Relief printing is a method where ink is applied to the surface of a plate or block and a print is taken either by press or by hand. You can set yourself up relatively inexpensively and get creative making prints, cards and stamps, or explore the more specialist techniques of wood engraving and Japanese woodblock printing. Monoprinting is a direct and spontaneous method of printing one-offs from the surface of a plate.
Both the earliest and the most accessible form of printmaking, it is possible to get started with very little initial outlay. Prints can be taken from relatively inexpensive blocks of lino, vinyl or wood and with a few tools and a little ink you can get started. The print is made from ink applied to the surface of the block, the areas cut away remain unprinted. Thus it is a negative or reductive process which can be likened to 'drawing with light'. Always remember that your printed image will be the reverse of that which appears on the block so 'watch your p's and q's'!
Lino and vinyl can give a flat crisp image and woodcuts, where the image is cut into the side grain of the plank, have the potential to show the wood grain or texture and can be very expressive. Wood engraving differs in that the image is cut into the highly polished end grain of the wood using specialist tools. They are usually small scale with the potential for exquisite detail due to the density of the wood. Prints can be taken without a press by rubbing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon for example or, as in the case of Japanese woodblock, with a special printing tool called a 'baren'. If you have an etching press you can often raise the top roller to allow for the plate or block to fit through a higher pressure print or use a specially designed relief press.