Printmakers use specialist techniques such as etching, lithography and screen printing to create images on a variety of surfaces

As a printmaker, you'll design the prints yourself and create them using techniques such as intaglio (methods of etching and engraving), lithography and screen printing, on wood, metal, stone or other materials. After which, you'll transpose them onto another surface, generally using a printing press. Surfaces can include glass, cloth and paper.

Electronic and digital printing processes are increasingly being used by printmakers, alongside more traditional craft-based methods. This has increased collaborative working with computer artists.

Responsibilities

As a printmaker, you'll need to:

  • use printmaking techniques like etching, screen printing, lithography, relief printing (e.g. woodcut, linocut), intaglio printing, letterpress 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.

Most printmakers have to supplement their income through additional work, such as teaching or providing technician services.

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.
  • Pursuing your own artistic vision and organising your own time and resources when exhibiting and selling your own work can be immensely satisfying. Producing work for clients and customers, however, may involve compromising your 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.

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

Practical skills, hands-on experience and aptitude are generally considered 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:

  • creativity - for producing work that will meet client specifications
  • a good understanding of the properties of the different materials used for printing
  • dexterity - for handling printmaking equipment
  • strong communication skills
  • the ability to set and achieve goals
  • networking skills - for building and developing relationships, especially important when self-employed.

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 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 a successful printmaking career. 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. Attend talks given 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 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 a time, for example, paid employment with self-employment. Freelance work is especially common and experienced printmakers may become owner/managers of studios.

Residencies and fellowships offer an alternative way 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 is also the option of working as a technician or lecturer in an educational institution, as universities and colleges offer a range of art and design courses. You may also be able to find work as a technician for an established artist.

Look for vacancies at:

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

Formal job application, interview and promotion processes are extremely rare.

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, completing some short courses to develop skills 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 with many creative careers, there is no structured career progression, so you'll need to be flexible and willing to combine roles, especially in the early years after graduation. Progression opportunities can be improved by learning additional printmaking techniques - especially digital ones.

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 will open up work opportunities and is crucial if your aim is to finance your own studio.

Developing an online portfolio and artists' website can be a good way of self-promoting by getting your name and examples of work out there.

Further options, once you're established, include running classes where you teach printmaking skills or offering 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.

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