Printmaking

Find out what printmakers do, along with your career and earning potential in this field. See what kind of education options you have, too.

Is Printmaking for Me?

Career Overview

Printmaking is a fine art process of making images by transferring them, usually onto paper, from a master image called a matrix. Printmakers create a matrix and use inks or paint to make prints from that matrix. There are a variety of methods of printmaking, each based on a different type of material for the matrix. Among these, matrices for etching and engraving are made of metal, while lithographs and woodcuts are printed from matrices made from stone and wood, respectively. Screen prints are produced using a matrix made from fabric. You can learn these skills through Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs in art schools or university art departments.

Printmakers have several career paths open to them outside of working as independent fine artists or gallery owners. Publishing houses, print shops, fine art presses, apparel manufacturers, universities, museums and art studios are among the types of organizations that hire printmakers. You may pursue careers that include teacher, lithographer, master printer, poster artist, museum staff member, photo editor and print publisher.

Employment Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), self-employment was high among craft and fine artists, which includes printmakers, as of 2012 - about 50% of these professionals were self-employed (www.bls.gov). Fine artists overall earned median salaries of $42,610 in 2013. Craft and fine artists can expect employment growth of 3% from 2012-2022, per the BLS.

How Can I Work in Printmaking?

Undergraduate Education

Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs in printmaking are based on a curriculum heavy in the studio arts. You can expect multiple levels of coursework in drawing, design and art history to build a foundation in fine arts training. As you advance through the curriculum, you begin to specialize in printmaking, taking courses in photographic and digital applications for printmaking, etching, lithography and letterpress. Art schools with strong printmaking departments feature excellent facilities with printing presses for all types of printmaking, dark rooms, enlargers and perhaps a bookbinding press. Electives may include ceramics, photography, painting or sculpture. You may also have the option to study printmaking abroad in a studio art program.

Graduate Education

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree programs provide you with the opportunity to develop technically and conceptually to an advanced professional level. You're encouraged to take a more theoretical approach to your artwork and engage in more critiques with peers and printmaker faculty. Typically, graduate students receive their own studio space to work with intaglio, lithography, relief, photo print and other methods.

You can expect to take classes in art criticism, alternative processes in printmaking and art theory. Opportunities to teach as a graduate assistant and internships are likely to be part of your MFA experience, during which you will also learn how to promote yourself as a fine artist and develop an extensive portfolio. Your MFA thesis may involve a completing a project, exhibiting your body of work and/or developing a paper that defines your concepts as an artist.

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