Painting and Printmaking Techniques


This section provides a brief explanation of the main techniques used in painting and printmaking, and explains the important differences between original prints and reproduction prints.


Oil painting

Oil painting is a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in drying oils. It enables a unique fusion of and variation in colour, texture and tones.

Watercolour painting

Watercolour is a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. There is one basic difference between watercolour and all other heavy painting mediums such as oils – its transparency.


Gouache or body colour is a painting method in which a gum or a white pigment is added to watercolours to make them opaque. In watercolour, the tiny particles of pigment become enmeshed in the fibre of the paper. In gouache, the colour lies on the surface of the paper, forming a continuous layer or coating similar to oils.


We tend to think of ‘prints’ as no more than copies of an original picture, but prints can be just as original as a watercolour or an oil painting. It’s important to make a distinction between ‘reproduction prints’ – which are copies of an original picture – and ‘original prints’ which have been created by the artist using one of:

  • Etching: dating from the 16th century;
  • Lithography: dating from the 19th century, or
  • Screenprinting: dating from the 20th century.

Once original prints have been created, the plate or screen is destroyed, and each print is inspected, signed by the artist and numbered to create a limited edition. Sometimes a print will be described as an ‘Artist’s Proof’ (A/P), and this is a trial version which the artist has approved.


The main printing techniques used are as follows.

Etching, engraving and aquatint

In the same way as using a pencil on paper, etchings or engravings are drawn on to a prepared metal plate – typically copper – through an acid resistant covering. The plate is then immersed in acid which bites into the drawn lines while the rest of the plate is protected by varnish. In an aquatint, whole areas are exposed to the acid. To create a print, the plate is inked and wiped so that ink remains only in the etched lines or areas. It is then printed under pressure on to dampened paper, leaving a plate mark which is characteristic of etchings or engravings.


A linocut is a printing technique using engraved linoleum (lino). Apart from lino, the only equipment required is tracing and carbon paper, pens, pencils, brushes and inks, gouges, rollers, oil based printing inks and handmade paper.


Lithography is a very flexible medium based on the incompatibility of grease and water and has most similarity with ordinary drawing. A greasy image is applied to a metal plate or stone surface using a pen, crayon or brush while the area without the image is dampened. Ink is rolled on to the plate and picked up by the greasy image and repelled by the damp area of the plate or stone. The image is then transferred on to paper under pressure.


Collotype is a type of reproduction printing renowned for its accuracy and which is comparable in technique to lithography. Collotype employs an aluminium, cellophane or glass plate coated with a gelatin surface which is exposed to the light through a photographic negative. The gelatin hardens in exposed areas and is soaked in glycerin which is absorbed in the non-hardened areas. When exposed to high humidity, these areas absorb moisture and repel the greasy ink. The hardened areas accept the ink and the plate can be used to print at most a few thousand copies of the positive image.

Screenprinting or silkscreen printing

An image is created by forcing ink through a screen stretched on a frame with the non-image areas blocked out by a fine gauze stencil or gel. Each ink colour is pushed through the screen separately using a blade or ‘squeegee’ whilst other colour areas are marked off.