A printmaker is an artist who creates prints using a wide range of techniques and media.
Some of the most iconic images of the 19th and 20th centuries are prints produced by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
Printmaking differs from simple photographic reproduction as printmakers use specialist techniques to design and make original prints. Hand-drawn and digital designs or images are transferred on a wide range of surfaces, from paper and glass to wood, plastics, metal and textiles.
Printmakers use a variety of traditional transferring techniques and work with specialist machines or presses. Techniques include lithography, screen printing, etching, engraving, silkscreen, relief printing (woodcut and linocut), intaglio, monoprinting and collagraph. Nowadays, printmakers increasingly use digital processes together with traditional methods.
Many printmakers have to combine different jobs, such as teaching and running workshops, in order to make a living. They design their own prints, but also need to work for a variety of clients:
- Other artists: they offer art editioning services (i.e. producing limited editions, artists’ books and multiple copies of an artist’s work according to their specifications).
- Commercial companies: they produce advertising and promotional items, such as posters, catalogues, exhibition displays and signs.
- Textile industry: they print designs on items of clothing or soft furnishings.
- Educational organisations: they offer technical support to fine art departments with printmaking facilities.
Printmakers usually work on a freelance and part-time basis. At the start of the career, you will earn between £16,000 and £19,000 per year.
Salaries can become much higher with experience and a good reputation.
- Conceive, develop and produce prints for your own practice and for clients
- Meet with clients and discuss their briefs
- Offer technical advice to clients
- Decide on the most appropriate method to transfer artwork
- Use a variety of traditional printmaking techniques such as etching, screen printing, lithography, and relief printing
- Manipulate digital images using computer programmes such as Photoshop
- Produce and examine proofs
- Make corrections to the proofs if necessary
- Teach printmaking techniques to artists, students or the general public
- Carry out administrative tasks, such as running a studio, managing accounts and appointments, and organising workshops
- Advertise the services of your studio
- Comply with health and safety regulations
- Wear appropriate safety equipment when using toxic chemicals
- Work in partnership with technicians and other printmakers in the studio
- Clean and maintain studio equipment
- Keep up to date with new techniques
- Apply for residencies
- Collaborate with other artists
- Exhibit and sell your prints
- Create and maintain useful contacts
Holding a university degree in fine arts or design will increase your chances of becoming a printmaker. Some universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses which specialise in printmaking or with modules in printmaking as part of a broader art course.
However, it is not compulsory to hold a degree. You can follow hands-on courses taught by established professionals or become a technician in a studio and learn on the job. Many print studios offer short courses in individual techniques such as etching, lithography and screen printing.
- Creativity and artistic flair
- Excellent knowledge of printmaking techniques and media
- Attention to detail
- Problem-solving skills
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- Excellent organisational skills
- Teaching skills
- Good physical fitness
Most printmakers are freelancers. They rent or share a studio, or sometimes use their own homes to make their studio.
Printmakers generally work regular office hours but often have to spend extra hours in the evenings and during weekends to meet deadlines for clients.
You may get to travel if you are accepted in a residency or to meet clients.
A career in printmaking can be both very fulfilling and stressful. You can be creative and follow your own artistic vision. If you become recognised, you will be able to exhibit and sell your prints. You are also free to organise your own schedule.
However, it is very hard to make a living solely as a printmaker. Most printmakers also teach or work as technicians in a studio or university.
Some tasks can feel repetitive: the job includes a lot of cleaning, recycling and tidying up.
Health and safety plays an important part in the role because of the use of toxic chemicals. You must also be physically fit to move equipment and heavy objects like lithographic stones.
Networking plays a key part in finding work. Take opportunities to build your contacts during your studies and residencies. Becoming a member of the Printmakers Council will help promote your work and further your skills.
It is crucial to prepare and present an excellent portfolio. If you don’t have your own facilities to produce work, you can gain experience in open workshops which offer affordable access to printing facilities. Such studios are available throughout the UK, for example at the Oxford Printmakers Cooperative or the Highland Print Studio.
Most printmakers are freelancers working for individuals and companies.
With experience, you may become the owner of a studio and manage a team of printmakers.
Depending on your other part-time job, you may be able to follow a path in arts administration, community arts or museum curating. You may specialise in a technique and become a trainer or lecturer in art and design courses.
Also known as…
What’s it really like?
Printmaker James Hill founded St Barnabas Press in 1993 in Cambridge.
How long have you been in this particular job?
I have been a printer since I left college. I started St Barnabas Press 19 years ago.
What did you do before this job?
I was a printmaking technician.
How did you end up doing this job?
I planned it this way, and worked hard to get it off the ground.
What kind of training do you have?
I have a BA (Hons) in printmaking and a string of relevant jobs to clue me up on printing and printmaking.
Do you specialise in a technique?
I specialise in ‘anything printed’ but I am more interested in relief printing, etching and screen printing.
Is printmaking your only job, or do you combine it with another activity?
As an artistic endeavour, printmaking requires selling, advertising, and framing, so the studio is a gallery and a framing workshop, as well as printmaking studio.
I also rent the studio space out to other artists, especially printmakers.
The studio is open access, so teaching and having guests in the studio is also undertaken.
What kind of clients do you work with?
I work with artists, galleries, hobbyists, art buyers and students.
Do you exhibit and sell your own prints?
Yes, in Britain and China.
What do you do in a typical working day?
My days are very varied. At the end of the year, I usually find that time at St Barnabas has been equally divided between open access, print editioning and teaching. Although framing is always busy, I do not actually make frames now. So I can assume that we are talking about 3 different types of day in my case. Then, there is work to be carried out ‘after hours’ when I do the accounts. Multitasking is paramount.
What do you like about the job?
It is what I do best and I am always able to have an interesting day. Monotony it is not! I can get involved with whatever I wish as a self-employed person, so I steer myself towards goals that benefit me and my own personal development as an artist.
And let’s not forget the people at St Barnabas Press represent just that: good people with similar interests.
What do you dislike about the job?
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Find premises that you can rent and that you can use and profit from by providing additional space. Larger properties are cheaper per square foot/meter. So you can capitalise on the space rather than making it a millstone around your neck. This is only for people that are committed to printmaking, as during the first years money will be difficult, so always keep the overheads down, and remember: your time is cheaper than anyone else’s, so learn to do everything yourself, which means you will also know when you are being taken for a fool.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role?
Meet my maker!
Do you mind us publishing your salary / rate per hour – this is very helpful for job seekers?
My time is charged at £65 an hour which is still not enough in my view but I have a lot of printing toys and a way of life that suits me, so who cares.