Using Laser Cut Matrices for Fine Art Printmaking

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About: Carrie Ann Plank is an San Francisco based artist working in the mediums of installation, printmaking, painting, and glass. Plank's work is included in many private and public collections including the Fine ...

Intro: Using Laser Cut Matrices for Fine Art Printmaking

I’m a fine artist that focuses on printmaking. Recently I’ve been working with ways to incorporate the laser cutter into my fine art studio practice. I’ve come up with some interesting results and I’d like to share some of my approaches. Most printmakers focus on a direction like lithography, etching, screen print, or monotype - but I’ve always been a bit of an experimenter. My most current series focuses on a technique I’m calling pressure printing. It’s an amalgamation of processes stemming from letterpress pressure printing, relief printing, and monotype techniques. The results give a soft textural ink application that I find very pleasing. When multiple layers of printing are used, you can create really rich surfaces.

Please feel free to ask questions about the process or my work!

In this demonstration, I’m using laser cut printing matrices. My plates are book board or a compressed cardboard without any coating. Here I’m using several 17” x 17” square plates. You can cut your own plates if you have a laser cutter, or you can use a service like Ponoko that lets you upload your files and ships your laser cuts to you. Hand cut plates would work with this process as well. The process does require access to a printmaking studio or your own etching press. (Note: because of the equipment requirements, I’m assuming some basic printmaking knowledge.)

Step 1: Materials

Etching press

You’ll need an etching press or access to a print studio with an etching press.

Suitable paper

Here, I’m using a heavy weight 100% Kozo fiber Japanese washi paper called Okawara. Any washi paper with work with the process.

Inks

Both oil-based printmaking ink or water-soluble printing ink works well. I favor Akua due to the ease of clean up that does not require solvents. Consider if you want to use transparent colors.

Printing matrices

I’m using several laser cut cardboard printing matrices.

Printing block

Use a 4-ply matt board or book board for your ink carrier.

Roller or Brayer

If you are working small you can use a hand brayer. If you are working larger, you’ll need a roller with enough diameter that you can roll out a flat of ink the size of your printing block.

Step 2: Roll Out

Roll out an ink slab larger than your printing block. Make sure the ink is even. It should have a velvety texture and make a slight sizzle sound when rolling.

Step 3: Ink Printing Block

Ink up your printing block. Your printing block is a blank cardboard or matt board surface. This is the ink that will transfer to your paper. It’s essential that you get a smooth even layer without lap marks. Avoid lap marks by using a large enough brayer or roller to cover the surface. For large blocks use a large diameter roller. You’ll want to heavily ink the block the first time you use it, but it will take less ink and passes on subsequent inkings, as it will be saturated by the ink.

Step 4: Place Matrix on Press

Place your printing matrix on the center of the bed of the press. When printing the areas of the matrix will add pressure and transfer the ink to your paper. No ink will transfer where the block is cut away.

Step 5: Place Paper on Top of Matrix

Place your paper on top of your matrix. Lay down the paper so the face side is up. Ink will transfer on from the printing block to the paper when you lay the block on top of the stack of your matrix and paper.

Step 6: Place Inked Printing Block on Top of Paper and Matrix Block

Carefully lay printing block on top of your matrix and paper stack. Make sure not to touch your ink layer or apply pressure when laying down the block. Cover with newsprint to protect your press blankets.

Step 7: Run Through the Press

You’ll need to do a few tests to find the correct pressure. You want just enough pressure from the press to kiss the ink from the block onto the paper. Once you have your particular press’s pressure figured out, crank the stack through the press.

Step 8: Carefully Peel the Print From the Inking Block

Lift away the printing block from the matrix. Be careful not to disturb the remaining ink film. You may need to peel it away from the block with a fingernail.

You’ll see a soft impression of the underlying matrix transferred to your paper. The transferred ink surface is quite different from a traditional relief print. If you find it too fuzzy, you can increase the pressure and/or roll out a thinner ink film on the printing block.

Step 9: Repeat 5-8 to Pull a Ghost Print

Now is where this starts to get interesting!

Your printing block has a heavy negative image ink film remaining of the initial print. The block also will have a thinner film of the positive image remaining. You can pull a ghost print of this negative image. Lay down a new sheet of paper and run through the press. You can get even more variation from swapping out the matrix as well.

Step 10: Layer, Layer, Layer

By using several matrices and working with both the positive and negative printings from the block you can create a great amount of variations. You can also change colors by introducing new printing blocks. Have a stack of paper so you can experiment with printing different colors and matrices in both the positive and negative. The examples use two layers but I find a finished piece includes many layers.

Thanks for checking out my first Instructable!

If you’d like to see more of my work, you can find it here:

Carrieannplank.com

Carrie Ann Plank

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