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

A printmaker uses techniques such as woodcuts or silk-screens to create images which are transposed onto surfaces, generally using a printing press.

In this role you will 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 will carry out the following duties:

  • use printmaking techniques like etching, screen printing, lithography, relief printing (e.g. woodcut, linocut), 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, for example, when working as a master printer for artists;
  • produce multiple copies of an artist's work, otherwise known as editioning;
  • be aware of and following 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, additional work activities may include:

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

Salary

Almost all printmakers are freelance therefore 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 than those outside of academia. 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 chose 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 extra hours especially if you are near a project deadline or you 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.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are common.
  • The work may be self-directed and printmakers are often able to determine their own lifestyle.
  • If you exhibit and sell your work you may get immense satisfaction from being able to pursue your own artistic vision and from being able to organise your own time and resources. Producing work for clients and customers however, may involve compromising artistic vision to meet others' specifications.
  • Depending on the type of printmaking, toxic chemicals may be used which could present a hazard, meaning necessary safety precautions must be taken.
  • You may occasionally travel within a working day. Overnight absence from home is not uncommon in some posts and 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:

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

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, specific skills and aptitude are more important than degree class.

However, printmaking skills are usually developed on a degree course and a pre-entry postgraduate qualification can give a desirable advantage as it will have further developed 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 need to be able to demonstrate the following:

  • strong communication skills;
  • creative ability to find ways to produce work that will meet client specifications;
  • the ability to set and achieve goals;
  • a good understanding of the properties of the different materials used for printing;
  • the ability to network, for successful self-employment;
  • the capability to work with dexterity to handle a range of equipment.

Work experience

It's important to take on relevant work experience opportunities and build up a good portfolio of work. The four arts councils 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. You should 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. A useful resource may be LinkedIn.

Use trade press to keep up to date with developments in the area and to find out about work opportunities. For arts work aimed at those involved in all areas of arts development, including community and educational projects, see national magazine mailout.co.

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 an excellent way of developing new work, accessing facilities and raising your profile.

More information and advice on residencies can be found on Artquest.

Many 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.

Printmakers not following the self-employment route may be employed as technicians or lecturers by established artists, or in educational institutions, particularly universities and colleges, which offer a range of art and design courses.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Training for new graduates may include undertaking a relevant postgraduate course in printmaking or working as a studio-based technician while learning from an established printmaker.

The four national arts councils may offer information on where to find appropriate courses, including advice on aspects of self-employment in the arts. See:

  • Arts Council England;
  • Arts Council of Northern Ireland;
  • Arts Council of Wales;
  • Creative Scotland.

The Printmakers Council is another useful source of information and they also provide exhibition opportunities.

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

  • etching;
  • lithography;
  • screen printing.

If you have difficulty finding a job or work placement with a print studio and cannot afford the equipment yourself, you may join open-access workshops and studios which allow free access to printing equipment and other related facilities. A lot of them offer workshops and training opportunities as well.

There are many across the country, including:

Career prospects

As is often the case when working in the creative arts, career progression is not structured. Experienced printmakers may become owner/managers of studios.

Most printmakers, however, need to be flexible and willing to combine roles, especially in the early years after graduation.

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.

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.