In this project, I make and print a cardboard drypoint plate. Drypoint is a form of intaglio printmaking, where ink wiped into the grooves and indentations of a printmaking matrix is transferred onto paper. Printing a drypoint is similar to printing an etching, but a drypoint can be made with minimal tools and without harsh chemicals.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
Carborundum grit (optional)
Tarlatan (stiffened cheesecloth)
Telephone book pages
Printmaking paper suitable for etching, soaked in water (I used BFK Rives)
Etching press (if you don't have access to an etching press, see my instructable project on how to build a press from a pasta machine)
Etching press blankets
drypoint needle (optional)
bone folder (optional)
computer and printer (optional)
Step 2: Preparing Your Image
The easiest way to prepare your image is to draw directly onto your piece of cardboard. I wanted to adapt a photograph I'd taken, so decided to prepare my image in Photoshop.
I began by importing my photograph and flipping it horizontally. When you print using intaglio methods, you need to work backwards as the image flips when you print it. This doesn't matter so much with images, but is very important if you try to print text.
After I'd flipped my image horizontally, I dropped the opacity on the photograph and made a new layer to draw on. I began by tracing fine lines all over the image, then switched to an airbrush to indicate where I wanted extra shading, and a thicker paint brush where I wanted my lines to be stronger. When this plate is prepared and printed, the ink will sit in the linework.
When I was happy with my image, I printed it out with crop marks, trimmed it and stuck it to my cardboard plate with PVA glue. I used my bone folder to smooth out any air bubbles.
Step 3: Preparing Your Plate
When the glue had dried, my first mark making step was to use a scalpel type craft knife to trace over the very thin lines on my image. Rather than following the lines exactly, I kept my strokes fairly loose and light to give more character to the image. I then switched to a thicker drypoint needle and went over the heavier lines. You can use any type of tool that will cut or indent the surface of your plate to make marks.
The next tool I used is called a roulette wheel, which is a rotating barrel that has a raised dot pattern on it. A roulette is useful to add tone and shading to areas where you want it. I used mine to add some minor shading around the lines on the swan, and also to add shadows to the water. I went over the heavy lines again with the tip of my bone folder tool, then added some more texture to the water with glue and carborundum grit.
When the glue had dried, I sealed the whole plate, back and front, with a clear spray sealant. This protects the plate from ink and water in the printing process, so that you can use it again. I also like to spray excess sealant here and there on my plate, as it gives more interest to the shading when the plate is inked up.
Step 4: Inking Up the Plate
Etching ink is a stiff printmaking ink that sticks in the grooves of your plate. I use a glass topped Ikea dresser as my inking bench, but you can use any type of glass, acrylic or gloss tile surface.
I put a small amount of ink out on my glass surface (be sparing; you don't need much), which I mix a little with a paint scraper to improve the consistency. I then pick up a little of this ink on a piece of rubber (mine is screenprinting squeegee rubber; you can also use an eraser, a piece of thick cardboard or an old plastic credit card) and drag the ink out in a thin layer over my image.
After applying the ink, I take a large piece of tarlatan (cheesecloth stiffened with glue), scrunch it up, and wipe it over the plate with a pushing motion. This takes excess ink off the flat surfaces on the plate, and also pushes ink into the grooves. After wiping the plate with tarlatan, I do a second wipe using a flat sheet of phonebook paper. This takes more ink from the surface without affecting the ink in the grooves.
Step 5: Preparing the Paper
When printing a drypoint, etching or other intaglio type print, your printmaking paper will need to be soaked in water. For this project, I tore my paper down to size before beginning the inking process, put a little warm water in a plastic tub, then left all my paper sitting in the tub for 10-30 minutes. After inking the plate each time, I take a sheet of paper from the tub and blot off the excess water a couple of times with a sheet of clean newsprint. You want your paper to be fully damp, but you don't want any water obviously pooling on the surface of the paper.
Step 6: Printing the Plate
To print your plate, it needs to be run through an etching press.
An etching press is made from two heavy steel rollers that have a bed (usually a flat sheet of steel, wood or plastic) sandwiched between them. The bottom roller of the press has a wheel attached to it on the side which you rotate to move the bed back and forth.
Etching blankets are used in intaglio printing to protect the rollers and help push the dampened paper down into the grooves on your plate, pulling the ink out of them. I set my press fairly lightly when printing drypoint plates as they are more delicate than regular etching plates.
When your press has been set and you're happy with it, it's time to print. Put your plate face up on the press bed, then carefully place your dampened paper on the plate. In this project, I printed my image with a full bleed, meaning the plate is bigger than my sheet of paper. To avoid getting excess ink on my printmaking blankets, I place a sheet of clean newsprint between the plate/paper and blankets. I then lowered my blankets and ran the plate through the press once (there is no need to go backwards and forwards multiple times).
Step 7: Hand Colouring the Print
There are multiple ways to add colour to a drypoint print. For this project, I added light washes of watercolour immediately after printing while the paper was still damp. I applied the watercolour with a brush and blotted it back in areas with a scrunched up paper towel.
If you leave your etchings to air dry, they will buckle. To dry them flat, layer them in a cardboard and newsprint sandwich like this:
WEIGHTS / BOOKS
Leave your prints to dry like this for a day or two.
Step 8: The Finished Print!
In these images, you can see some of the details up close. The thin lines are from the craft knife incisions, the thicker lines are from the drypoint tool and bone folder, and the very dark areas were made by the carborundum grit (the stuff sandpaper is made from) stuck onto the plate. The dot marks from the roulette tool can also be seen in these areas.
The final image shows the plate on the left and the finished print on the right.