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About Printmaking

Types of Printmaking There are many kinds of printmaking. Most people know of silkscreen as being used for t-shirts or possible lithography as being used for pamphlets and business cards. Printmaking is also a fine art. Many famous artists printed as well as painted and drew. Renoir loved to sketch his work out on an etching plate, as did Manet. Jackson Pollack, Dubufet, Picasso, Matisse, Miro; they all did prints of every kind as works of their own or as sketches of what was to come. Printmaking was and is so widely accepted because of its versatility. Once a plate is made, an unending amount of copies of the image can be printed. The work is then editioned (meaning numbered as to how many there are total and which number each piece is within that total). This allows more than one person to own and enjoy the work. To the left see diagrams describing the differences between the 4 main methods of printmaking. There are also monotypes and mono prints. A monotype is a print that is a one of a kind and did not use a set image on a plate. This can be done, for example, by drawing an image with ink on plexiglass and printing it. A mono print, on the other hand, is a one of a kind image which does use a base image on a plate. For example, an etching plate could be
inked up with colors in specific areas, not throughout the plate, making that same inking impossible to recreate, and then the pate is printed. The base image is the same, but the colors are one of a kind. The rule is: with an etching, the ink is below the surface, in a relief, the ink is above the surface, with a lithograph, the ink is on the surface, and with a silkscreen, the ink goes through the surface.


My personals favorite kind of printmaking is Intaglio. I love to etch! Let me take you through the steps of making an etching. We start with a zinc plate (although some people use copper). There are many methods as to how to etch the plate… The simplest place to start is with an etching needle. The needle is strong metal with a sharp point at one or both ends. The etching needle can be used in many ways. The easiest would be to start by scratching directly into the plate with the needle. This is called drypoint. The line created can be darker or lighter depending on how hard you press with the needle. A drypoint line is also typically richer and softer than an etched line. The second way to use this tool would be to cover the plate with asphaltum, the substance used to hold pebbles together to make asphalt roads. Asphaltum resists acid so wherever it is applied, the plate is protected. Then you would take a somewhat dulled etching needle and use it to scrape lines through the asphaltum. These lines are then exposed and the plate can be soaked in acid to eat the metal in these areas away. The longer you leave the plate in the acid, the deeper the line will etch and the Etching Tools
more ink it will hold. Now, mistakes do happen and mind change. When you have a line you do not want, the scraper can also be used to create a texture which holds ink. This would mean another type of line which looks there are two tools to help take that line away. First you have the scraper which will help scrape away the metal around a line to level the surface with the depth of the line (therefore leaving nothing to hold the ink). You would then use the burnisher to smoothly press down the metal and flatten it. This will help to be sure that no texture is left in the metal from the scraper which would hold ink as well. The scraper can also be used to create a texture which holds ink. This would mean another type of line which looks different from that of the etching needle. It can be manipulated to hold light wide lines of grays. Another way to approach the plate is to start with the plate entirely black and use the burnisher and scraper to create whites. A Rocker can be used to make these blacks. The rocker has a curved edge made up of small points all in a line. Rockers come in different point sizes measured by dots per inch. The rocker would be rocked across the plate from every direction until the plate is entirely covered with the dots which hold ink to create an even velvety black. This takes some time! You would then use the scraper to take away metal or the burnisher to smooth the excess metal into the indented dots so that you can create subtle grays and whites. This is like working in reverse of the other techniques. This method tends to create much richer blacks and much softer gradations between the tones. When you make a mistake here, creating an unwanted white instead of an unwanted black, you can use a roulette to return the texture to that area. The roulette rolls like a wheel and has a small surface of dots. You would have to remember to match this dot size with the dot size you originally used to rock the plate. Another method of etching the plate is to use spray paint, which is resistant to acid and to spray a fine mist over the plate creating dots, not solids. This would then be etched with the acid and the spaces between the dots of spray paint will be eaten away and hold ink. This creates a nice rich black or any shade of gray depending on how long you etch it. With this technique, you can create tones and textures. You can also do what is called a soft ground. Asphaltum is a hard ground, the ground will not lift unless it is scraped away or washed away with a solvent. A soft ground will resist acid, but it is pliable. You can cover the plate in soft ground and then press objects into it, a textured fabric for example. This will allow you to reproduce these textures in the plate with amazing accuracy and subtleties.

To the Press

Relief Press At this point, you have an image on your plate and you are ready to print. The plate will be covered in ink, usually oil based ink, and the ink will be pressed into the grooves created by etching. The plate is then buffed with starched cheesecloth and newsprint to remove all excess ink from areas which were left smooth and white. The plate is taken to the press and paper that has soaked in water is laid on top of it. (The soaking of the paper removes sizing from the paper and allows the paper to be pliable so that it can be pressed into the grooves holding the ink.) The etching press has a large roller which move the
press bed. The roller also presses the Felt blankets against the plate, allowing the paper to lift the ink. The pressure of the roller can be adjusted to allow for somewhat darker or lighter prints, but if the pressure is too tight, the ink may bleed out of the lines. And if the pressure is too loose, the paper may not be pressed into the lines and therefore would not pick up all of the ink. To create a multi-color image, a separate plate needs to be made for each color, usually red blue and yellow and possibly black. The plates need to line up exactly, the process of which is called registration. Creating separate image which line up exactly is NOT EASY! You also need to know about how colors mix to create the subtleties of tone between red and yellow or between blue and red. The results, however, are well worth the effort!

Solar Etching

As a student, I was lucky enough to learn new and innovative processes, some of which very few people know. While I love traditional printmaking as well as drawing and photography, I am especially fond of a new process called Solar Etching. I learned this process from the expert, Dan Welden, who invented this way to utilize these non-toxic Solar Plate Diagram
plates formerly used for computer circuit boards. The process is similar to traditional etching, creating a plate with lines etched into it, which will then hold ink. But instead of using asphaltum and acid, these plates use sunlight and acid, these plates use sunlight and water! The process is then eliminating most of the chemicals, and can eliminate all if you use water based inks to print. I prefer oil based inks, myself. To create my images, I first do drawing or take photographs. These are scanned into my computer where I collage the images together to make one large image. The collage is put through a dot screen, because the plate cannot hold ink in black areas without a texture for the ink to grasp on to. These images are then output to firm instead of printed. This ensures you solid blacks and clear whites and that your lines and dots won’t meld together no matter how minute they may be. These films are then used to expose the plate on a UV light table. (This ensures consistency that the sun cannot provide.) The plate is then gently scrubbed with water and dried. From there it is treated like a normal etching plate!


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