How to make an Acid Etching

  • Design: Create a design the same size as your plate. 
  • Select metal: Zinc, steal, and copper are most popular. Zinc is the cheapest.
  • Degrease plate: Clean metal of oil film with ammonia water or commercial metal cleaner. If water continues to bead the metal needs further cleaning. Water should sheet off the plate. Avoid touching plate with fingers.
  • Warm up plate: (optional) Place the plate onto a hot plate and get it warm. Minimum of one minute on low temperature. 
  • Coat plate with ground: (acid-resistant substance). Hard grounds hold fine linear work without chipping or flaking from the surface. The plate should be sitting diagonally. With a soft brush apply liquid hard ground across the plate, beginning at the top. Think of applying wash to a watercolor. A brayer may be used. The ground (asphaltum) should appear brown (if it appears black it is too thick, and tan will not withhold multiple runs). False biting takes place if pinholes appear on the plate.
  • Warm up again: (optional) heating the plate after the liquid hard ground has been applied will help soften and even out the coating. Allow cooling before printing. 
  • Smoke the plate: (optional) to make the ground darker so the exposed metal is more visible you may smoke the ground. Let the flame not the wick dance on the surface of the ground. As the carbon mixes with the ground, it hardens slightly.
  • Transfer drawing: You may use a projector. White chalk on the back of your sketch on tracing paper works well for transfer. You may run it through the press or burnish with a wooden spoon.   Black or white carbon paper can be used face-down and traced from the back with a pencil. Red conté or white chalk on a thin paper also works well.
  • Draw with needle: Draw on the ground with an etching needle (well rounded and not too sharp) exposing the metal. Stippling and hatching with needle and various mezzotint tools create variations of tone. Use light but sufficient pressure. A pencil may be used (6H). Open Bite: Remove larger areas with a q-tip and turpentine.
  • Block out the sides and the back with ground.
  • The Acid Bath: Fumes from most acids are dangerous. Flush with water if an accident occurs. When mixing always pour the acid into the water. Wear polyurethane gloves.  An acid bath can be used several times for the same type of metal, but separate baths must be made for each metal. Nitric acid turns brilliant blue-green after etching copper or brass, and a cloudy gray after etching zinc. The mordants most commonly used for etching copper, zinc, steel, and other metal plates are ferric chloride (most safe), nitric acid and the Dutch mordant. If using the ferric chloride bath face the plate upside down on small pieces of wood about ¼ from the bottom allowing the iron oxide to fall to the bottom of the bath. The nitric acid is mixed at 1/5th ratio with water. Use a Baumé hydrometer to find the solution strength. In saturated form it comes in 45 degrees Baumé. Adding water reduces the density of the fluid. Dry crystals are also available.
  • Lower plate into bath: The plate should be lowered into the acid bath with a stick or a piece of polyester string. At the very least, do not drop; rather lay gently the plate in the bath (splashing issue).The plate is placed into the acid bath, so the drawn areas are exposed by the needle are etched out. The length of time in the acid and the strength of the solution determine both the width and the depth of the line.
  • A line bitten slowly in a weak acid will be much sharper than one bitten for a short time in strong acid.
  • Wipe away bubbles with a feather during the bite.
  • Examine the plate during printing to check the depth of bite. The plate may occasionally have to be dipped into a 20% acetic acid bath to remove any residue.
  • (optional) Use stopping out method by applying stop-out varnish or liquid ground. The lightest lines are stopped out after a brief time in the etching bath. Then, in successive stages, the other lines are covered until the stopping out is completed. Use a good brush with a fine point
  • Remove plate and rinse under water faucet.
  • Clean off ground: The remaining ground is removed with solvent and the plate prepared for printing. [Oil based clean procedure.]
  • Polish plate with a charcoal block, jeweler’s rouge or liquid metal polish and a soft cloth (crocus cloth) to ensure an even printing of surface.
  • Bevel edges: File the rough and sharp edges after the acid bath. Steel wool removes file marks from edge of plate. Sharp edges will cut your print.
  • Fill in ink with dauber (rolled felt) and scrape off extra with a piece of cardboard. Use tissue to finish wiping. Remember to wipe the edges. Clean hands!
  • The paper must dampen without falling apart and must pick up the finest detail on the plate. Rag papers-either handmade or mold made-are traditional for intaglio printing. They have longer fibers than the cheaper wood-pulp papers, as well as low sizing content.  Good-quality paper is made of recycled or new cotton fibers. Select from the following: American Etching, Arches-Test or Cover Stock, Copper Plate Deluxe, German Etching, Italia, Lenox 100, Murillo, Rives-Lightweight, Heavyweight, BFK (cover), Strathmore Etching, J. Barcham Green.
  • Ink: Good ink is buttery, heavily pigmented, and neither too coarsely nor too finely ground. Graphic Chemical and Ink Company makes good ink.
  • Ink is applied with a roller, a dauber or a card made from mat board. Push the ink into all the lines and crevices of the plate. A roller works well. Avoid excessive rubbing and pressure. 
  • Get three or four pads of tarlatan ready. Wash the starch out of the tarlatan first. Consider plate tone as you wipe. You may use newsprint or pages from an old telephone book.
  • Dampen paper with sponger or dip in water bath and use blotter paper. Heavyweight paper will need considerable more water than a thinner one. Place paper in water and place under weight.
  • Print: After making sure that the edges of the plate have been wiped clean, 
  • Lay paper towels on press. Put inked plate face up on towels. Newspaper will leave image.
  • Use some paper tabs to pick up the damp printing paper, and place it on the plate. Lay damp paper on top of inked plate.
  • Use a sheet of registration paper under the plate (if print is large, or if using multiple plates). Only run a print through the press one time.
  • Allow print to dry for a few days on drying rack. Print must never stay on drying rack more then one week.
  • Add Dry Point and/or Engraving afterwards.
  • Flatten paper under weight for a day.

Intaglio printmakers to watch

Intalio styled printing such as etching or engraving is considered by many old fashioned, dated and slightly pretentious. And it can be so but there are some printmakers that are helping to redifine the medium and are draging engraving and etching into the 21st century. 

Koichi Yamamoto

Koichi creates whimsical, sublime, and a tad monstrous images. And he uses engraving to do it.

Follow Koichi on @koichi_yamamoto.

Bradley Preston

Bradley Preston is a printmaker to watch and know about, he does not box himself into categories and uses all printing mediums available: screen printing, litho, mono printing, and etching amongst all others, often combining two or more together. 

You can follow him on @prestonbradley

Go Tell It On the Mountain

Go Tell It On the Mountain

Bernard Zalon

Bernard has been working in etching for the last thirty years. He uses the medium in the most diverse ways creating scenes from life and imagination. 

Follow him at @bzalon

The Texas Two Step

The Texas Two Step

Kate Soal

Kate has a fresh eye of an outsider when it comes to etching having rediscovered the medium a few years ago. She is definetelly doing something right and we hope she keeps on doing what she is doing. 

Rizzo Chino

Rizzo Chino

Holly Morrison

Holly Morrison’s website is an amazing tool for any intaglio printmaker — it is a treasure trove of information and advice that everyone everyone shoudl know about.

Holly Morrison, “This Land”, aquatint, drypoint, chine colle

Holly Morrison, “This Land”, aquatint, drypoint, chine colle

To explore the world of analogue print join Tom’s Etching Studio mailing list, and if you are in London pop by our studio in Hackney Wick for some irl printing.

Lino artists who are changing the medium.

Lino cutting is not percieved as a sexy medium, for a very long time the medium assiciated with stay at home diy moms and dads who want to be creative. 

Non artists are reclaiming the medium and here are thouse you should check out for some printspiration.

Lino Cut Boy (Nick Morley)

Marget based Lino Cut Boy is well known outside the seaside town. He is a brilliant spoke person and suporter of lino who has been activelly reimagining the medium and pushing its possibility by mixing techniques, and using interesting subject matter. 

Follow him on @linocutboy

Handbag by Lino Cut Boy

Handbag by Lino Cut Boy

Menna Jenkins

Menna brings youth colour and energy back to print, her linos are bright and a tad tongue in cheek. Her blog is also up to date and is a fun detailing of what its like to be a young printmaker and artist in London. 

Follow her on @mennajenkins

What the Fuck? by Menna Jenkins

What the Fuck? by Menna Jenkins

Jonny Hannah

His work is bold, busy, and colourful. He takes full advantage of linocutting medium and its main characterise — no details just big, bold shapes.

The Black Shuck Book Shop by Jonny Hannah

The Black Shuck Book Shop by Jonny Hannah

Andrea Lauren

Possibly better described as a designer than an artist, its an absolute pleasure to look at the photographs of Andrea’s work and process. Her website allows a brief behind the scenes look at how she manages to create the colorful muti-layered prints. 

Follow her on @inkprintrepeat

Blue Bird by Andrea Lauren

Blue Bird by Andrea Lauren

Derrick Castle

Derrick’s work has the yesteryear hipster vibe, and lino print add the timelessness quality to teh images better than any other format of printing.  

Follow him on @strawcastle

Whiskey Sour by Derrick Castle

Whiskey Sour by Derrick Castle

To explore the world of analogue print join Tom’s Etching Studio mailing list, and if you are in London pop by our studio in Hackney Wick for some irl printing.

How to print with cardboard

In an age where we recycle everything when everyone is eco conscious and no one has money to spare. Iam surprised that almost none has heard about collograph or cardboard printing. Which is probably the most experimental and spontaneous form of relief printing. 

Equipment you will need:

1 x Cardboard — like the grey cardboard you get at the end of artist paper albums.

1 x paper knife

1 x pencil (or colourful sharpies)

1 x printing press — this is the type of printing where you must have a press. 

Step One 

Transfer your design onto a piece of cardboard — do not forget it will print in mirror image. 

Here you can go crazy with sharpies. 

Step Two

Cut out the bits that you want do not want coloured. 

Step Three

Ink the cardboard, teh coardboard will soak in some of the paint, so if you want it perfectly colored — you will have to use more paint. 

Step Four

Print it! Print it like you would a lino cut — there is no need to wet the paper, and you can print on fabric if you want. I used a massive press, and have no idea how it will work with a book binding press but if you do try — give me a shout out — I want to know how it goes. 

Step Five 

The great unveil — this is my faourite part you get to find out if its perfect, or you screwed up.

Quirks of the medium 

  • The matrix detereorates very fast, usually its hard to get more than 3–10 prints out of it. 
  • Hard to control — there is only so much you can control in cardboard printing, teh hardest thing to control is the shading
  • It’s hard to get a ‘color block’ — as you can see from the end result.

I hope this helps and Happy Printing! If you do cardboard printing tweet your images at us at @etchinglondon, of share it on our facebook

To explore the world of analogue print join Tom’s Etching Studio mailing list, and if you are in London pop by our studio in Hackney Wick for some irl printing.

Print and Publishing: why now is the time to remember our oldest books.

In a world of e-books and disposable paper packs few of us actually draw the connection between fine art printing and publishing. Obviously books are printed but we tend to think about the mechanised cheap publishing such as litho or risograph and it is a shame. Everyone argues that its the e-book that will kill the analogue book, I will argue that its death will be a cheap paperpack from the bargain bin. 

In times like this the only way the book publishing industry can help teh analogue book survive is to take advantage of the tactile expereince. There have been some great experiment such as S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Where the reading experience is very tactile and readers find clues to teh story on napkins and scraps of paper hidden in the book. 

The art community is doing some interesting things, with many artists pushing the boundary to the extreme and looking at the book itself as at an art object. 

Surprisingly it seems no one is trying to find an insiration in the old. 587 years before the Gutenberg press on 11th May 868 in China teh oldest [known] dated book was printed. Yes half a milenia before the book press we created a printed book. The book — Diamond Sutra was wood block printed. Seven strips of yellow-stained paper were printed from carved wooden blocks and pasted together to form a scroll over 5m long.

How cool would that be if instead of editions of millions books shops would be filled with edition of a 100 that where lino cut and printed, or silk screen printed, or even etched?

Why you should take up printing.

You learn a skill.

Printing is one of these rare art forms that is vocational. Printing is a hard skill that elegantly mixes manual labour, creativity, and knowledge. Printing is a skill that can be applied to multiple areas, printing is ususally positionsed at the intersection of art, design, and publishing. 

You are encouraged to experiment. 

You do not have to be precious about printing as over and over again you find yourself replicating from the same template, that means you can play around and if you ruin a print — it doesn’t matter you can print one again. This experemental nature is an inherent part of monoprint, which has been described as a ‘variation on a theme’.

You do not need to be an artist.

I found that many adults are either afraid of ‘art’, either they do not want to appear uncultured, or uncreative, or untalented, but if something is art — they bail. Print, any type of print, is the perfect gateway drug — there is a skill involved to being good at printing but thouse are technical skills not artistic ones. Lino is my favourite example — if you are good at coloring in the lines — you are good at lino. 

Print by Andrea Lauren

Print by Andrea Lauren

You can do anything. 

I mean it printing opens a world of possibilities — with a cutting knife and a block of lino you can create your own collection, with a screen print — you can become a wheat paste street artist, with a metal plate and a pin you can create — anything and it will always look amazing. With print you can customise, you can create new things, or revisit the old favourites. imagine 30 years from now you can take a copper plate you etched in 2015 and print another image that would not be affected by decades past. Print is timeless.

It’s therapeutic. 

this one comes completely from personal expereince — give me some lino and a knife and I will sit in the same spot without moving or eating for the rest of the day. Time stops, its just you — the image in front of you and teh need to carve a tiny piece at a time to create the image. 

Printing is for everyone!

Why do Etching?

Why do Etching?

From Gutenberg’s first press to Adobe’s Photoshop, print technology has sat at the crux of human development, providing an accurate means of disseminating knowledge. Etching, which sprang from the work of alchemists and armourers, offers a particularly dynamic form of printmaking that has lured artists from the beginning.


Humble Beginnings

Humble Beginnings

The idea to build a press began as one of those lofty wine-soaked acclamations. "Sure I can build a press - all you need is a bit of pressure"  he said with the air of one who sees a big tree and having already calculated every step he would take to climb it, decides the job was near enough done to bother doing it at all. In the case of the press however, the job was started and as with climbing a tree, there is no greater fire for your will then being stumped.