Etching and Collagraph Printing Basics

Hand-Made Prints

Here I briefly describe two main printing processes which I employ in my work; etching and collagraph.

My hand made prints are totally different to giclee & other mass produced reproductions confusingly also called prints. In brief, I make a plate, ink it up, put it on the etching bed of my press. I cover it with damped paper, lay blankets on top. I then hand wind the bed through the rollers of my press to transfer the image from plate to paper. Printmaking this way is an uncertain, exciting, frustrating and messy process with no guaranteed outcome!


For etchings and drypoint processes I use sheet aluminium, zinc or steel and a copper sulphate saline etching solution. The back of the plate is protected by parcel tape & various soft & hard grounds applied to the front and scratches & marks made through them to the metal surface. I have used photo-etch processes to transfer images too, sometimes in multiple layers onto one plate. Then I submerge the plate in the etching solution allowing it to bite into the unprotected metal areas generating indentations. It is these indentations and the way they hold ink which ultimately form the image . Usually a plate will have multiple sessions in the etching solution with grounds removed & reapplied each time. After each session,  I  check the image by making a test print to determine the requirements of the next etching phase.


A collagraph plate is made from a collage of materials glued onto a support which is usually a piece of thin cardboard or mount board. I use different types of papers, fabrics, plastics, fillers, carborundum(fine grit), plant materials, adhesives, paint. Sometimes, I resort to a blow torch or soldering iron to produce an image on the plate. Many of the collagraph plates I make are fragile and have a very limited life span. My print runs are usually very short editions rarely more than 10 and often just one offs. Even the way I ink the same plate can make the resulting print very different.

Inking the plate

I use intaglio inks to ink up both collagraph and etching the plates. Initially a lot of ink pushed and spread over to get in all the nooks and crannies. Then excess ink is wiped away using scrim and newsprint and tissue. This wiping process has a big impact on the final image and can be a long trail and error process.

Printing the plate

The inked plate is then placed ink side up on the bed of the press and damp paper laid on top. Tissue paper & blankets are carefully laid over the damp paper & plate and the whole pile wound through the rollers of the press and the pressure forces the ink onto the paper.

The Reveal

You never quite know what you will find when you take off the blankets and carefully pull the paper away from the plate – no two prints are ever the same! Often a plate needs further work before I am happy with the prints it produces.

Antique fair ground merry-go-round horses head.
Antique cast iron fair ground horses head used as weight


I carefully dry my damp prints between clean dry layers of blotting paper interleaved with corrugated boards and flattened down with a piece of ply board with a heavy weight on top. In my case I use an old Iron fair ground horse head!

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