Screen print, linocut or woodcut?

I have now used screen printing, linocut and woodcut methods to produce prints so I thought I’d write a little bit about why I’d choose each one for different situations.

Screen printing
To me, screen printing is a beautiful and highly desirable printing medium. The resultant prints are very high quality with solid blocks of colour and the opportunity to overprint colours. I love the feeling of a screen print, you can see and feel the ink on the surface of the paper. Screen prints are great for graphical work.

Screen printing allows for highly detailed (even photographic) designs to be printed, especially if you use photosensitive emulsion to create the screens. In other words, it allows the designer’s imagination to run wild.

This Birds of a Feather screenprint by Strawberryluna demonstrates the bold, graphical style achievable with screen prints.

Screen printing is great for large runs and also printing onto other mediums such as fabric. You get solid, vibrant colours onto fabric which you simply cannot get with digital printing.

So the advantages of screen printing are very high quality, highly detailed printing onto a range of surfaces. Also the ability to print in large runs and with a variety of inks.

The disadvantages of screen printing are that it can be quite expensive: screens can be expensive, the photosensitive emulsion isn’t cheap and of course you need a screen for every colour you’re going to print. You also need to set aside time for screen printing. It takes me an evening to coat and expose the screens, then the next day I print and the next day I wash out the screens. So, time is important with screen printing. Once you’ve started you need to keep going until you’ve finished. I also get very anxious about the fact that screen printing screens degrade over time, becoming harder and harder to clean out until, ultimately, you are required to get them remeshed.

Linocut printing
I love linocut prints for slightly different reasons to screen prints. Linocut prints tend to be more expressive as the tools artists use to cut the design into the surface lend themselves to a certain style – cuts can be long or short, wide or narrow, but they tend to have a shape to them which is rounded at the start and tapers away to a point. Prints made with lino have a bit more character than screen prints because they aren’t always perfect, sometimes you get less ink, sometimes more, and it’s these variations which make them feel unique. The inks can still be very vibrant and can be overprinted, but you certainly see the ink sitting on the surface of the medium. It can almost be three dimensional.

The tools and the kind of marks you can make with them mean that linocuts can be more expressive than screen prints but not always – it’s perfectly possible to cut highly detailed designs of an almost graphical nature into lino but, as far as I’m aware, there is no photographic way to get the design cut into lino, it has to be done by hand. You transfer your design using tracing paper (or draw directly onto the lino), you often ink in your design so you can see it more clearly and then you cut your design. Each stage means you are interpreting your design, making creative decisions, so you end up with something expressive of your creative thoughts and process – it’s not coldly calculating like screen printing is!

This linocut by Bryan Angus really shows the incredible range of textures and marks which can be employed in linocutting.

Of course, some artists really use the marks the tools make to great effect, creating wonderful textures with the cutters which result in something instantly recognisable as a linocut print.

Personally, I know I have a long way to go with linocut printing. I believe the best linocut prints are those which really make use of and show off the variety of marks and textures which can be achieved with the tools and imagination. But I want to do linocut printing more and really get into it.

Woodcut printing / engraving
To me, woodcut printing is almost like jewellery making. The prints can be really expressive or extremely precise. You can choose to cut into wood along the grain, which results in prints which can really show the wood’s surface, across the grain, which results in far more precise prints, or even engrave into end grain wood which can result in extremely detailed prints.

Similarly to linocut, prints from woodcut are tactile, beautiful pieces of artwork. You can print onto softer papers and leave a slight indentation, too.

This Dandelion Track II wood etching print by Angie Lewin shows just how precise yet stylised mark making can be with the medium.

Woodcuts appeal to me because I suppose it combines the possibility to create highly precise artwork with the innate expressiveness of the wood’s surface and the marks the tools can make.

The fantastic advantage of both linocut and woodcut printing is you don’t have to set aside time and plan ahead to do it, which works for me really well. You can do a bit of cutting for a few minutes or a few hours and it waits patiently when you put it down. Similarly, you can print a few prints or many prints in one run. The ink takes a lot longer to dry than screen printing so if I suddenly need to do some freelance work that is absolutely fine.

Interestingly, both lino and wood can be used to print onto fabric very well, and they lend themselves to more of a repeat pattern style of printing than screen printing, so I am quite interested in developing some repeat pattern ideas for fabrics in the future.

Ultimately screen printing (at least with photosensitive emulsion) is far more precise and, I suppose, less expressive than linocut or woodcut printing because the character of the tool doing the printing doesn’t add anything to the print – all the expressiveness with screen printing needs to be done in the design stage. As someone with Aspergers, this level of control is very appealing to me.

But, the more laid back manner of linocut and woodcut, combined with the ability for expression with the tools, certainly has great appeal too, and I do hope to continue with all mediums in the future.