Technique Tuesdays: 10 Printmaking Techniques to Try Now

No doubt you’ve done some form of printing, but it’s probably time to mix things up and try some new printmaking techniques. With just a few supplies, a little time, and a daring spirit, you can add excitement to your artwork by forging new creative paths. Printmaking plays nicely with so many forms of mixed media: stitch, collage, art journaling, book making, and more. So grab some paint, a brayer or brush, and check out these 10 printmaking techniques you can do right now to create beautiful and original prints:

1. It’s all about the base: What you print on is just as important as what you print. In Printmaking Unleashed, author Traci Bautista suggests some unconventional printing surfaces to work with. The next time you print, try these as substrates instead of plain white paper: kids’ storybook pages, newspaper and newsprint, fused plastic bags, paper towels, bark paper, and rice paper. The texture, color, and weight of the substrate, combined with various printing techniques, are sure to offer exciting results.

2. Go natural: Eco dyeing involves using leaves and plant material to print paper and fabric. Dorit Elisha loves the process for several reasons: the unique and unmatched results, the fact that supplies can be found in your backyard, and the element of surprise. “You never know how it will look or what shades will appear,” she says in her article “Eco-Dyed Collage” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. By bundling plants with papers and fabrics and boiling them in water, the plants become imprinted on the substrates. Her tip for printing success: For well-defined leaf prints on fabric or paper, create a tight bundle so there is direct contact between the plant material and the cloth or paper.

Eco-dyed collage by Dorit Elisha

Eco dyeing produces gorgeous prints from nature (Art by Dorit Elisha, photo by Sharon White Photography)

3. Layer upon layer: Gelli Arts Gel Printing Plates make monoprinting fun and easy, but you don’t have to stop at just the print. Joan Bess, who created the Gelli Plate, likes to start with printed fabric, monoprint on top of it, and then add an extra layer with hand-drawn doodles. In her article “A Printed and Doodled Pillow” in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop, she uses a 3″ x 5″ Gelli plate to print a design onto pre-printed fabric, using fabric paint. Then she uses the new patterns as a jumping-off point to doodle with fabric pens, markers, and acrylic paint pens. Adding yet another layer, she hand stitches around some of the designs as well. Here’s a great tip for printing on fabric: Use the wrong side to print on; the muted patterns and colors will show off the monoprinting and doodles.

Monoprinted and doodled fabric by Joan Bess

Fabric blocks were mono printed, then doodled (Art and photo by Joan Bess).

4. On the big screen: Screen printing produces gorgeous results on paper and fabric, but the process can be laborious and time consuming. Thermofax screens are a great alternative, since they offer similar results with a fraction of the trouble. You can purchase pre-made screens on online sites such as Etsy, and some sellers offer custom screens. In the May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer shows printmaking techniques using a Thermofax screen on a fabric collage apron. After collaging the apron with fabric scraps and paint, she places a Thermofax screen on top of a section of the apron and applies a line of ink on one side. She then drags the ink over the screen using an old credit card to create a print (you can also use a squeegee). For best results, Julie recommends using block printing or screen printing ink, and cleaning the screen right after using it.

Thermofax screen printing by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer

Thermofax screens produce stunning prints (Art by Julie Fei-Fan Bazler, photo by Sharon White Photography).

5. Go with the flow: We often think of printing as creating crisp images on a surface, but Lynn Krawczyk has a great method for producing more fluid designs on fabric. In her book Intentional Printing, she shows two methods for producing a flowing look, using Dye-Na-Flow paints: Drip the paint over fabric using a pipette, allowing it to settle randomly in little pools, for a splatter effect. Or, try dipping a foam brush in the paint and swiping it across the fabric to create lovely curved patterns.

6. Don’t fear the ghost prints: Monoprinting produces stunning one-off prints using stencils, found materials, stamps, or just paint. After pulling a print, though, don’t hurry to clean your printing plate. Instead, Traci Bautista recommends creating what’s called a ghost print. In Printmaking Unleashed, she explains that the second or even third print pulled from a plate is called a ghost print, “because the end result is a much lighter version of the original print.” Try spraying the plate with water to help saturate the paint before pulling subsequent prints. The result, she says, will be a beautiful watercolor-like effect.

7. Colla back: Collagraph prints may sound fancy, but as Dina Wakley explains, this printmaking technique is pretty easy to create, and offer incredible results. To make a collagraph plate, simply glue printable items onto cardstock or paper. In her book Art Journal Courage, she describes how she uses punched shapes, string, grass, sequin waste—basically anything that will create texture—and glues them onto paper to make a plate. Load up the plate with paint, lay down a piece of paper, and burnish it to get a print. Bonus tip: Create a collagraph from a simple piece of shaped cardstock that’s been punched, and glue the punched shapes to the cut cardstock. Brayer paint over the cardstock piece, print it onto an art journal page, and then use the collagraph plate, whole or cut up, on the page as well.

8. Seek and ye shall find things to print with: There’s a thrill to printing with found objects. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Bubble wrap, string, pencil erasers—all produce great designs, and can be used alone or layered. Rae Missigman is no stranger to using found objects for printing. In her Art Lesson Vol. 6: Nature’s Stamps, she prints on a flat canvas panel using paint and a cut branch and a feather. For the branch, she applies a heavy-body paint to the cut end of a small stick with a wedge or sponge. Rae recommends that the first application of paint be heavy, which will prime the wood for stamping. Also, stamp on scrap paper first to remove any excess paint, before printing on the canvas. You can get several prints from one application of paint, each a little lighter than the previous one.

Nature prints by Rae Missigman

This printmaking technique uses tree branches and paint (Art and photo by Rae Missigman).

9. To a tea: Jennifer Coyne Qudeen loves using unconventional tools to make prints, too. Her mark-making arsenal includes paper towel tubes, corks, and tea bags. Tea bag prints make wonderful backgrounds for art journal pages, or as prints on their own, as she describes in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. To create tea bag prints, let a tea bag steep in hot water, place the used tea bag between blank pages of a journal, and place something heavy on top. For some color variation, place a rusty washer on the page with the tea bag, and try different types and varieties of teas.

Tea bag prints by Jennifer Coyne Qudeen

Teabags create lovely prints on art journal pages (Art by Jennifer Coyne Qudeen, photo by Sharon White Photography).

10. It’s all in the wrist: Sometimes the difference between a good print and a great print is in the printmaking technique itself. Follow these easy steps from Julie Fei-Fan Balzer for printing large images, as described in her book, Carve Stamp Play: Leave the printing piece facing up, and ink or paint the image. Press the paper or fabric to the image. Using a printing baren or your hand, apply even pressure in a circular motion. Peel the paper back to check your print.

Have we piqued your interest? These resources from North Light and the Interweave store will take your art even further, so dive in!

Printmaking Unleashed by Traci Bautista

Printmaking Unleashed by Traci Bautista has unique ideas for making prints.

July/August 2016 Cloth Paper Scissors

Check out eco-dye printing in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.

Stencil Girl by Mary Beth Shaw

Learn how to print using stencils in Stencil Girl by Mary Beth Shaw

Art Journal Courage by Dina Wakley

Art Journal Courage by Dina Wakley offers great printmaking techniques for art journal pages.

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