Art before Inkjet

The basic principles that underlie inkjet printing are easy to understand. A series of dots comprised of inks are squirted through a printer head at a substrate — most commonly paper. The exact mechanism by which this is achieved is quite complicated, but the idea of creating images by building up patterns of dots on a surface has been around for a long time, and was frequently used by artists. This week we’re going to take a look at three artistic techniques that artists have used to create paintings and printed works in a manner analogous to the inkjet printing process.

Detail of Seurat's La Parade showing the pointillist technique.Pointillism

Most painters create images by mixing paints on a pallette until they’ve got the right color, and then applying it to their canvas with a brush in long strokes. Pointillists instead use small drops of pure colour added in a precise arrangement and proportions, which, when viewed from a distance, merge into a block of color. This is very much similar to how inkjet printing builds an image. Pointillism was first used by French post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat in the latter half of the 19th century, and has been employed by various painters since, including Van Gogh. Modern painters like Chuck Close use the pointillist technique to achieve photorealistic results for their works.


Often, when people refer to pointillism, what they are actually talking about is a different technique called stippling. Stippling again uses patterns of tiny dots, but the dots are made up of one color, and the differences in tones and shades are achieved by using different densities of dots on the page. It’s a technique often found in illustrations, especially in children’s books, or in biological and medical texts where precision is necessary.


One of the earliest printing methods that was able to recreate realistic looking shadow and half-tones without stippling was invented by the German artist Ludwig von Siegen. Rather than directly putting dots onto paper, von Siegen  realised that if you take a metal plate, and roughen it all over, either with a special tool or by rubbing the surface with an abraisive material, when you applied ink to the plate, and then rubbed it with a cloth, the ink would remain in the roughened areas. By selectivly smoothing out areas of the plate, so that less ink will remain behind, a complexly shaded image can be created.

Do you have a favorite piece of art that was made using a similar technique. Feel free to share in the comments below, or join in the conversation on Twitter or Facebook

Corey Northcutt
Corey is an SEO wizard and guest poster for Ink Splash.

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