Different Types of Printing Techniques and Their Uses


Visual artists who want to expand their repertoire may want to learn about the different types of printing, their aesthetic differences and typical applications. Printing - further than what you can get in a print shop and in the context of art - is the creation of a template whereby an artist can make copies or ‘prints’ of their designs. An artist may want to do this to make multiple copies of a work, but usually it’s done because the process of printing transforms an original design in many different ways, bringing unique properties to the print. There are three main types of printing: Relief, Intaglio and Planographic.


Relief Printing: Woodcut, Metalcut, Linocut

Relief printing is when an artist carves out the areas of a flat-surfaced object where they don’t want ink to be imprinted. The remaining raised areas are inked and then pressed upon a printing material. Some relief printing examples include woodcut, metalcut or linocut printing. This printing type is good for making images with stark contrasts. A letterpress uses this type to print letters, such as for books or newspapers.


Intaglio Printing: Engraving, Drypoint, Mezzotint, Etching, Aquatint

The opposite of Relief Printing is Intaglio Printing. The carved-out areas - typically a metal or plastic plate - are where ink is applied and then imprinted upon material. It is used when clear, full lines are needed. There are many subtypes of Intaglio such as engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, etching or aquatint printmaking. Each of these methods vary based on how the grooves are created, making it perhaps the most aesthetically flexible printing type.




Planographic Printing: Lithography, Screen

Planographic printing method is done using a fully flat surface and has multiple subtypes for an artist to explore.


One of its main subtypes is lithography printing, in which a design is drawn on a flat stone using an oily crayon. After moistening the stone, ink is applied, which gravitates toward the greasy design and away from wet areas. The design is then pressed onto a material, such as paper for artistic applications or a rubber cylinder for commercial ones.

Lithographic stone, Edinburgh City of Print, via Wikimedia Commons


Another planographic subtype is screen printing. This is when ink is poured through a mesh screen (usually made of something synthetic, but traditionally silk) with a pre-stencilled design on it, forming an image on the other side of all non-stencilled areas. It can be used on many types of materials - including fabric, plastic, wood, glass, and metal - to make things such as clothing, posters and products.


Printing is important because it provides any artist many avenues to explore with very few limits as to what can be produced. There are many printing subtypes within the foundational ones which can each serve a unique purpose. Understanding the differences between printing types is a great way to expand your creative potential. Let us know if you have or plan to try any of these methods in the comments!


By Brian Evancic