Monday, January 24, 2011

Print Making in the Kitchen; Printing Without Toxic Chemicals

I don't like to work with toxic chemicals. I even avoid oil paints, or clean up with salad oil instead of mineral spirits if I must use them in printing.
 Here are two easy ways to make mono-prints, using only nontoxic materials you may already have on hand.

left: line drawing       right: watercolor on mylar   
 1. Watercolor plates
This can be done in your kitchen!

materials needed:
*90-140 lb watercolor paper or Reeves BFK
*layout paper or tracing paper
*watercolor paints in the tube
*frosted mylar
*(gum arabic)
*paper towels

The first time I use a sheet of mylar, I don't need to coat it with anything. If I use the watercolors right out of the tube, they adhere just fine. For subsequent uses of the same piece of mylar, I coat it with gum arabic.

a. Soak paper in water for about 20 minutes
b. Draw image on layout paper
finished print from maylar plate
c. Turn layout paper over to reverse the image. Place mylar over it and paint on the mylar.
Allow paint to dry. this is your printing plate.
 d. Place wet paper on dry newspaper and wipe away excess moisture with a paper towel.
e. Place printing plate upside down on paper.
you can either send it through a hand cranked printing press, or you can rub the plate with a wooden spoon so that the paint transfers to the paper. Voila! You now have a print.
f. Place your print between 2-3 layers of newsprint and put a heavy book or something on it to weight it down. 
g. To keep your print flat and drying evenly, change the newsprint every two days or so for about a week.

Turn over the layout paper with your design on it
2. Intaglio
A little more complex. Maybe on the dining room table when the littlest ones are abed? Or in the studio of you are lucky enough to have a small press.

materials needed:
*watercolor paper or Reeves BFK
*layout paper
*transfer paper
*speedball ink or Dan Smith's water based etching ink
*polyurethane paint
*cheesescloth or tule

Paint with Polyurethane
a. Start watercolor paper soaking.  Draw your image on layout paper.

b. Turn the layout paper over so that the image is reversed and place on top of matboard with transfer paper between

c. Trace over image so that it transfers to the mat board. Trace over lines with a ball point pen to deepen them.

d.  Paint mat board with two or three coats of polyurethane, for waterproofing. Let dry between coats. This is your printing plate.

e. Go over your lines on the matboard with a ball point pen to deepen them more, enough to grab the ink.
Trace design with ball point pen to deepen lines

f. Spread ink over plate. I use squares of mat board for pallet knives to spread the ink.

g. Use  cheese cloth to scrape away as much ink as you can without scraping it out of the  grooves your pen made. The Dan Smith ink stays in the grooves better than the Speedball ink does.

h. I use q tips to wipe the ink away from where I  want the white paper to show through.

i. Print using a hand printing press.Voila! You have a print! Dry as with the watercolor print.

ink the plate
This technique requires more pressure to transfer the ink to the paper, so I have always used a press to print it. It may be possible to transfer by hand with your wooden spoon, especially if you are using Speedball ink.

print from intaglio plate
print from intaglio plate wiped mostly clean except for lines, with watercolor plate


  1. Thanks for the info Suzanna, print making is next on my list. I will certainly give this a try and I love the fact of it being non-toxic.

  2. some awesome instruction ... so much detail!