Printmaking is a process for producing editions (multiple copies) of artwork; painting, on the other hand, is a process for producing a single original piece of artwork. Prints are created from a single original surface, most commonly linoleum, metal or wood. Each print is considered an original work of art, not a copy. Works printed from a single plate create an edition, usually each signed and numbered. A single print could be the product of one or multiple presses. Printmakers work in a variety of mediums, including water based ink, water color paint, oil based ink, oil pastels, and any water soluble solid pigment such as Caran D'Ache crayons. The work is created on a flat surface called a plate. Depending on the process used to lift the print, artists either carve or draw into their surfaces. Printmaking techniques that utilize digital methods are becoming increasingly popular and in many markets are the preferred method. Surfaces used in printmaking include planks of wood, metal plates, panes of plexiglass, pieces of shellacked book board, or lithographic stones. A separate technique, called screenprinting, makes use of a porous fabric mesh stretched in a frame, called a screen. Small prints can even be made using the surface of a potato.
Printmakers apply colour to their prints in many different ways. Often colour in printmaking that involves etching, screenprinting, woodcut or linocut is applied by either using separate plates, blocks or screens or by using a reductionist approach. In the multiple plate approach to colour there may be a number of plates, screens or blocks produced, each providing a different aspect of the print picture as a whole. Each separate plate, screen or block will be inked up in a different colour and applied in a particular sequence to produce the entire picture. On average about 3 to 4 plates are produced but there are occasions where a printmaker may use up to seven plates. Every application of another plate of colour will interact with the colour already applied to the paper and this must be kept in mind when producing the separation of colours. The lightest colours are often applied first and then that darker colours successively until the last one.
The reductionist approach to producing colour is to start with a lino or wood block that is either blank or with a simple etching. Upon each printing of colour the printmaker will then further cut into the lino or woodblock removing more material and then apply another colour and reprint. Each successive removal of lino or wood from the block will expose the already printed colour to the viewer of the print.