Relief Printing
Beginner’s Guide to Creating Relief Prints.

Beginner’s Guide to Creating Relief Prints.

Relief printing is a printmaking technique where the image is carved or incised into a block or surface, leaving the raised relief areas to be inked for printing. The raised areas are typically the parts that will transfer the ink onto paper or another printing surface.

Relief Printing Definition.

Relief printing is a time-honoured printmaking technique, that has played a pivotal role in the world of visual arts for centuries. The rich history and versatility of relief printmaking have made it a popular choice among artists seeking to express their creativity through this intricate process.

Relief printmaking offers artists a wide range of possibilities for creative expression. The choice of block material, carving techniques, and ink colors allows for endless experimentation. Woodcut, wood engraving, and linocut are common forms of relief printmaking, each offering has its own aesthetic and challenges.

Relief printing Artists can produce multiple prints from a single block, making relief printing an efficient and reproducible method. This aspect has been historically significant, especially in the production of illustrations, bookplates, and posters.

How to do Relief Printing for beginners? - Complete Process.
An Artist is carving a Relief Printing Plate.

History of Relief Printing

The brief history of Relief Printing traces its roots back to ancient civilizations, where early artists utilized tools to carve images onto surfaces. In China, woodblock relief printing emerged around the (9th century) during the Tang Dynasty. This method involved carving characters and illustrations into wooden blocks, which were then inked and pressed onto paper or fabric. The Chinese used woodblock printing for various purposes, including religious texts and playing cards.

After that, the practice of woodblock printing spread to Japan and Korea, where it evolved into distinct artistic traditions. In Japan, ukiyo-e prints gained popularity during the Edo period (17th-19th century), depicting scenes of everyday life, landscapes, and kabuki actors. Korean artisans also embraced woodblock printing, contributing to the dissemination of Buddhist texts and artistic motifs.

In the 20th century, more accessible materials than wood gained popularity for relief printing. Linocut, a technique similar to woodcut but using linoleum blocks, became a favourite among artists for its ease of use and versatility. The Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich and German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner were among those who explored the creative possibilities of linocut.

Throughout time relief printing continues to thrive in both traditional and contemporary art circles. Artists worldwide experiment with various materials, carving techniques, and inks to push the boundaries of this ancient craft. The revival of interest in handmade processes has contributed to a renewed appreciation for relief printing in the digital age.

How to Create Relief Prints?

The process of creating relief prints is a traditional and versatile printmaking technique that has been used by artists for centuries. This technique involves many steps like carving an image or design into a block or surface, inking the raised areas, and then transferring the image onto paper or another surface.

The relief printing process has evolved over time, with various cultures and artists contributing to its rich history.


Relief Printmaking artists typically use materials like wood, linoleum, or rubber for relief printing blocks. Woodcut is one of the earliest forms of relief printing, which involves carving into a wooden surface. Linocut, a more modern variation, the techniques require linoleum sheets that are easier to carve than wood.

Design Creation

Artists create their designs with the understanding that the raised portions of the block will receive ink and transfer onto the other printing surface. This requires careful planning and skilful execution, especially for intricate designs.

Carving Process

The artist uses relief carving tools to remove the unwanted areas of the block, leaving the design in relief. Different tools create different textures and line qualities, allowing for a wide range of artistic and creative expressions.

Inking the Block

Ink is applied to the surface of the relief block using a brayer or roller. The ink sticks to the raised areas while the carved areas remain ink-free.


Once the block is inked, paper is carefully laid over it, and pressure is applied evenly to transfer the ink from the raised surface to the paper. This can be done by hand, using a press, or other printing methods, depending on the artist’s preference and available resources.

How to do Relief Printing for beginners? - Complete Process.
A print coming out of a relief printing machine.

Relief Printing Techniques

Relief printing has several methods and how are relief printing techniques used in our everyday modern lives each with its unique characteristics and applications.


Artists carve the design into a block of woodcut and linocut printing leaving the raised areas to receive ink. Woodcut is one of the oldest relief printing technique, with a long history in Asia and Europe.


Linocut is a more modern alternative to woodcut, using linoleum sheets for carving. Linoleum is softer and easier to carve than wood, allowing for greater flexibility in design.

Wood Engraving

In wood engraving, artists use dense hardwood, such as boxwood, and engrave the design into the end grain of the wood. The fine lines and intricate details possible with this technique make it a favourite for detailed illustrations.

Foam Block Printing

Foam block printing is a simple and beginner-friendly relief printing process. Artists carve or incise the design into foam sheets, which are then inked and printed. This technique is often used in educational settings or for quick and experimental prints.

Multiple Block Printing

The process involves using multiple blocks, each carved with a different color, to create a multicoloured print. The artist must align the blocks accurately to achieve the desired final image. This technique is common in both traditional and contemporary relief printing.

Reduction Printing

Reduction printing involves using a single block for multiple colors. The artist carves away areas after each color is printed, reducing the block until the final image is complete. It requires careful planning and precision to achieve the desired print.

The relief printing technique offer a wide range of possibilities, from the traditional to modern and experimental. The choice of technique depends on the artist’s preferences, the desired aesthetic, and the level of detail in their prints.

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