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Question & answer resource for artists.
Answers are from the site author unless otherwise noted.

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Printmaking Page

Book on Printmaking Saftey
Registration Pins
Monoprints without Solvent
Printmaking Cheap
Photocopy Transfer
Photo-silkscreening Kit
Safer Aquatints
Etching without Acid
Homemade Photo-Etching
What is Intaglio?
What is a carborundum?
Carborundum Print?
Computers and Printmaking
Monotype or Monoprint?
Print-like Photos
Homemade Printing Press
What is an edition?
Woodblock and Arthritis
Registration for Color Prints
ALSO:
Soft Engraving: Cheap and easy for non-printmakers.
A Picture of My Homemade Printing Press
Printmaking Links



I am looking for safety precautions and hazards of art materials in printmaking references...

--Probably the textbook for this subject is ARTIST BEWARE: The hazards and precautions in working with art and craft materials by Michael McCann (Watson-Guptill Pub. 1979). It does not really discuss non-toxic alternatives. McCann focuses more on precautions for rather than avoidance of hazardous conditions.

--The following are some simple substitutions that make the print shop safer...

--See the material on this and other pages at this site and New Directions in Printmaking from Nik Semenoff for some other simple non-toxic printmaking options.

--You can also request MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for products by writing to their manufacturers.


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How can I make my own registration pins?


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How can I do monoprints while avoiding the use of volatile solvents?

-- I've used Grumbacher's new water miscible oil paints but some people work in watercolor on etched glass or matte drafting acetate and transfer to dampened paper. Glycerin from the drugstore is used to slow drying. Use no more than 1 part glycerin to 5 parts paint or the mixture will dry tacky. Oxgall or Ivory Soap dish washing detergent is used as a wetting and flow agent to break the surface tension of the water so it doesn't bead up... the painting can also be done over an initial coating of a water gum Arabic solution which will release from the painting surface when re-wet by the damp printing paper but can add gloss and even cause crazing in the print if too much gum is present without adequate plasticizing with glycerin.

-- A more interesting technique perhaps is the open-screen style of silkscreening... a conventionally stretched silk-screen is painted somewhat thinly from the back in watercolor or opaque gouache (aquarelle pencils can also be used and even soft graphite) and permitted to dry... clear silk-screen extender base is then squeegeed through the screen while it is in contact with the paper to be printed on... this method can be tricky because you must use just the right amount of extender-base, the results, however, are gorgeous... often enough of a ghost remains in the screen for it to be as a guide in creating a variation.


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How can I get into printmaking without a big investment?

Cliche-verre, silkscreen, woodblock, and collagraph printing are all low cost methods and the later two can be printed as rubbings rather than through traditional inking and printing... there should be good book on these subjects at the public or college library. I've used a variety of cheap printing methods with my students including what I call "soft engraving".


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Can photocopies, particularly color photocopies, be transferred to artists' paper safely?

I used to use strong and very un-healthy solvents to transfer photocopies to lithostones that could then be de-sensitized and printed in the conventional manner. Different copier machines use different toners that respond differently to different solvents, all of them nasty. However, I just got the following e-mail regarding a non-toxic transfer solvent. I would guess the use of oil probably precludes it from being used to transfer images to lithostone but I can't wait to try it for direct offsets to paper:

You can use the oil of wintergreen (from drugstore) to transfer the photocopy image ontowood to get the reversed image to have a pattern for the cutting of the wood to make a woodcut. We were using 1/4" plywood and running it through the press to get a good transfer. If the piece is too big for the press, the back of a spoon works but it requires a lot of work! For myself, I use the direct transfer process onto quality printing paper. I am currently experimenting with diluting the oil with rubbing alcohol, I am finding that too much oil bleeds the colours together so I am trying to avoid this. My latest tests have proven much more successful. Dilute the oil with rubbing alcohol, about three parts oil to alcohol. Brush the mixture on the back of the photocopy, wait 30 seconds, cover with a blotter paper being careful to keep the copy registered, and pass through the press. I am setting the press at the etching pressure. Lift the image and put it back, pass through the press again, lift the image and put it back, reapply the mixture and repeat. Usually it is about four times through the press with the application of mixture twice. Sometimes it does require a more for the darkest parts of the image...

-- tarafied@skybus.com

Also check the comments about integrating photos into paintings for info on transferring photocopies using glue instead of solvent, I've used this method to transfer to wood, paper, and other surfaces. The glue, however, cr eates a somewhat noticeable film on the surface to which you've transferred your image.


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Do you know of an inexpensive kit commercially available that I can use to make silkscreens from photocopy, photographic, or newspaper images? If not a kit, is there an easy "kitchen-sink" hobby method I can try to make my own? I can buy the screen and make a frame... but how do I do the darkroom parts?

The kits are available from most any art supply store, some like Dick Blick are on-line with web sites. To make your own photo emulsion you would need to do up a gelatin and dichromate solution... its probably safer to just by the stuff ready made. Diazo based photo-silkscreen solutions are safer than dichromate based but both are in common use. A true darkroom set up is not called for since the emulsion is so low that modest incandescent lighting makes no impact on the screen (although for storage sensitized screens should be kept in a darkened box or cabinet). Exposures are usually made with a 500 watt photoflood light at 36 inches for around 15-20 minutes but a fellow artist turned me on to the fact that screens under about a foot square in size can be exposed in under five minutes on the transparency platform of an overhead projector. The specifics of working with photo-silkscreen are usually detailed in a pamphlet in the product packaging but Speedball distributes a good free hand-out available from most art supply stores.


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Is there a safer way to make aquatints then dusting with resin?

Dusting with enamel spray paint or running damp hard ground through press in contact with fine sand paper to open up dots.

-- I just realized... you could probably mist a plate with a fine spray of acrylic floor polish tinted with food color for visibility. There are fine misters that are hand pump with air as the propellent and some cleaning products come with trigger pumps capable of fine sustained misting. After biting the floor polish can be removed with household ammonia rather than the more toxic hydrocarbon solvents used to remove spray paint or resin. People are starting to use acrylic floor polish in place of traditional hardground as an acid resist... in this use it doesn't even need to be removed from the plate prior to inking and printing since its gloss surface gives a nice clean wipe.

-- When I still etched I really preferred the more raw look of softground and would develop tones by purposefully foul biting softground or etching it after blotting it with a textured paper.


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Is there an alternative means of etching plates that doesn't involve acid?

Contact Nik Semenoff at New Directions in Printmaking. He discusses reverse-electroplating and salt-based mordant methods.

Both zinc and aluminium can be etched in this bath that uses copper sulfate, salt and a weak acidifier. All chemicals are inexpensive, are locally available and can be disposed down the drain... With a pH of around 3.5, plates can be removed with bare hands if desired.... An interesting observation is that this etch bites metal to expose a crystalline structure, making aquatinting unnecessary for sugar lift and other techniques; there is no open bite.

--Nik Semenoff

Also, one correspondent recommends dry point, it is my favoured printmaking method because of its intrinsic virtues but only small editions can be run before image quality starts failing dramatically.


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Can I make my own photo-etching plates?

--I can't speak from personal experience on this but I understand the old process was to coat an aquatint prepared plate with a half and half mixture of de-natured egg whites and dichromated gum arabic. The gum arabic is mixed fifty/fifty with a ten percent solution of potassium dichromate (a photographers intensifier

-- also a very hazardous skin irritant and poison). The egg white is de-natured through whipping it to a stiff marangue so as to mechanically disturb it's more elastic proteins and allowing it to settle back into a liquid overnight (residual solids are skimmed and discarded). After exposing to sunlight through a full-sized contact negative the unexposed emulsion is washed away with water and the remaining film is further cured with gen tle heating... the plate is then etched normally.

--I imagine that a half-screened negative or dithered computer output would give the best results as opposed to a continuous tone negative. I also imagine a variation of this recipe, perhaps with warm gelatin in place of gum arabic would be suitable for making homemade direct photo-silkscreens.

--Some people use acetone to transfer photocopies of photographic negatives to their plates... the open areas are then coated with gum arabic and when this is dry acetone is used to wash away the copier toner... asphaltum is brushed into its place and the open areas of the image are then cleared when it has dried by washing the gum and any asphaltum laying over it off with warm water... the plate is then ready to etch. Using a photographic positive and etching the open areas deeply can make metal relief plate similar to those used by William Blake to publish and illustrate his texts.


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What is a intaglio printmaking?

Intaglio is one of the main methods of inking printing plates:


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What is a carborundum?

Carborundum is a trade name that has come in to common use as the generic term for silicon carbide, a mineral substance used as an abrasive grit. It is primarily found in printshops for use preparing lithography stones. A stone is prepared by removing the previous image by grinding with various grades of grit and a lavagator using running water as the lubricant. Carborundum can also be used to abrade or "tooth" metal plates, and as a texture to hold ink when adhered to collagraph plates.


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What is a carborundum print?

I know of two different intaglio methods that are known by this name...

  1. The WPA-era artist Dox Thrash is credited with innovating the use of carborundum grit to grain conventional copper and zinc plates so that they would hold a dark film of ink overall in the manner of the more labor intensive mezzotint plate... the image was then worked from dark to light by burnishing the pitted surface from areas of the plate so they would hold less ink. Degas used a so-called maniér-gris which consisted of abrading areas of the plate with carborundum to give them gray plate tone when wiped but did not burnish lights into these areas.
  2. When I was an under-grad at Bennington College we made prints by drawing on a varnish sealed cardboard or Plexiglass base with sticky glue and then dusting carborundum on to this before it dried... the darkness of these drawn images and areas could be softened by the applications of layers of diluted gloss acrylic medium or acrylic gesso.


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How can I use computers in my printmaking?

Well, first off, to experiment painlessly with color variations for an image. But also, if your software can run of separate black and white renditions of the CYMK (cyan/magenta/yellow/black) components of your image you can paste these on to woodblocks as guides to cutting (push the contrast of the separations by pasting darker a 100%+ unsharp-masked copy onto the separation and then adjust brightness and contrast... the unsharp mask preserves highlight detail) using the thinnest paper that will go through your printer -OR- get the separations photocopied on to overhead transparency film and use these for photo-silkscreen masters (photo-silkscreen is simple enough to learn from reading the product packaging).


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How can I make print-like photos ?

-- The easiest (cheesiest?) way is to shoot a texture such as sand, gravel, television static, or artists' canvas and then re-expose the film with your images.

-- If you print your own try making full-size paper negatives from slide (must use paper without manufacturers imprint on back) and contact printing from those... I've gotten nice effects by printing from oiled photocopies of full size paper negatives since this pushes up the contrast and adds paper grain (saturate the copy with salad oil then blot and dry... this improves the papers transparency).

-- Best of all, however, is to make full-size paper negatives from slides and have them copied to overhead transparency film (or get a copy shop to print directly from negatives mounted in slide frames using their laser copier) and use these to print on homemade blueprinting paper (which can be bleached and then stained brown) or make gum prints that can be any color.


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What is the difference between a monotype and a monoprint?

The monotype is a uniquely inked and whipped impression from a conventionally prepared plate, etching or drypoint for instance, and a monoprint is an image painted in diluted oil- based ink or waterbased paint on a featureless surface such as an un-etched plate or a sheet of glass or Plexiglass (I find the shiny side of plastic coated freezer paper or aluminum foil works just fine) and then transferred by pressure to a sheet of paper for a print-like look. Sometimes a week second or third monoprint ghost image can be drawn from the print surface... Degas used to use these ghost images the base for pastel works.


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Can I make my own printing press?

I made a platen press out of a frame of laminated plywood and a car-jack. It is based on the design used by papermakers to press water out of freshly cast sheets of paper. It is not really satisfactory, however, for anything but the crudest soft engravings or collagraphs. This is what my car-jack press look s like. The presses shown in Alois Senefelder's The Invention of Lithography are beyond my carpentry skills. I've read that he also made a simpler "coffer press" but I've never found plans for it. I've wonder about the possibility of constructing some sort of homemade offset roller that would run on a track first over the plate and then over the paper to be printed. Maybe someone out there can e-mail us advise.


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What is an edition?

Usually an edition is a set of identical prints.


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I did a lot of woodblock prints until I got arthritic...what can I do?

-- Dremel and other tool makers have little hobby/finishing grinders that carve woodblocks effortlessly. Get a barren adapted to a handle that is comfortable for you.

-- You could also cast plaster in a frame taped to a glass sheet, when dry turn over and remove the glass and you have a nice soft surface to carve... it should be water-proofed with varnish prior to printing and it can be reinforced by setting a sheet of burlap into the plaster when you cast it.

-- I used to do really big bold prints by cutting into huge sheets of corrugated cardboard and peeling off the cut-cut aways. By removing only the top layer while leaving the corrugation in places I got a neat halftone effect.


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How do I register my plates/blocks and paper for multiple color prints?

Make a registration board bigger than the paper to be printed on. Outline the placement of the plate and make "L" marks indicating where the corners of the paper to be printed should be placed. The Chinese used to nail the edges of all the sheets to be printed to the edge of the table, the first was a sheet is a tissue paper used align each new plate or block, the block was fixed in place with wax, as each sheet was printed it was slipped through a slot cut in the top of the table near the edge and the next sheet printed.


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©Daniel Wasserman



L.C.D. (Least Common Denominator)
"Make it simple and push the content..."