There’s a wide variety of techniques and terms in the wide world of printmaking. And if you’re like me, you might find differentiating the lingo to be a bit confusing. So let’s explore the definitions, similarities, and differences between printmaking, relief printmaking, block printmaking, linoleum printmaking, and stamp-making - just to clear things up.
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Printmaking: The Solid Foundation
Printmaking is a broad term containing a range of techniques that involve transferring images from a material, such as a block or a plate, onto another surface, like paper. It has a rich history dating back centuries, with its roots in ancient civilizations. Over time, different methods evolved, each with its unique characteristics.
We could talk about this for a while, but we’ll keep this one short and sweet.
Relief Printmaking: The Big Umbrella
Relief printmaking is a technique where a design is carved onto a block, leaving the raised portion to hold the ink. When printed, the raised areas transfer the ink onto the paper, creating the desired image. Relief printmaking techniques have a long lineage, with amazingly intricate woodcut prints dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasties in China. It then gained prominence during the European Renaissance, thanks to the iconic works of Albrecht Dürer.
And that’s about the extent of my Art History recollection - no offense intended to my high school art teacher.
Block Printmaking: The Also-Known-As
Block printmaking (also) refers to a technique in which an image is carved or engraved into a solid block of material. The areas that are intended to be printed are left raised, while the areas to be blank or unprinted are cut away. Ink is then applied to the raised surface, and the image is transferred onto paper or another material by pressing it against the inked block. Block printmaking allows for the creation of multiple prints from a single block, making it a popular method for producing editions of artworks.
Block printing techniques can include:
This is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of block printing. It involves carving an image onto a block of wood, leaving the raised areas for printing.
Linocut is a type of relief printing similar to woodcut, using linoleum blocks instead of wood. Linoleum is softer and easier to carve than wood, allowing for finer details. This is the technique that I use on a regular basis in my home studio.
Rubber Block Printing
A soft rubber block is used as the carving material in this method. It is often used in educational or craft settings and is a great opportunity for beginners to try carving techniques on a soft surface before transitioning into harder mediums.
Foam Block Printing
Foam block printing is another beginner-friendly printmaking technique where foam sheets are used as the carving material. It is a simple and inexpensive method popular in classrooms.
Relief printmaking and block printmaking are essentially the same things. Both terms are often used interchangeably to refer to the same technique. The terms relief printmaking and block printmaking are broad categories that include specific techniques within them, such as woodcuts and linocuts. So while the terms relief printmaking and block printmaking are often used interchangeably, they can also refer to specific methods within the broader category of relief/block printing.
Linoleum Printmaking: The One I Love
Linoleum printmaking, or Linocut printmaking, is a specific type of relief printmaking technique or block printmaking technique where the design is carved onto a linoleum block.
Oh, have I mentioned this yet?: To create a linocut print, ink is applied to the raised surface of the linoleum block using a roller or brayer. The inked block is then pressed onto paper or another material, transferring the image onto the paper. The process can be done by hand or with the use of a press.
The resulting prints often show strong contrasts between the inked areas and the untouched areas, which can make some pretty incredible compositions - but I’m a bit biased.
You can experiment with different carving tools, techniques, and ink applications to create a variety of textures, lines, and tonal effects in linocut prints. In fact, I have a complete list of my favorite linocut tools and materials AND a video all about the best block printing supplies for beginners. The flexibility of linoleum allows for some really expressive mark-making, and it has a special place in many a printmaker’s heart.
Similar to other relief printmaking methods, linocut printmaking enables artists to produce multiple prints, known as an edition, from a single carved linoleum block. Each print in the edition is considered an original artwork, though they are produced from the same carved block.
Stamp Making: The Small But Mighty
Stamp making is a playful form of relief printmaking where artists create custom stamps for printing. Stamps can be made from various materials like rubber, foam, or even potatoes! Artists carve their designs onto the stamp's surface and typically mount them to a wood handle. The stamps are inked using an ink pad and the stamp is then pressed onto fabric, paper, or another surface. Many stamp-makers are known for their intricate patterns and motifs. Stamp-making is accessible, fun, and a great way to introduce printmaking to beginners or incorporate the satisfying carving process into your crafting.
Printmaking Similarities and Differences
While these techniques share the foundation of relief printmaking, each has its unique charm. So let’s see here…block printmaking and linoleum printmaking are similar, as linoleum blocks are popular for block prints. Linoleum printmaking can be considered a specific subset of block printmaking. On the other hand, stamp-making can be seen as a playful offshoot of relief printmaking, offering a more accessible and experimental approach. That makes sense, right?
All that to say: In all these techniques, creativity is the common denominator when designing your print, carving the medium, inking, and transferring the image onto the final surface. Each method has its own learning curve, materials, and visual characteristics, and they’re all worth a shot. So I think you should carve out some time to try them out and don’t forget to let me know how it goes!
To view more of my resources for artists and creatives, head to my resources page.