Printmaking 101: Color Reduction Woodcut

If our Wood Engraver’s show has you interested in wood-based print media, we encourage you to check out woodcuts as well.  The difference between the two techniques can be seen in an earlier post.  If you have read that, now read this:  member artist Anne McLaughlin‘s introduction to a Color Reduction Woodcut:

"Three Scoops and a Cookie-Strawberry" by Anne McLaughlin -- this print's unusual shape is from the large plank of wood from which it was carved. Note the grain goes with the image, not against it.

A color reduction woodcut, is simply a relief print, that is carved, inked and printed multiple times. By rolling the ink on to the raised area of the wood, the carved away area remains the color of the paper or earlier ink color(s). The process of  “carving, inking and printing” can be repeated again and again as long as an accurate registration process is used to preserve the grain.


To make a woodcut, choose a piece of  wood with grain that enhances the design — grain flow or direction is extremely important to me.  I often use 5 or 6 colors but have used as many as 11. The paper is dry when printing, which eliminates stretching or shrinking, which can interfere with registration.

I plan my colors when designing my image often doing a watercolor to work out my plan.  Work from the lightest color to the darkest.  Often I ink and print the board before any carving to create a background color. I then carve away the area that is to be background color.  Next, Ink again and print color 2. Carve away what you want to remain color 2 and print color 3.

"Inside Out: Beet" by Anne McLaughlin--another reduction woodcut from a series of "inside out" fruits and veggies.

Sometimes, a second inking of the same color is necessary to cover the previous inks. Given the number of possible press runs, use a strong paper — I use Somerset.  Allow time for drying in between each printing. Using transparent inks or ink base extender can create new colors or a tinted area.  I have used mylar masks to do spot inking.

The entire edition must be printed at once since carving destroys the wood incrementally.  This is a fun process. Try it!


2 responses to “Printmaking 101: Color Reduction Woodcut

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