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Creative Techniques: Printmaking

by Margaret Penney | December 16, 2017

For this installment of Creative Techniques we’re going to look at the art of printmaking. Printmaking differs from printing in that it’s a decidedly creative process of making prints that are original and artistic. Prints from printmaking are often one-of-a-kind and not mass produced. Printmaking as an art has existed for centuries; the earliest examples of printmaking are relief printing techniques like woodcut, dating back to the year 300.

Adobe applications like Photoshop and illustrator have styles and effects that allow artists and designers to emulate printmaking techniques within the applications, while many artists still opt for printmaking itself. Let’s explore some of the ways that contemporary creatives create work using printmaking and printmaking techniques.


Wood block is a relief printing technique. The artist creates their work by carving an image into the surface of a block of wood. The wood is cut along the wood grain which gives the illustrations a distinctive look. Wood block originated in China during the Han dynasty. Early designs had only three colors and prints were made on silk then paper. Contemporary illustrators find inspiration from early wood block printing and the beauty of their traditional color and simplicity.

The Swashbucklers project by Roman Klonek is a bold contemporary illustration set in a woodcut style.

The Woodcut Brush Kit is a great brushes add-on for helping illustrators create realistic-looking woodcut designs.


Linocut is also a relief printing technique and a more contemporary variant of wood cut. Linocut prints are made using linoleum as the relief surface. A v-shaped chisel or gouge is used to carve into the linoleum and create a design that is a reversal or mirror image of the parts that will end up being printed. Linocut was a popular printmaking technique invented by the artists of Die Brucke in Germany between 1905 and 1913 and one of its first uses was for wallpaper printing.

Berlin artist Riikka Laakso’s book illustration project is a wonderful example of how linocut can be used for creative storytelling.

The Artifex Forge has a great Linocut Kit with brushes, layer styles, psds and ink textures that helps designers create digital work in the linocut style.


Engraving is a printmaking technique that involves incising a design into a hard flat surface like glass, gold, copper, or steel. Engraving as a printmaking process involves the creation of an intaglio printing plate made of metal that has the design cut into it. The intaglio plate is then used for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations. Some of the earliest uses of engraving were for making maps and scientific illustrations of plants and animals. Designers and artists who like a vintage and retro-inspired visual style are drawn to engraving as a creative technique.

Kevin Cantrell’s Citizens Playing Cards project demonstrates how an old technique can be transformed within a new design to amazing effect.

To learn more about creating an engraving style using Adobe Illustrator check out this tutorial How to Create an Engraved Illustration Effect in Illustrator.


Screen printing is a printmaking technique still in wide use today. Screen printing is a lot like how it sounds: Mesh screens combined with blocking stencils are inked using a blade or squeegee and applied to surfaces like paper and fabric. Screen printing was first used in China during the Song Dynasty around 968 AD and was popularized later in Japan where new screen printing methods were created and adapted. In the 1960’s screen printing was in style again and used by artists from Andy Warhol’s Factory. Screen printing also began being used for T-shirt printing at this time where it is still commonly used now.

La Piscine screen prints series by Virginie Morgand is a beautiful collection of contemporary vintage styled illustrations in vivid and cheerful colors.

The Ultimate Screen Printing Kit simplifies the process of making digital artwork in a screen print style.




Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


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