A centuries-old technique, relief printmaking can be used very effectively for both traditional and contemporary work. The print is taken from the surface of a plate or block after removing those areas which are not supposed to make a mark.
The material is cut away by hand, which some find particularly satisfying, much like wood carving, and the remaining raised surface is rolled with ink which is transferred onto the paper under pressure, reversing the original design. Many materials can be used as in the simple potato print but the most common are the lino-cut and woodblock. Lino is often easier to cut than wood but does not last as long. Some printmakers prefer the harder wood and specifically incorporate the texture of the wood grain in their work while for others MDF is becoming very popular, being grain-free and easy to work.
Relief printing is suitable for simple and effective monochrome designs, single colours on contrasting paper. Areas of different colours can also be painted onto the block and printed simultaneously as in Chinese and Japanese art while more complex images can be produced by printing successive layers of colour. This is achieved either by the multi-block method, using different blocks cut for each colour or by the reduction method where a single block is cut away after each colour has been printed, with exciting results.
Oil-based inks can be used to great effect when building up colours in the reduction method but water-based inks are more suited to the multi-block process due to the translucent ink and are often applied by brush onto the block for a very different result.
Prints can be taken from the inked surface with a printing press or by hand rubbing on the back of the thin paper with a baren (a specially made tool), or the back of a spoon, so it is not always necessary to have elaborate or expensive equipment for this method of printmaking. Care must be taken when cutting the block with sharp tools but even the beginner can quickly achieve a very satisfying result