Printmaking is an art form consisting of the production of images, usually on paper but occasionally on fabric, parchment, plastic, or other support, by various techniques of multiplication. The artist carries out the printing work or directly supervises the process and thus, fine prints, as they are known collectively, are considered original works of art, even though they can exist in multiples.
A photographic reproduction of an art print is not considered an original work of fine art. However, in the digital age a need for clearer rules has risen as to what is considered an original art print.
The reason each art print is considered original is that the printing process requires careful design and planning by the artist from start to finish. Each method has its own style and characteristics and an artist has their reasons for choosing them. Therefore, the mechanical process of printing can be done by another professional, according to the artists instructions, skilled in the relevant printing method. Multiple prints of the same plate can be produced and the artist numbers and signs each copy. It is common to state each participants role in the artwork by distinguishing for example, who drew the design and who performed the printing work. An artist can also use a single plate in which they have created the outline or sketch of the artwork with different printing methods. Different methods and plate materials can also be combined in order to best realize the artist vision.
The printing process includes the printing plate (which can be copper, zinc, aluminum, polymer plates for engraving or etching; or polymer for lithography; stone, blocks of wood for woodcuts and wood engravings; and linoleum for linocuts) a printing surface such as paper or fabric and a press, with a large roll, which can be described as similar to a mangle.
The basic idea of print making is that an artist creates a printing plate from a chosen material on which they produce their design by for example, drawing with various equipment and in some cases with the help of chemicals. The details of how this is done vary within different techniques. Ink or paint is then spread across the plate and in some cases wiped off leaving the ink only in desired areas. The plate is placed in a press where the design is reproduced onto a chosen surface such as paper creating an image.
Some of the most common printmaking techniques are woodcut (the oldest printmaking method), linocut, engraving, dry point, etching, mezzotint, etching, aquatint, carborundum, lithography, serigraphy or silk screen.