Some printmaking terms

Just a few notes, so we all understand what I am talking about. This is a very quick overview, with little detail. Be sure to ask if you have any questions.

BLOCK PRINTING: This is a technique in which the spaces are cut away and show up as white or the color of the printing paper. The raised areas are inked. Plates are carved from just about anything that will take the carving. Stone, linoleum, rubber, wood, potatoes, etc.
….Woodblock: a block printing plate carved from wood
….linocut: a block printing plate carved from linoleum

INTAGLIO PRINTING: This is a general term for the techniques which require gouging into the surface that will hold the ink. Ink is pressed into the grooves and gouges, and wiped off the raised areas. Dark areas are created with fine crosshatching, or closely spaced dots which print black if done properly.

….Drypoint: A stylus of steel or one tipped with diamond, is used to draw directly on an untreated plate. A burr of metal is thrown to the side of the line drawn, and the burr also holds ink, giving drypoint a characteristic fuzziness that is eventually lost as the plate is reprinted. Copper and zinc are popular plates, but laminated cardboard and acrylic sheets are also used. The burr makes this style of printing very limited in the number of plates that can be run. Drypoint can also be used to fix small details in printing plates of any kind.
….Engraving: A sharp, specialized tool called a ‘burin’ is the primary tool for engraving. The excess metal is not thrown to the side as in drypoint; it curls up ahead of the burin, and then is cut off with a sharp scraper to leave lines for the ink that are sharp and clear. Lines in engraving are usually thicker than in drypoint, though some engraving tools can produce very fine lines if used lightly.
….Etching: Etching is the use of acids to bite into the plate and create the lines which hold the ink. A plate is covered with an acid-resistant coating such as wax or roisin. Then lines are drawn with a sharp tool through the coating to expose the plate. The plate is then set in a bath of acid, and the exposed lines are eaten out. Varnish can be applied to cover up marked areas when only a light line is required, and the plate can be set in the bath multiple times to create varying depths of line.
….Solar Etching: Solar etching plates have a specialized coating. A transparency with the drawing rendered in opaque ink is placed on the coated plate. The plate is exposed to direct sunlight, which goes through the transparent areas of the drawing and hardens those areas of the plate. Protected, opaque areas of the drawing keep the plate soft, and the soft areas are rinsed away with water. The entire plate is then exposed to sunlight to harden everything. Either block printing or intaglio techniques can be achieved on a solar plate.
….Aquatint: This is a technique of dusting a plate with fine particles of rosin, and heating the plate to melt it in place. When the plate is set in the acid bath, a fine speckling is created instead of crosshatched lines to create shifts in tone. By altering the time in the bath for the plate, subtle shifts in tone can be created with soft edges.
….Mezzotint: This is a very grueling technique in which the entire printing plate is covered with fine pits that hold ink, to create what would be an overall printing of black. Then, with burnishers and scrapers, the highlights are smoothed back out to be wiped clean of ink when the plate is printed. The plates are ‘rocked’ with a ‘mezzotint ‘rocker’, which has the look of a flat chisel with a curved edge blade. Sharp points along its edge create the marks in the plate. It is rocked back and forth across the plate, over and over again, until the plate is covered with pits that hold ink. There is a great deal of control over the tones in a mezzotint plate, and the dark areas are rich and velvety.

And there ya go. Lots of things can be used to make prints. Sculpting clay can be baked into hardened plates after the design is created. Objects can be fixed to a base plate and inked, creating a raised design, or Collagraph. Leaves and seeds can be inked and pressed to paper, and so can fish.

My cats have so far refused to take part in any experiments of cat-printing, however…



Cutting Linoleum (Sb)

I’ve been on the road and otherwise occupied with sundry things during the month of July, but I’m back and getting back to work.

One of the first things I did was to drag out the old stack of golden linoleum I had at the back of the studio. I ordered some in bulk when I bought my etching press two years ago.

Common ‘battleship gray’ linoleum ages relatively quickly, and can harden over the course of six months, leaving a brittle crust on the surface which is hard to carve. Regular linoleum is made to do that because it is a floor covering. After an initial softness, making it easy to lay down, it hardens to resist damage and wear.

This makes it great for printing plates, as it will age to a harder surface after it has been carved. But you can’t really store it for very long.

Dick Blick sells two kinds of linoleum made for the art industry. Wonder-cut, which is their softest version with the longest hardening time, and Golden which is between the harder gray and the softer Wonder-cut for shelf life.

Why not buy Wonder-cut? If you are going to shelve the materials for an undetermined amount of time, such as a school classroom, it is fantastic. It will remain soft for much longer. But if you are going to use it within a year or two, remember that it won’t harden for you either. Your plates will remain soft and liable to be damaged easily.

I meant to use the linoleum within a year, so I bought large sheets of Golden which matched the maximum width printed with my etching press. Thus I could cut it down to odd sizes if I wanted to. Unfortunately, I did not use it immediately, and I was initially unsure as to its current condition.

Luckily, though the top sheet was exposed to air and light, and not soft, the other sheets, which were wrapped in plastic and protected from UV light are still nice.

Judicious application of heat increases the softness of the linoleum as well. I use an old shrink wrap gun, much like a heavy duty hair dryer, to apply heat to areas of the block. A hair dryer would probably work too, or a small heater like they use to apply embossing powders to inks. Laying the block in hot sunlight, on a radiator or on a warm electric griddle for short time works as well. I put it on my car hood once, in August. Worked great.

Clothing irons or things which would apply heat on contact would probably not work as well, as the linoleum gets sticky if it is too hot. Don’t heat it too much or you will have a hard time touching or working with it.



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