art guide
Last Updated: July 2012
Introduction | What is a Print ? | History | Processes & Practitioners

Printmaking Techniques - Relief

Relief printing techniques were used by the Egyptians in as early as 500 BC to print on fabric. This process was known as les indiennes. A design was first drawn and then cut out of a piece of wood using gouges or knives. Once complete, the raised surface that remained on the piece of wood was inked and pressed onto fabric. The untouched surface area would appear in the colour of the ink used, giving form to the design. A printing press was not always used to apply pressure; sometimes the back of the paper was simply rubbed or pressed by hand with a simple tool.

In the mid 1400s, Guttenberg made the first printing machine. Artists such as Albrecht D'rer (1471 -1528) and Hans Holbein (1497 - 1543) were famous for their use of relief printmaking techniques. With the aid of Guttenberg's press, many of their prints were published together as books.

Today, artists use the same technique to print on paper, canvas and other surfaces. If a design consists of multiple colours, individual blocks of wood have to be carved for each colour in the design. All relief techniques require the artist to first draw their subject on the surface of the matrix, and then cut away the entire remaining area, which is not part of the desired image. Woodcut, linocut and wood engravings are the three main types of relief printing techniques.

Some of the other artists who have employed these techniques in their practice include Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Zarina Hashmi, Vincent van Gogh, Haren Das, Rini Dhumal, Maurice de Vlaminck, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Jean Arp, Shibu Natesan, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Chittaprosad among others.