Printmaking tips

I owe a debt a gratitude to all the printmakers who were kind enough to share their tips freely in person, on the web, and on the printmaking list forum. To connect up with some of these fine folks, please go to my Printmaking Links. If you would like to add some tips of your own, please e-mail me and I will add them and credit you.

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Where to buy ferric chloride cheaply and avoid that whopping hazard shipping fee

Try your local electronics store. It is used to etch copper circuit boards. Where I live in upstate NY I was able to find it for only $13.70 a gallon. I find that it works wonderfully well. Most Radio Shack's carry it , but it is hard to find it in other than pint sizes from them.

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Where to buy copper cheaply for intaglio

I was able to find copper inexpensively at a local roofing supply store. It was sold in a 3 foot by 8 foot sheet. Cutting charges are usually about a dollar a cut unless you have access to a university or college or metal fabrication shop where you can cut it yourself. You could also use a metal blade on a saber saw but it is neater and cleaner to have it cut by guillotine. An important tip: check out several roofing suppliers...I found that the price varied enormously. It always depends on the price of copper on the world market at any given time, so it depends when the supplier last bought it and also how much profit they wish to make. I bought a 3 x 8 sheet of 20 ounce for $45 last time.

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Translating gauges and ounces

Printmaking suppliers sell copper by the gauge: Roofing suppliers sell it by the ounce. Here are the equivalents:

16 gauge =36 oz
18 gauge=30 oz
20 gauge=24 oz
22 gauge=18 oz

Roofing supply places have either 16 or 20 oz and mine is 20 oz which is heavier. It is equivalent to .032. I have made plates 15 x 18 without any problems, even with deep cuts, aquatint and purposeful creve.

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Contact Paper Resist

Plates that are to be etched need to have a resist on the back so the etchant doesn't eat through the metal.The easiest and neatest way to provide a permanent resist for the back of your copper plates is to cover them with contact paper. The best way to accomplish this is to cut the contact paper slightly larger than the copper plate and then to remove the backing from one corner and place it on the copper plate. Then slowly continue to remove the rest of the backing, pressing out the air bubbles as you go along until the entire plate is covered. Trim the edges with a blade and then run it through your press. You need never remove the contact paper from the back, even while inking, and it will help the plate from oxidizing while in storage. Should you wish to remove it though, it comes off easily and cleanly. Contact paper also makes a great stencil to use as a resist on the front of the plate.

 How to make a ferric container for odd sized plates

Need a weird sized container for your ferric chloride etchant? Take a couple of two by fours or other scrap wood and hot glue it to a piece of masonite or plexiglas, etc to create the size you need. Next, cut enough heavy sheet plastic to fit inside the makeshift tray with a few inches overlap over the edges. Lay it inside the box and use duct (quack quack) tape to hold it to the outside of your wooden dam. Then fill with the ferric chloride.

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How to raise copper plate in a ferric bath

It is suggested that copper plates be turned upside down in ferric chloride so you can make use of gravity to remove the metal filings and not clog up the line work. The question then is how to elevate your copper plate while in the ferric chloride bath. Buy some weather stripping from the hardware store. Buy the foam kind with one sticky side. Cut it into lengths that you can attach to any areas that have a resist such as your hard ground or stop-out and attach.

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How to soak a large piece of paper

Wow, who has a sink the size of the ones at a college? And where to find trays over the size of an under-the-bed storage clothes storage unit? While the latter works well for soaking a fair sized piece of paper, I decided to do a triptych that was beyond its capabilities. Options included spraying a larger sheet with a mister (tiring) or an air gun attached to a compressor (a bit messy). You could also create a container as suggested in my tip on making a ferric container. Another solution is to take a five gallon plastic bucket and loosely roll a sheet of paper and soak it that way..This will work for a sheet up to the height of the bucket by however long you wish.

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Positive plates for photographs, etc

There are several products out there in the marketplace for the printmaker: positive plates, negative plates, etc. I spent a week at Skidmore with Kate Leavitt and learned to use Solarplates and fell in love with them. The selling points were ease of use and the fact that the developer was water! As a printmaker trying to stay in the non-toxic realm, this was wonderful. (By the way, I don't sell these plates, but Dan Welden of Hampton Editions does and he's a great 516-725-3990 for info). The plates are exposed by UV light and can even be brought outside on a sunny day and exposed that way. The down side of that is that the strength of the sunlight varies day by day, hour by hour, season by season so you would have to do test strips every time to make sure you have the proper exposure. One solution:

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Building your own exposure unit

At Skidmore there was a wonderful exposure unit. Unfortunately it cost about seven hundred dollars! I decided to build my own unit, being the independent cuss I am and not wanting to bother Kate every time I wanted to make a plate. Basically her unit was a series of UV (black light bulbs) placed side by side in a box that had a piece of foam attached to its lid that could be clamped down for good contact and a timer. Okay, the timer is easy...go to a kitchen supply place (Lechters is great for an assortment) and buy one with minutes and seconds that beeps since it will be dark when it goes off. They make wonderful digital ones for between $9-19. As for the light box, get out that saw and make one a little bit larger than the largest size positive plate you will be exposing but at least 28" long since about the smallest light bulbs I found were two-footers. (18" is also available but trickier to find). The width is up to you but as you get wider you will need more bulbs. Make the sides no higher than six inches. Purchase a piece of glass to lay across the top. Next, buy bulbs and lighting units. BIG TIP!: All UV (or black lights) are for pre-heat fixtures only. The florescent units you have around are usually rapid-start. These DO NOT WORK. (I tried...) So you will need to buy both the fixtures and the bulbs. Finding a local source is the hardest part. Some regular electrical and lighting stores have these items, so do theatrical lighting shops and around Halloween try the costume stores. Next, string the plugs of the units into one of those wonderful outlet strips the computer industry has made so popular, or, if you are really handy and want to go to the trouble, gang the fixtures together by wiring them that way. As for good contact between the positive and the plate, after they are laid down on top of the glass, just place a piece of thin foam down with a piece of black plastic or black sintra on top and put a cinder block on top to hold.'ve done it!

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The aquatint screen

So now you have your box and are ready to expose your film positive. It could be a xerox, a computer generated photo or drawing printed on acetate, or drawing on mylar. But you also have to expose the plate to an aquatint screen or else you will get the equivalent of areas of creve instead of gradations of black and grey through to white! Again, it was wonderful at Skidmore to have access to a nice aquatint screen, but a small one costs upward of $150. Here is where a computer comes in. Since a computer is set to print with small dots, this seems ideal. After a lot of hit and miss (mostly miss) I created an 80% grey and printed it on a piece of specially coated acetate applicable for my printer (I have an ink-jet) at between 200-300dpi. This works great. I tried 100dpi but could never produce a really rich black. Also, when I use a computer generated image, I use between 200-300dpi to print that out too. The only limitation is the size of the acetate you can find and the size of your printer, but it is easy to produce an 8 x 10. Since an ink jet lays a thin coating on the acetate, I found that the fewer lights the better, using only one light for a 7 x 10 plate.(Note: A laser printer will probably make a denser screen, but I haven't tried this yet.) The exposure times depend so much on the number of lights, how far they are from the plate, how dense the aquatint screen is, whether the image is computer generated, on mylar, etc etc that is impossible to give an exact timing. Usually the exposures are within the 30 second to two minute range.

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Magnets are great!

Kate showed me a great way to both develop and ink up the plate without it moving around. The Solarplates are fairly thin and are hard to hold, but they are backed with steel. Kate had made up a magnetic sheet to keep them in place. You can go to a sign shop and cheaply buy any size piece of magnetic sheet you want. Mine was two feet by one foot. I attached it with commonti tissue (which is like two-sided tape except it comes in sheets and is available at art stores.) to a piece of plexiglas or any other waterproof surface. Before you lay the solarplate on top, slide a piece of newspaper underneath or else it will be hard to take the plate off later.

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Non-toxic tips

I can't take credit for any of these, but wishing to spread the non-toxic word to all printmakers in hopes that we will thrive for a long time to come, I share these thoughts gleaned from lots of other websites and people interested in living long and creating a lot. If you look in my Printmaking Links area, you will find these websites and I encourage you to visit them.

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Drying Embossments

There is a technique that my wife Marion Behr uses for embossments and thick ink mono
prints. Instead of covering the whole print surface, make a frame just a bit larger than the
image imprint of half inch foam core. Glue (with rubber cement) thick blotter sheet to the
"frame" which should be at least as wide as the remaining (unprinted) part of the paper and
lay this on the printed sheet. The apply the usual pressure and let dry at least a week.
This will stop the edges from wrinkling. (Submitted by Omri Behr)

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