What Does a Printmaker Do?

Whitney Leigh White

In the 9th century, printmaking originated within China, and by the 15th century, it had made its way to Europe. A printmaker, also known as a type of artist, performs a variety of interesting job duties. He or she generally has the ability to carve or etch designs onto just about any type of surface, and, afterwards, these etchings and/or carvings are filled with ink. Subsequent to being filled with ink, the design is then imprinted onto another surface. This type of printing is very advantageous because it easily allows for a printmaker to reproduce his or her design a multiple amount of times, with only slight variations from one imprint to another.

Printmaking was a major art form during Japan's isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate.
Printmaking was a major art form during Japan's isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate.

To become a successful printmaker, a person must study woodcutting, lithography, and a number of other techniques. In order to carve or etch designs, the artist will usually perform some type of incision, cutting away, or drawing on some type of surface. This is generally accomplished with some type of special tool, and, in some circumstances, by stencil.

Screen printing is a form of printmaking.
Screen printing is a form of printmaking.

After a printmaker has created his or her desired design, he or she then fills it with ink. Ink can be applied to print designs in an assortment of ways. In most circumstances, when the design has been created through screen-printing, woodcutting, or etching, ink is applied through the use of blocks or plates. If multiple colors are used, separate plates or blocks must be used. Most printmakers will use an average of three to four plates for each print they design.

Once ink has effectively been applied by the printmaker, he or she will then transfer, or imprint, the image to the final surface. To transfer the print, the surfaces are simply pressed together, either by a printing press or by hand. The initial surface the artist created his or her design upon can be used multiple times to transfer ink to another surface. Each art piece that is created from the same print surface is considered to be part of an edition.

Printmakers must decide themselves which type of printmaking method to utilize when it comes to effectively reproducing work. Many times, after creating proofs, the artist will examine them and decide if any corrections need to be made. If corrections are needed, the printmaker then completes them. Sometimes, when a printmaker works for a company, he or she will be in charge of preparing preliminary sketches. He or she may also be responsible for teaching printmaking techniques.

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