A glossary of printmaking terms

Relief Printing: Printing from raised images, as in letterpress and flexography.

Woodcut: A print made from a design cut in a block of wood, once widely used for illustrations in books. Woodcutting involves the use of specialized carving tools to create a block or matrix designated for printing. The sharp tools cut into the wood, creating the highlights of the image. The surface of what is left takes ink from the brayer, a hand-tool that breaks up the ink,  and transfers it onto the paper. Using the etching press with consistent pressure ensures that the prints have a consistent look. Block printing is one of the most basic processes of printmaking and dates back to ancient times.  

Linocut: a design or form carved in relief on a block of linoleum. Linoleum blocks are low cost and easy to carve. The most common two are types are gold and grey. Most often the tools are held in the palm of the artist's hand to lend maximum control. Tools come in a variety of shapes.

Wood Block relief print

Wood Block relief print

Multi Block Relief Printing: The use of multiple blocks to create more colorful and complex images. Creating a background matrix that can be used on multiple prints can give a body of work a consistent look. The background color is often a lighter color or transparent and the foreground is a bolder hue. Images can be stacked on top of each other or in combination of different size blocks.

Reduction Relief (suicide prints): The use of one block to create multiple colored prints, sometimes called overprinting. Lining up the matrix with the paper over and over is difficult. Once a portion is carved away, there is no going back, thus this method has been called suicide printing.


Monotype: A single print taken from a design created in oil paint or printing ink on glass or metal. 

Color Separation: The most common monotype is a combination of printing and painting. It uses colored inks painted on a thin piece of Plexiglas and run though an etching press in order to transfer the image to paper. Unlike many printmaking processes, monotype rarely produces more than one viable print. Background colors can be applied, with other images then painted directly on top. The reduction method can also be used in monotype when starting with a solid background. Shapes can be wiped away or removed from the block.

Polymer "engraved" Intaglio print

Polymer "engraved" Intaglio print

Intaglio: A design incised or engraved into a material. 

Etching: The process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in the metal. Ferric Chloride is used to etch copper plates. Asphaltum is applied to block out the etching process to create line etches as well as to simulate the aquatint printmaking process.  

Metal Engraving: An image is engraved into a plate using engraving tools and metals such as zinc or copper. Ink is carded onto the plate and wiped away, leaving ink in the plate where the metal was removed. Paper is soaked in water and blotted dry to absorb the ink. When the plate is run through an etching press, the ink is pulled out of the plate and left on the paper. Engravings can be printed over and over with little or no wear on the plate or matrix.