How To: Drypoint on Perspex (Plexi-glass)

There a million different approaches to drypoint printmaking. This post describes one approach. There are different schools and different characters. Rumour has it that you can’t print with water based colours and a book press. Actually I can ^_^…

This post was first published on The Lighthouse Kepper’s Cat (my general musings) on January 15th, 2009.

Background: Relief and intaglio printmaking

Traditional printmaking techniques like drypoint or etching enables an artist or print maker to print a certain amount of prints (edition) from a handmade plate. The plates are inked and the ink is transfered from either the surface (relief printmaking e.g. woodcut or linocut) or the incised lines (intaglio printmaking e.g. etching or drypoint) onto paper using a printing press.

In drypoint printmaking an image is incised into a plate with a hard-pointed “needle”. Traditionally the plate was copper, but today plexi-glass is commonly used.

#8 Ink Setup

Advantages of using Perspex or Plexiglas

  • The Material is cheaper than copper or zinc plates.
  • The plates are easily cut into the right size.
  • You can see your sketch through the plate.
  • You can see the inked areas through the plate.

Three Steps

Intaglio printmaking processes follows three steps.

  • #1 ‘Transferring’ the artwork onto the plate
  • #2 Inking and wiping
  • #3 Printing the artwork onto paper

Materials needed

For step#1 Transferring…

  • Your Sketch 🙂
  • 2mm clear Perspex or Plexiglas
  • Ruler and cutting knife
  • Sandpaper or a file
  • Marker (fine line)
  • Etching needle

For step#2 Inking…

  • Ink
  • Gloves
  • Paint knife
  • Glass plate
  • Dabber
  • Pasteboard cuttings
  • Gauze
  • Phone book

For step#3 Printing…

  • Paper
  • Tray (water bath)
  • Towel (white)
  • Newsprint
  • Printing press (I use an old book press) including board and blankets

#1 Transferring the artwork onto the plate

The image is cut into the plate with a needle leaving lines in the plate.

Cut the plate into the right size and bevel the edges to prevent sharp corners from cutting into the paper while printing.

#3 Beveling the Edges
The final print will be a reversed copy of your plate. So you have to transfer a mirror image of your drawing onto the plate.

Place your perspex plate over the mirror image and transfer the outlines onto the plate using a marker.

#5 Trandfering the Outlines
Start ‘scratching’ your image into the plate with the etching needle. Experiment holding the needling in different angles to create different depth of lines and burrs.

#7 ... Scratch, Scratch.
TIP: Proof your plate early on to see the effect of your lines on paper. Keep your needle sharp with a whetstone.

Background: Lines and Burrs

The lines on the final print are formed by the burr – thrown up at the edge of the incised lines – as well as by the line itself, producing a soft, dense line rather than a smooth, hard-edged line, almost like a soft pencil stroke.

The size of the burr and the softness of the line depends on the angle of the needle while cutting the plate. A perpendicular angle will leave little burr, the smaller the angle the larger the burr pileup. A lighter line – less pressure – may have no burr at all. By holding little ink this will create a fine line in the final print.

The burr is removed – or flatten – by the pressure applied by the printing press – as well as during inking and wiping of the plate. So the number of prints from one plate are often small.

#2 Inking and Wiping

Ink is applied to the plate. Excess ink is removed from the surface leaving the ink in the burrs and deeper lines.

Inking and wiping the surface defines the colour and the contrast of your print. Once the plate is ready for the first proof ink is applied to the plate with a dauber. The ink is applied onto a glass plate where the dabber is ‘loaded’ with ink.

#9 Dabbing
Once the plate is completely covered with a thin layer paste board cuttings are used to remove excess ink form the surface.

12a Pasteboard Cuttings
To protect the burr you could also skip this step and wipe the plate using gauze, a loosely woven cloth. Pages from old phone books are useful for the final wipe. You can set highlights removing more ink from selected areas.

#13 Inked and Wiped Plate
TIP: Clean the backside of your plate and review your plate on a white piece of paper.

#3 Printing the Artwork onto Paper

The plate is run through a press transferring the ink onto a piece of dampened paper.

Be careful too much pressure will flatten the burrs and ruin the plate. To less pressure will produce faint and blurred images.

There are different approaches the dampen paper. You could either spray or water your paper depending on the kind of paper you use. The paper I use should soak for about 10 to 15 minutes.

#14 Soaking Paper

Let the excess water drip off while holding the paper on one corner. Put the paper on a flat towel and cover the sheet with the other end of the towel. Apply even pressure with your hands or underarm. The paper should be damp not wet.

Put your inked plate on a board. Carefully ‘roll’ the paper on top. Add another layer of newsprint and a felt blanket. Apply enough pressure using the press to push the paper into the lines.

#19 Press
The blanket helps to even the pressure of the press and to push the paper down into the incised lines. Release the press. Carefully remove your print from the plate.

TA DA!

#20 The Proof
TIP: Water your paper before you start inking your plate. Experiment with different papers.

Find other tutorial here ^_^…

Thank you for your time do not forget to add your feedback, tips and comments!

24 Replies to “How To: Drypoint on Perspex (Plexi-glass)”

  1. excellent little how to, well presented and extremely useful, a pleasure to read.
    best
    Mick

  2. Bonjour,

    Excellent and generous tutorial, you give me the want to use perspex!
    A question, is the press you show for etching? i try to buy one, not too expensive and not too big…
    i caught the “bug” last year at Artstation Auckland and it is wonderful!
    Would you mind to help me about the press choice!
    Many thanks, Beatrice

    1. Hi Beatrice, You can use a book press for drypoint on perspex (not for acid etching) … BUT … you have to make sure the book press is fixed to a stand and you should better get an extension you can use to get more pressure on the handle. I also bought a little Fome school etching press, but if you would like to print a high quality edition you’ll have to use a big heavy press =(… Here in Wellington I use the print studio at Inverlochy Art School http://www.inverlochy.org.nz. I am sure there must be something like this Auckland as well!

  3. Hi,
    I love your tutorial and I have a book press like the one you have, so I gave it all a go. However i am only getting ghost images. I am applying as much pressure as I can but no luck. I have also tried more paint, thicker lines etc…any suggestions?
    I have access to a hydraulic press, would that help?
    Cheers
    p.s Love your work.

    1. Hi there! There are 4 reasons for faint or ghost prints: groves not deep enough, not enough ink, not the right paper or paper not wet enough, or not enough pressure. There is only so much pressure you can apply with a book press, fixing it to the table or an extension to the handel sometimes helps.
      However there is a limit to what you can achieve with such a press. A hydraulic or etching press are definitely better options! Good luck! ^_^

  4. Very clear explanation and you have made it look so easy thatI feel I am doing something wrong. Have just had my second attempt using zinc plate (first was in a tutorial where everything came out beautifully). Reading your site I am sure I have done everything the right way and have used several different types of paper, but the result is a hardly visible line.
    Should I make deeper lines or is my paper too wet, what do you think it can be? Would much appreciate your help

    1. Hi Erica, for a Zinc plate etching you’ll need to use a etching press (steal roller press) and etching paper. A book press will only work for Drypoint prints with high burrs (thrown up at the edge of the incised lines). A book press does not create enough pressure to pick up ink from the lines alone, see the paragraph “Background: Lines and Burrs”.

  5. I print these by wrapping them well in old towels and lastly a layer of plastic and driving my mini-bus over them. Bit of a pain and need a dryish day – rare in the UK lately! But it does work.

  6. Great post for making a drypoint on Plexiglass. I used to employ that method a long time ago and I needed a refresher course which this perfectly provides. Thank you for a very concise and helpful tutorial.

  7. Very instructive tutorial. I have been looking for this for some years now. I still need to find the cutting knife and press. I have been doing limo block for almost 45 years now, as well as mono types on a floor tile, but definitely this THE BEST 🙂

  8. Hi There,

    This post has been wonderful, and inspired me to get a bookpress etc. I wanted to ask what type of papre and felt you used through interest.

    Again thanks so much for posting.

    Cheers, Richard

    1. Hi Richard, I used 300g 100% cotton paper and water-based inks. You need to leave more ink on the plate than you would with an etching press. You can’t apply “too much” pressure with a book press, the challenge is to apply enough pressure ^_^…

  9. I love this tutorial! The fact that you were able to do this with a book press is really impressive. I was wondering if you could tell me how many prints you are able to get per inking.

    Or, do you have to re-ink the plate before each print is pulled (pressed)?

    Also, are you using akua inks, or another brand of water based inks? I appreciate your insight!!! Cheers 🙂

    1. It is one print per inking. If you use a bookpress you also need to make sure not to wipe away too much of the ink. I used akua inks in this example : ).

  10. so concise and helpful. Thanks a million. I have been trying to use ordinary 3mm perspex, not ‘plexiglass) . Could that be why I can hardly get a mark on the paper ? And I am using a needle someone gave me ages ago which may also be wrong. What is the name of the sort of needle I should be using ?

    Thanks in anticipation,
    Charlie Roe

  11. Thanks for all the info. I’ve been playing with dry point using a spoon to apply pressure, with quilt batting fora blanket. Not great, but I got an image. This helps a lot. Thanks!

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