Reading the Fine Print | What is Relief Printing?

Think Relief printing, think: woodblock and linocut printing.

To grasp relief printing, consider those stamps children craft from potatoes. To make a potato stamp, the surface of a vegetable is gouged away leaving a raised surface - this area forms the stamp’s subject.

In a similar sense, relief printing entails an artist removing part of a matrix or plate’s surface. The artist then inks the plate and presses paper against it. Where the surface was untouched forms the filled in or coloured portions of the design, while the dug out parts are left blank.

Relief is the oldest form of printmaking. Dating back to 8th Century China, this technique has since flowered from woodblock prints to include linocut printing. These techniques offer a rich clarity of image. The contrast between empty gouges and solid colour is bold and brazen.

Check out these relief prints if you like… vital, bold but pared back design. In the relief printing canon sits David Frazer’s ‘Night Train’ - a disquieting panorama of small town life and Eric Thake’s minimal and endearing ‘The Plume Hunter’.


Printing Fun Fact: Relief printing was originally used as a way to print fabrics and playing cards.