This tutorial is from 2009, and I plan to update it as soon as possible. It is still very popular and people find it helpful, so I’ll keep it here for now. I bought am etching press in 2012 and am using it for all my drypoint prints now.
There are a million different approaches to drypoint printmaking. This post describes one approach among many possibilities.
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 transferred 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.
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.
Intaglio printmaking processes follows three steps.
- #1 ‘Transferring’ the artwork onto the plate
- #2 Inking and wiping
- #3 Printing the artwork onto paper
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…
- Paint knife
- Glass plate
- Pasteboard cuttings
- Phone book
For step#3 Printing…
- Tray (water bath)
- Towel (white)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the plate is completely covered with a thin layer paste board cuttings are used to remove excess ink form the surface.
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.
#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.
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.
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.
TIP: Water your paper before you start inking your plate. Experiment with different papers.
Thank you for your time do not forget to add your feedback, tips and comments!