Creativity, manual dexterity and excellent networking skills are essential if you want to become a printmaker

A printmaker uses specialist techniques such as etching, lithography and screen printing to create images on surfaces such as a wood block, copper plate or stone, which are then transposed onto other surfaces, generally using a printing press. Surfaces can include glass, cloth and paper.

In this role, you'll design the prints yourself. Printmakers are increasingly using electronic or digital printing processes alongside more traditional craft-based methods. This has increased collaborative working with computer artists.

Once you become established you may teach and run classes to support yourself and finance your work. You may also offer technical or advisory support to educational organisations.

With substantial experience you could manage a team of printmakers operating from shared workshop facilities. You might also offer other artistic and design services, as well as printing.

Responsibilities

Tasks vary depending on the type of work and who it's being done for. In general, you'll need to:

  • use printmaking techniques like etching, screen printing, lithography, relief printing (e.g. woodcut, linocut), intaglio printing, letter press and computer-generated images to produce prints
  • print on a variety of surfaces, e.g. plastics, metal, glass, textiles, wood and paper
  • respond to a client's brief
  • advise clients on the technical aspects of production
  • create prints to specifications, e.g. working as a master printer for artists
  • produce multiple copies of an artist's work, otherwise known as editioning
  • be aware of and follow health and safety procedures.

Common commercial or educational tasks include:

  • producing promotional items, such as catalogues, t-shirts, and signs
  • printing on exhibition display stands
  • silk screen printing for posters
  • planning and delivering classes and workshops to teach printmaking techniques to artists, students or the general public.

If self-employed, you may also need to:

  • take responsibility for the running and financing of premises, like a workshop or studio
  • oversee the day-to-day tasks associated with running a small business, for example keeping accounts or developing an advertising strategy
  • undertake part-time work, such as teaching, to supplement your income.

Salary

  • As almost all printmakers are freelance, salary levels are difficult to estimate. If you're in the early stages of your printmaker career, you can expect to earn in the region of £15,000 to £20,000+ a year. Starting salaries for printmakers in education are usually a little higher.
  • Established printmakers with a large portfolio and a good reputation can earn significantly more. For advice on how to set your freelance rate and where to look for further information, see Artquest.
  • If you choose to go down the academic route, salaries are comparable to other lecturers and teachers in the same institution.

Few are able to make a living solely as a printmaker, unless they manage to establish themselves and build a strong reputation. Most have additional jobs to supplement their income, such as teaching or technician work.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include regular overtime, especially if you're near a project deadline or need to meet client demands.

You may also be required to work weekends or evenings if teaching.

What to expect

  • Printmakers are usually studio based and work either on their own or with other artists in shared premises. You may also work on client premises.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are common and you'll often work on several projects at once in order to make a decent income.
  • You can get immense satisfaction from being able to pursue your own artistic vision and organising your own time and resources when exhibiting and selling your own work. Producing work for clients and customers, however, may involve compromising artistic vision to meet others' specifications.
  • As you may be working on several projects, for example commissioned work or teaching, as well as exhibiting your own work, you may need to travel during the day or spend time away from home overnight. Overseas work or travel may be part of a residency.

Qualifications

Relevant degree subjects include arts and humanities subjects. The following may increase your chances of success:

  • textile design
  • fine art/visual art
  • art and design
  • surface and graphic design
  • illustration and drawing.

There are a number of art colleges and universities offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in printmaking, or modules in printmaking as part of a broader art course.

Generally, practical skills, hands-on experience and aptitude and are more important than academic qualifications.

However, printmaking skills are usually developed on a degree course, and a pre-entry postgraduate qualification can give you the edge as it will help you further develop these skills and techniques. Hands-on courses taught by professional printmakers are recommended.

Search for postgraduate courses in printmaking.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible. Apprenticeships are available but they're rare.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • the ability to find creative ways of producing work that will meet client specifications
  • a good understanding of the properties of the different materials used for printing
  • dexterity, to handle a range of printmaking equipment
  • strong communication skills
  • the ability to set and achieve goals
  • networking skills to build and develop relationships, for successful self-employment.

Work experience

It's vital to take on relevant work experience opportunities and build up a good portfolio of work. Make the most of any placements during your degree course and look for work placements during the summer or voluntary opportunities. The four arts councils in the UK may provide details of artists who'd be willing to let you produce prints - these are:

Networking is also essential to be a successful printmaker. Try to network with printers during your degree to build up contacts and gain experience. Talk to established artists and printmakers to gain an insight into working conditions and styles. Go to talks by printmakers and visit galleries and exhibitions.

Use the trade press to keep up to date with developments in the area and to find out about work opportunities. You might also look out for awards and competitions that you can enter to raise your profile.

Another possible way in is to take the initiative and convince an organisation to employ an artist, for example, a new business or shopping development on the edge of a city.

Speculative approaches to schools or hospitals are also worth considering. If your approach is part of an artists' studio group, funding might be available from your national arts council.

Employers

It's usual for printmakers to combine two or more roles at one time, for example, paid employment with self-employment. Freelance work is especially common.

Residencies and fellowships offer an alternative way for artists to earn an income. Both are available globally and may range from a few weeks to a year spent with an organisation. You'll be given free workshop space and a small bursary along with the opportunity to exhibit work. In return, you may be asked to lead workshops for visitors, give artist talks or donate some finished work for the organisation's exhibition collection.

Host organisations range from schools to galleries but almost all provide the opportunity to develop new work, access facilities and raise your profile.

Some printmakers work in collectively-run workshops or design companies, which are owned and managed by experienced printmakers. They work with other printmakers, visual artists or designers who specialise in other areas, such as graphic design. Find out where your nearest printmaking workshops and studios are at Printmaking Today.

There are also options to work as technicians or lecturers for established artists, or in educational institutions, particularly universities and colleges, which offer a range of art and design courses.

Details of opportunities, competitions, residencies and awards can be found at:

Professional development

You'll need to take responsibility for your own professional development and look for ways to develop your skills and experience. This can include taking a postgraduate course in printmaking, short skills courses or working as a studio-based technician while learning from an established printmaker.

Many independent print workshops around the UK offer short courses in printmaking specialisms such as:

  • etching
  • lithography
  • screen printing.

The Printmakers Council is a useful source of information, which also provides exhibition opportunities.

If you have difficulty finding a job or work placement with a print studio and can't afford the equipment yourself, you may be able to join open access workshops and studios which allow free access to printing equipment and other related facilities. Many offer workshops and training opportunities as well. Examples include:

Career prospects

As is often the case when working in the creative arts, career progression isn't structured. Most printmakers need to be flexible and willing to combine roles, especially in the early years after graduation. You may have to be proactive in your approach to developing your career and look further afield than the UK.

You can improve your chances of progression by broadening the range of specialist printmaking techniques that you use. This may open you up to more work opportunities, especially if you use new techniques like computer-based printing.

Career development largely depends on building experience, contacts and a reputation through producing good quality work. Establishing a network of contacts in the creative industries is crucial, particularly if you're aiming towards financing your own studio. Formal job application, interview and promotion processes are extremely rare. Experienced printmakers may become owner/managers of studios.

Many opportunities, whether an initial foot in the door or another step up the ladder, are offered on the basis of an individual's work being seen by a potential client or employer. For this purpose, the development of online portfolios and artists' websites is increasingly common.