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Relief printing at home – hints and tips thumb

Relief printing at home – hints and tips

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
For those of you that don’t know me, in addition to being an OCA tutor, I am a practicing printmaker. I have a Masters degree in Printmaking, I have worked in the print industry as well as in education for the last ten years, and have exhibited my prints in exhibitions all over the world. During my career, I have come across some sticking points in relation to printmaking at home, and I thought it might help some of you if I shared some handy tips.
1. Acrylic vs. Oil based ink

Cleaning with oil1   Cleaning with oil2

In the range of relief printing techniques, the finish you get with acrylic ink is very different to oil based ink, and when working with relief printing people develop a preference for one or the other. 
Cleaning with dilute washing up liquid
However, many people steer away from trying out oil-based ink due to the need for solvents, such as white spirit, to clean up. This is a shame as it is important for any printmaker to test their prints using a variety of inks in order to make an informed decision on which inks work best with each process.
What many practitioners don’t realise is that there is a non-toxic alternative for cleaning up oil-based ink. You can use a combination of ordinary cooking oil and dilute washing up liquid.
Apply the cooking oil to a rag, a cut up old t-shirt or tea towel for instance, and work it into the work surface and relief plate or block, this will disperse the ink enough to then use the dilute washing up liquid to clean away the remaining ink residue.
2. Collagraph Do’s and Don’ts
Collagraph is a tricky process, the translation of imagery through the building of layers and the combination of objects on a plate surface isn’t easy, and the results are often hard to predict. I have compiled a few tips which I hope will help with this process;
Subtlety is key – the more subtle the changes in your plate surface, the more effective your prints will be. Items to steer clear of include pasta (too thick and too recognizable as pasta) rice (also too thick and recognizable) string (depending on how thick it is, the thinner the better) lentils (also too thick).
Try to consider the items you apply to your plate in terms of what texture they will produce. A handy tip is using a combination of different tapes, such as masking tape, brown packing tape, and gaffa tape, this can produce different surface textures whilst maintaining a subtle change in surface height.
Cutting into the plate surface itself – this can add some interesting textures, even after varnishing, particularly if you are using mount board as your plate. It can also add a controlled differentiation between areas in your composition, and also help when describing man made structures which require hard, sharp lines.
3. Applying pressure

Spoon1This is a learning curve for most printmakers, how to apply a good amount of pressure in order to produce effective relief prints without a relief press. Some printmakers favour a baren, which are fine but tend to wear out after a number of uses. My tip for this is the humble wooden spoon.

Held with the tips of the fingers in the concave part of the spoon, you will find you can achieve a good amount of pressure, however, you do need to be thorough in order to achieve a clean all over print. With careful handling, you can check the finish of your print and if it needs a bit more rubbing the paper can be carefully replaced.

Please note! – do not use a metal spoon, they get very hot from the friction very quickly.
Spoon2  Spoon3
4. Registration

For multi-colour, multi-block, or reduction lino cuts, the task of registering these prints over the top of one another can become an issue. This is when being organised and thinking ahead is vital if your prints are to work. First thing you must do is produce a registration guide, this will show where your plate and paper will go every time you print, and will allow you to print as many times as you want on the same area of your paper.On your guide you will need to have clearly marked on it the position of your plate, and the position of your paper. You can also place registration tabs (made of card and fixed with double sided tape or super glue) along your guide marks, making it easier to just slot your plate and paper into your guide marks every time.It is important that your guide is made of some sort of plasticised sheet so that it can be cleaned, thus making it reusable and preventing waste.’

Registration guide1 Registration guide2

Posted by author: India
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13 thoughts on “Relief printing at home – hints and tips

  • Thank you so much for this! The section on registration is really helpful – I am new to printmaking and haven’t been given the tip about using bits of card at the workshop where I’m learning.

    • Every workshop has their own method when it comes to registration, but I find this way of registering to produce pretty accurate results. Unless you are working with multiple lino blocks where the size of each block differs slightly, in which case you can either place the block face down onto the paper or you can ‘float register’. For this you need to attach a sheet of acetate to your registration sheet (tape along one side to make a hinge), and print the first block onto the underside of the acetate. Once dry, you can register each subsequent block to the image on the acetate. It is important that you don’t remove the acetate from its tape hinge on the registration sheet until you have finished printing your image in its entirety, otherwise you will have no idea how your print will register.

  • I use citri-wash to clean up, because I used to get terrible headaches from the solvents. Citri-wash is a citrus based cleaning fluid, you can order it online from places like Hawthorne Printmaker Supplies, but now I know washing up liquid works just as well I will try that.

  • When I have finished with my photography course, printing is where I am going. It is something I have wanted to try for a very long time & things get in the way.

    • I’m doing photography as well – going on to do an MA photography at a bricks & mortar university in October – but I’ve been doing some one-day courses at the Leicester Print Workshop, learning how to use photos in printmaking. I love solar plate etching but found CMYK screenprinting far too complicated – too many things that can go wrong!

      • Bits of card and double sided sticky tape are the printmakers best friends!
        I like solar plate too, and also paper plate lithography is another way to print photographs. hoping at some point to put my photography into printmaking, somehow I’ve got myself far too engrossed with other photographic options at the moment:-)

      • Four colour separation (CMYK) is a tricky process to master, but it is worth sticking at it. The more you work with complex registration the quicker you will become, and it can produce excellent and rewarding results

  • Thanks India, that’s really helpful. Could you also say if there are any particular brands you would recommend? And what do you think of the caligo safe wash inks?

    • I have a limited experience of Caligo safe wash, however, what I have seen of the finish of these particular inks I must admit I am impressed. The quality of the coverage is as close to oil based inks as you can get, but with a less pungent odour and easier to clean up. Water based inks in general have a tendency to be too ‘loose’, and lack the tacky consistency that is desirable for relief printing. Caligo I would say is a happy medium.

  • I have just completed the introduction to printmaking unit and tried acrylic and oil based medium before experimenting with Caligo. I felt it was a risk to spend the money on another medium that might not work for me. It turned out to be a good investment. Print quality is very similar to oil based medium and washed out in water, so no solvent headache in the winter when I dont want my studio door open.

  • I am still struggling to register the floating part of the positive and negative mono print in Printmaking1 assignment1. I asked my tutor and he referred me to this website but the floating central image doesn’t have a corner to slot into the registration blocks you suggest. In the end I had to draw a cross on the backs of my positive and negative shapes and also on the paper “map” under my glass plate. That worked reasonably well but was still a little haphazard as I wear varifocal glasses! My neck now has permanent crick in it!

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