Printmaking History - a medium of art through time


The term print in the art world covers anything from a photographic copy of an art work to a limited edition etching. A fine art print is an original art work with a unique edition number. It is created by transferring a uniquely designed image onto paper from an etched plate, a lithographic stone, or other medium.The print work is created to be part of a unique numbered edition.



Fine Art printmaking goes back to Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) and many illustrious artists have been attracted to printmaking because of its inherent artistic qualities and its potential to be widely distributed. Artists who worked in print are referred to as painter etchers and leading painter-etchers in art history include Rembrandt, Goya, Whistler, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Warhol. Printmaking has an extensive and interesting history and many artists have favoured it both as a means of  giving their work a wider distribution and for the intrinsic quality of print media.

The earliest recognised successes in Irish printmaking were the mezzotint engravers of the 1700s, such as James McArdle, who collaborated with leading English painters of the day including Joshua Reynolds. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century artists such as James Barry and Daniel Maclise experimented with and published in a variety of print media.  The modernist period, from the turn of the twentieth century, is marked by the achievements of a group of female artists including the etcher Estella Solomons, and relief artists Wilhelmina Geddes and Elizabeth Rivers. Harry Kernoff produced woodcuts throughout his career, and later, Louis leBrocquy, Robert Ballagh, Cecil King and Patrick Hickey produced significant works in print.

The achievements of these artists and the foundation of print studios such as the Graphic Studio in the early 1960s and later the Black church print studio (1982) lead to the development of a strong and vibrant practice in fine art printmaking in Ireland for many years. It has been popular with many well known Irish artists including the afore mentioned Louis le Brocquy, William Crozier, Pat Scott, Tony O’Malley, Hughie O’Donoghue, Donald Teskey and Michael Farrell to name but a few. For the collector, Inis Ink provides access to original work by these major Irish artists.


Printmaking Techniques

The following is a brief introduction to commonly used printing techniques. Each technique will generally fall into one of four categories; Relief, Intaglio, Stencil or Planographic, with the exception of Mono-types which involve a process allowing only one print to be made.



Relief printing involves the carving of pieces from a block of material leaving a raised area where ink will be applied. The image is subsequently transferred to paper.

Woodcut is one of the earliest print techniques.   It comprises the engraving of an image onto a block of wood. A design is transferred to the surface of the woodblock. The areas around the design are cut or gouged out leaving the design in relief. Ink is applied to this raised surface, paper is placed on this inked block and the image is transferred to paper using pressure applied from a press. Pear, apple and cherry are popular woods used. The works of artist Gerry Cox are examples of  the use of Woodblock.

Full Moon and Bamboo

Gerry CoxFull Moon and Bamboo, woodcut

Linocut involves a similar process to that of a woodcut with the exception that the image is carved from a linoleum block instead of a wood block. The absence of the wood grain results in a softer working surface and allows for a more detailed finished product. The linocut was revived in Europe by artists such as Pablo Picasso. The works of artist Louise Leonard are examples of the use of Linocut.

Enniscorthy Corner Boys Print

Louise LeonardEnniscorthy Corner Boys, linocut


Intaglio printmaking involves the printing of an image usually from a copper or zinc plate. The plate is incised using a sharp instrument or acid and the grooves created  are filled with ink. The image is created when  the ink is retrieved from the recessed areas of the plate.

Etching is a technique through which prints are made by inscribing an image on to a metal plate that is then bitten with acid. Also called acid etching, the plate is first coated with an  acid resistant waxy substance (called ground) and a sharp tool is used to incise the image lines. The acid bites through the metal in the exposed lines and the longer the plate is immersed in the acid, the coarser the exposed lines will be. The works of artist  Stephen Lawlor are examples of the use of Etching.

Carborundum printmaking is a technique in which the image is created by adding light passages to a dark field. It is a relatively new process invented in the US during the 1930s that allows artists to work on a large scale. Normally,  cardboard or wood plates are coated in a layer of carborundum or screen and the lights are created by filling in the texture with screen filler or glue.Carborundum prints may be printed as intaglio plates. The works of Tony O’Malley are examples to the use of Carborundum.

Hed Etching 8x10cm 2013 by Stephen Lawlor

Stephen Lawlor: Hed,  2013, etching, 8x10cm


Stencil techniques incorporate the layering of colours to a piece of material where an image is created from the areas that are not stopped or blocked by the stencil.

Silk Screen is a form of printmaking which uses a stencil based method. Using a squeegee, ink is applied to a stretched, impermeable piece of material such as silk. The ink passes through the mesh or open areas directly onto paper or canvas. The desired image is created by ink being forced through the areas which are not blocked by the stencil.



Planographic methods of printing apply much less pressure to the paper than those of Relief or Intaglio. Certain methods of planographic printmaking may use no press at all. The surface ink is neither raised nor indented.

Lithography, created in Germany in the 1790’s, relies on the chemical repulsion between oil and water. The artist uses oily or greasy ink to draw on a limestone surface. The limestone surface is saturated with water which is repelled in the areas covered with the oily substance. An oily ink is then applied with a roller over the stone which sticks to the already greasy sections of the stone while being repelled by the wet areas. Paper is subsequently pressed to the stone and the ink image is transferred. Aluminium is frequently used now instead of stone. The works of Liam O Broin are examples of Lithographs.

Trinity College Dublin

Liam O’BroinTrinity College Dublin, lithograph
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