top of page

The Art of Printmaking

By Loo Foh Sang

Printmaking is an art of indirectness and repetition. It involves the use of various tools and materials, in the three stages of “composing”, “plate-making” and “printing” to convey the artist’s expression. Each stage is equally important and requires a scientific way of thinking. Systematic and structured planning is the key for printmaking from the very first idea to the end product

The Frenchmen call it Gravure or Estampe, the Germans call it Druckplatte, the English refer to it as Print, and the Americans call it Graphic Art. But I think the Chinese term “版画” (ban hua) or “drawing of the plate”, best describes the essence of printmaking.

Loo Foh Sang, Parisian Sunset, Engraving, Etching & Aquatint

Printmaking can be classified into four categories: relief prints, intaglio prints, planographic prints, and screen prints. Relief prints include woodcut, wood engraving, linocut, collagraph, object print, and others. Intaglio prints mainly use metal plates made from materials such as copper, zinc and alloys, among others. Planographic prints or lithography create images via a chemical reaction on fine-grain metal or limestone. Today’s most widely-used printmaking technique, photo-screen printing, uses photo emulsion technique on stone, metal or silk under ultraviolet light exposure to make prints.

It should be stressed that multiple copies of prints on paper printed from a single plate may not be identical. This is due to the fact that printing is done manually; the pressure of the printing press, the colour intensity applied and the overlay accuracy will inevitably differ, resulting in slight variations to the impressions. As long as the body of prints produced portrays a similar feeling, they are considered as the same work.

Loo Foh Sang, Sailing in the Universe, Intaglio & Relief Monoprint

Since printmaking enables the artwork to be produced as multiple copies of the same edition, can the artist or print publisher produce unlimited number of prints from a single plate? Obviously no. The common practice for an Artist’s Proofs is to have 10 percent of an edition that is reserved for the artist. These proofs are identical in term of impression and outside the regular edition, they are marked A.P. or A/P: in French Epreuve d’ Artiste, marked as e. a. or E/A. Trial proofs are early working proofs with experimental changes in colour or wiping to visualise various effects. Hence, if the artist, or upon the collector’s demand, has determined on an edition of say 100, the A/P shall be about 10 editions, the printed editions as a whole shall be limited to 110 copies. The edition numbering shall accurately show their position in the edition as 1/100, 2/100 …100/100. Bound by professional ethics to maintain trust and integrity of the artist and confidence of the collector, the printed copies should not exceed this maximum limit. After an edition has been printed, the plate or block may be defaced with cancellation marks. Alternatively, it may be left dried with colour printing ink as it has been printed and coated with clear lacquer for keeping, academic research purpose or display in museums.

Essay excerpted from :

29 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page