractive' method, a sheet of glass or metal is inked up or painted on, and then an image created by wiping or scraping away the covering medium, with paper laid on top to capture it in the form of a print. In the 'additive' method, ink or paint is added to the printing plate – made from materials including metal, wood or stone – and the image is then printed directly onto the paper. The term can also refer to prints made using a variety of elements that change from one impression to the next, or to work made using etched blocks that fail to produce identical images because they are inked and wiped in an expressive manner between prints.

11 Photogravure

Photogravure (sometimes known as 'heliogravure') is a method of reproducing paintings, graphic drawings or photographs using a combination of techniques taken from photography and etching. The source image is exposed onto a copper plate with a light-sensitive coating, the metal plate then etched with acid, and ink applied to the printing plate. The plate is wiped to remove surplus ink and then run through an etching press with a sheet of archival paper. Of all the photo-engraving methods there is none that produces such impressive results in terms of both detail and tone as photogravure.

12 Silkscreen

Silkscreen printing (also know as 'serigraphy') is a technique for making exceptionally accurate fine-art prints using stencils. Ink is applied onto a mesh screen that only enables it to pass through in particular areas, thereby printing an image on paper or another substrate placed underneath. The ink is poured at one end of the screen, which is then lowered into position over the printing surface. Next the ink is flooded across the desired image with the aid of a squeegee, which is then immediately pulled back again, pushing a thin layer of ink through the non-resistant sections of the screen onto the paper below. One colour is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicoloured image or design. Silkscreen is the favoured means for many fine artists to make multiple copies of their work, as well as achieve vibrant colour effects. The process also allows artists to have an exceptional amount of involvement in the printing process, creating an end product that one is in a sense more like an original work than a straight 'reproduction'.

Here is an artist talking about their experience of making a silkscreen print, watch the video  on our blog.

13 Woodcut

Woodcut is the first and most enduring form of all the print techniques: woodcuts were first seen in 9th-century China, and Western artists have been making woodcut prints since the 14th century. Woodcut soon became a popular medium for the mass distribution of religious and instructive imagery in Europe, particularly through the medium of books since, with the invention of movable type, the text didn’t have to be cut each time, just rearranged, and both text and image could be printed together. In the 17th and 18th centuries, woodcuts were developed in Japan to an exceptional level of artistic refinement, creating what is now known as the 'Ukiyo-e' period or style. Creating a standard block for a woodcut involves cutting along the grain of a piece of wood and the grain itself often becoming part of the print, showing itself through as a texture. However, the wood block can also be engraved, with cuts made into the end grain of the wood – this is printed in the the same way but the block can hold much finer detail, with ink being applied to the top surface rather than into the incisions.