PRINTING RELIEF TECHNIQUE, part 1             


This technique is called relief printing because you cut the wood or linoleum around the drawing in order for the image to appear in relief (you save your drawing, get rid of the extra material around it, so it is also called ""taille-d'épargne" in French, from "'épargner" meaning saving and "taille" meaning cut). Only the relief will get the ink, like letter printing in Gutemberg time, or stamps.

Cutting the wood with a gouge

"a" letter engraved in mirror then printed on paper 

FYI: The opposite technique is called intaglio or recess process and uses metal blocks engraved by acids (etchings, mezzotints) or cold chisels (dry point, engraving)

print in relief
A linocut (more in galleries 12, & 3)
An etching with aquatint (more, mixed with linocuts and woodcuts, on


Because you have to remove a lot of material from your block, these techniques can only be used with "soft" materials like wood or linoleum, sometimes gerflex or PVC, rarely stone.

Woodcut, Linocut and Wood engraving are the 3 main kinds of relief printing techniques. In each one, you draw your subject on the surface of a block and cut away every bit of material that is not the picture, using special instrument called gouges or knifes.

Gravure sur bois
A linocut (to buy an original and signed print in limited edition, click on the link )
A woodcut


Some gouges are in V to cut fine lines, others in U to cut larger chunk of wood. Some are like a knife, but  you can also use a Stanley knife, to cut precise angles or define the contour of your image
Your tools have to be sharpened regularly with a sharpening stone and oil


Picture taken from "Printmaking" by H. Frankenfield

The surface of the blocks must be smooth if you want to be able to ink and print it entirely, so if you are using a piece of wood, you will have to sand it first using different grades of sandpaper.

You can use any kind of wood, and cut with whatever you think of, even if some woods or instruments are more common. Keep in mind that the softest the material, the easiest the cutting but, also, the roughest the result. If you are planning a very detailed picture with many fine lines, use a wood from a fruit tree or the end grain of a block, and allow plenty of time you will need it to do the cutting.

If you want to reproduce what can be seen in reality, you will have to cut using a mirror, or to use tracing paper to first draw your picture on the block.


Once you are done with your cutting, or think you are, it is time to print.. You will need a roller, some ink, a plate to spread the ink on it, a press, a wooden spoon or a baren, and some paper.

Put some ink on the plate, spread it using a roller until it is put evenly on the surface -and on your roller-, then roll your roller many times in every direction on your block. Put a sheet of paper on your block, press it, lift slowly a corner of your paper to see if the pressure has been sufficient to get the ink everywhere. If not, press again, then put the paper away when you are satisfied with the quality of the inking.

There are two types of ink: water based inks and oil based inks.


Page 2: Printing (2), Prints in color, Numbering


To see images of my older prints, or use them as ecards, go to
To find a list a printing materials suppliers and groups of printmakers, go to


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