A relief print is an image created by a printmaking process, such as woodcut, where the areas of the matrix (plate or block) that are to show printed black (typically) are on the original surface; the parts of the matrix that are to be blank (white) having been cut away, or otherwise removed. Printing the image is therefore a relatively simple matter of inking the face of the matrix and bringing it in firm contact with the paper; a printing-press may not be needed as the back of the paper can be rubbed or pressed by hand with a simple tool.
This contrasts with an intaglio print, such as an engraving or etching (although there can also be relief etching), where the areas to print black are below the original surface of the matrix, and the original surface of the matrix will print blank. To print these the whole matrix is inked, and the ink then wiped away from the surface, so that it remains only in the lines (classically) that the artist has made below the surface of the matrix. Much greater pressure is then needed to force the paper into the channels containing the ink, and a high-pressure press will normally be required.
The relief family of techniques includes woodcut, wood engraving, relief etching, linocut, and some types of collography. Traditional text printing with movable type is also a relief technique, which meant that woodcuts were much easier to use as book illustrations, as they could be printed together with the text, whilst intaglio prints such as engravings had to be printed separately.
The other traditional families of techniques are:
- but modern developments have created other types.
See also Viscosity printing.
Normally relief and intaglio techniques can only be mixed with others of the same family in the same work.