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nontoxic guide to contemporary relief and intaglio printing

Spark Box Studio


The world of printmaking is diverse and exciting, but often times environmentally unsafe and challenging to pursue outside of an established studio. Solarplate printing offers a safe alternative to such printing processes as etching and photo-etching, while also allowing you to experiment with relief print. The following is a guide to the process, including its setup, exposure, printing, and cleanup. We hope this handbook will open the doors to a new wave of printing – one that allows schools and home printers to work with a range of practices without the expensive equipment and environmental concerns.

This handbook was created with the support of:


Table of Contents




Plate Preparation


Exposing the Plate


Printing the Plate



table of content


MateriSolarplate printing requires two main materials – a steel plate coated in a thin layer of light-sensitive emulsion and transparent film. The other materials involved are standard printing materials for relief or intaglio processes. The Plate 5 Preparing the Plate 5 Paper Preparation 6-7 Drawing Materials 9-11 Photograph & Digital Imagery 12-13 Plate Exposure 13 Post Exposure 14 The Printing Station 15-20 Material Checklist 21





Solarplates are simply a steel sheet coated with a thin layer of a light sensitive polymer surface. Solarplate sheets are sold by Hampton Editions Ltd. in New York State. This light sensitive polymer surface allows the plate to become a relief print or an intaglio print.


Sheets can be purchased in various sizes making it easy to handle and allows studios lacking metal cutting equipment the ability to work with the plates. Plate prices range from $10.00 - $30.00 US.


We find that if you have a paper cutter or good quality utility knife you can cut our own plates, which allows you to order the larger plates and cut them down. This saves in up front costs and shipping fees. This company does offers lower prices for larger orders. The bulk amounts range from 1-9 plates, 10-19 plates, and 20+ plates.

Preparing the Plate

Emery Board

USE | Used to bevel the edges of the solarplate. Although it is not a necessity to have beveled edges a light filing will make them less sharp and safer to run through an etching press. PRICE | On average you can get a pack for $1.00 - $3.00 Can be purchased from a pharmacy. QTY | Only one file is needed.


If you want to cut your own plate it is easy. You can either use a heavy duty paper guillotine or a utility knife. Be sure to do this process in a room without direct sunlight as the UV light will expose the plate. Keep the plate face down on its protective foam (which comes in the packaging). Using your knife or cutter create any size plate you would like.

Solarplate Information

Paper Preparation


USE | A self healing cutting mat is a staple item when cutting fine art papers. We tend not to rely on the measurements and ruler grid lines that come with the mat. Cutting mats can be expensive, but should last many years if not abused. The bigger the cutting mat the better as the smallest printing paper comes in 30” x 22”. Buy a mat that is bigger than the standard paper. PRICE | $38.99 for 24” x 36” green cutting mat Can be purchased from an art supply store. QTY | One. Order the mat from an art supply store instead of purchasing the mat from a store like Michael’s where it will be extremely over priced.


USE | These heavy duty knives are strong, sharp, durable and their blades are easily replaced. Being able to cutout delicate collage piece and cut through drywall make these knives very versatile. We recommend the ‘OLFA’ brand of knives with the ratchet wheel locking mechanism. CAUTION | The blade is literally razor sharp and care should be taken when used. PRICE | $10.99 for housing and comes with a blade $19.99 for 20 Replacement blade pack Can be purchased from a hardware store. QTY | One knife and extra blades when required.


USE | The most basic tool to have within the studio. Used for rough sketches, marking cuts on paper and other general task. PRICE | $6.39 for a set of 12 pencils ranging 4H to 6B Can be purchased from an art supply store. QTY | A range of 4H to 6B

Paper Preparation


USE | Used to measure, cut straight lines and to rip paper. A steel ruler with a cork backing is ideal for many projects in the studio. Clean acrylic rulers are useful as well. Purchase a ruler that has both metric and imperial measurements. PRICE | $5.49 Can be purchased from an art supply store. QTY | Have a variety of sizes in the studio


USE | Newsprint paper is suitable to pull test proofs from your plate. Used to pad above your plate and paper when printing. Newsprint may also be used to package prints. PRICE | $1.59 for a 18” x 24”, 40 sheet pad Can be purchased from an art supply store. QTY | 4 to 6 sheets per individual per session.


USE | Use good quality printmaking paper for your final prints. Purchase an archival quality 100% cotton paper. Paper ranges in both quality and price, look for a paper that does not have a lot of tooth, is cost effective, archival and recommended for printmaking. Legion, Stonehenge, and Sommerset, and are all good brands of papers with affordable price points. PRICE | $1.50 for Legion, white, 250gm, 22” x 30” $2.25 for Stonehenge, white, 250gm, 22” x 30” $5.39 for Somerset Velvet, white, 250gm, 22” x 30” Can be purchased or ordered from an art supply store. QTY | Budget with an expectation of 25% loss.

paper preparation

PRINT | This is an example of Monica Lacey’s work which showcases the plate and the print. Here she is working with an intaglio process and a photographic image.

Drawing Materials


NOTE | These tools are great for either drawing your original artwork on paper before taking it into the computer via a scanner and printing out a digital copy on transparency (see Digital & Photography Imagery). While some of these tools can be used to draw directly onto a sheet of acetate. Solarplates are exposed to UV light and the image is created by using a “transparency� which acts like a contact positive/negative. When working directly on a sheet of acetate you want to make sure you use a light-stopping drawing material as this is what will create your image on the plate surface.

drawing materials


USE | Micron Pen / Faber-Castell / Staedtler Pigment Pens. These brands are all fairly standard illustration pens used by artists. It is a comfortable drawing tool to use and is great for detailed drawing, cross hatching, pointillism, contour drawing, lettering, and sketching. Tonal rage can be achieved through mark variation. This tool can be used on either the paper or the acetate. PRICE | $3.00 - $9.00 depending on the brand Can be purchased or ordered from an art supply store. QTY | Purchase a box set to get various pen widths. For example, the Faber-Castell set comes with four pens, which range in size for $9.00.

GRAPHITE CRAYON or PENCIL USE | This is a comfortable drawing material to work. It is great for line drawing, illustration, and gesture drawing. Graphite ranges in grades like a pencil. This tool can only be used on paper and must be scanned and printed digitally as the grey tone will not stop light if used on the acetate. PRICE | $4.00 for one crayon Can be purchased or ordered from an art supply store. QTY | One graphite crayon or pencil will last several years.


USE | Sharpie (or any other black marker) is great for illustration due to its thick lines and ability to achieve large areas of solid black. While Sharpie appears to be a solid black it is often a purple or blue colour when looked at through a light table causing it to sometimes allow light to shine through. Mixed results can occur when using this material directly on acetate as your stencil. PRICE | $6.00 for a package of 5 with various sizes Can be purchased from an office supply store. QTY | Buy a pack of these as they tend to run out quickly.


USE | It is a perfect medium for drawing fine lines, shading, and a variety of tonal ranges. They come in different grades (soft, medium, hard) each providing you with a final look. Lithography crayons are great for detailed drawings, soft shading, or gestural drawings. This can be used for both paper and acetate (with acetate try putting a bit of baby power on the drawing once you are finished as it will darken you work). PRICE | $1.50 - $3.50 crayon or stick format. Can be purchased or ordered from an art supply store. QTY | Order many of these as they get used quickly due to their soft consistency. I would also advise ordering a variety of densities to create images with good tonal range and depth.

drawing materials

Liquid Ink USE | Any black liquid ink can be used on paper or acetate to create an image. This can allow for a more gestural, painterly image and allows for a great range of mark making. PRICE | Our preferred brand is Koh-I-Noor Fountain India Ink Black $5.00 at Above Ground. Fluid Ink can be purchased at any art supply store. QTY | One bottle will last but for a classroom it is best to order at least five.

Relief Printing Ink

USE | Working directly on the acetate with relief printing ink using rollers and brushes can be a great exercise. It is loose, playful, versatile, and allows you to create a monoprint which can then be turned into a relief or intaglio print. You will want to sprinkle some baby powder onto your image to make the ink darker and to absorb some of the moisture in the ink. PRICE | Ranges greatly depending on company and quantity. Best to ask your local art supply store. QTY | One 1 lb can of black will last several years.



USE | Also called acetate sheets serve as a transparency and drawing surface for this process. Remember that if you use acetate for your original drawing the drawing tool has to be light-stopping. If you have access to a light table, or even a window, be sure to hold your acetate (with its drawing on it) up to the light to see if any light is shining through your drawing. PRICE | $4.79 for 10 sheets of 8� x 11� Can be purchased from an office supply store or art supply store. QTY | You will need to use a sheet for each image you want to create.

drawing materials

Photographic & Digital Imagery NOTE | Solarplates are exposed to UV light and the image is created by using a lightstopping stencil (transparency) which blocks light from hitting certain parts of your plate. If you are creating a relief print you will want to use a negative image transparency, and if you are creating an intaglio print you will want to use a positive image transparency (see page 26). When you bring your drawing or photograph into photoshop remember this before printing the image. You will want to inverse your image to create the negative film.


This is the best photo manipulation program on the market for this type of image creation. Photoshop will allow you to work with any image whether digital photography or scanned drawing.

Scanned drawing: If you drew your image on paper and didn’t use materials

that were light-stopping you can scan that image and bring it into Photoshop to create your stencil. When you have your image open in Photoshop you will change the mode to grey scale. This will make your image black and white. Any grey tones will be lost during the exposure process so keep this in mind and make those areas black if you do not want to loose them. Once you have a fully black and white image you can print it onto your transparent film.

Digital Photograph: If you have purchased the Aquatint Screen from Hampton Editions Ltd. then you can change your photograph to grey scale mode and adjust any levels you feel are appropriate and print that image onto the transparent film. If you do not have an aquatint screen you will want to change you image to either a stencil, posterization, or a halftone image. Doing any of the following will give you a black and white stencil with no grey tones, you will loose some detail in this process and end up with a stylized image.

Aquatint Screen

USE | Whenever you are creating an intaglio print with an image that has a wide tonal range or rich, deep blacks you will want to use a double exposure with an aquatint screen. This will help to eliminate emulsion washout and retain those various tones. An aquatint screen is a transparent film with a digital pixilation on its surface. When exposed first to your solarplate it creates a rough surface which will hold ink well during the printing stage. PRICE | $13.00 - $272.00 US depending on size. Purchase through Hampton Edition, Ltd. QTY | Only one screen is needed per plate size. We recommend getting something slightly larger than your plate which allows you to use it on your average plate size or smaller.

Digital & Photograph Imagery

Positive Film

USE | When you are working digitally you want to make sure you use a transparency that is going to hold blacks well and not run when going through the printer. CamStar + Water Proof Ink Jet Film is the best product available for high quality inkjet transparencies. PRICE | Range in price and size. We recommend $75.00 per 100 sheets of 8.5” x 11” from Camstat Graphic Arts Products. QTY | 100 sheets.

Plate Exposure



USE | A heavy sheet of glass must be place over your solarplate and transparency before being placed under the UV light. If you are using a silkscreen exposure unit you will not need this extra glass, however if you are putting your plates out in the sun this will be necessary in order to keep your transparency flat and in direct contact with your solarplate. PRICE | Range in price and size. We have found sheets at yardsales and thrift stores. For small plates picture frame glass or photography easels with glass tops work as well. QTY | 1 sheet per image and plate.


USE | When exposing your plates in the sun you will need to clamp the glass, plate and transparency together. Spring clamps are the best option as they are cheap and easy to use. PRICE | $2.99 each at Home Hardware. QTY | 4 clamps per image and plate. NOTE | If you stagger your exposure times you won’t have to buy glass and clamps for each student, which will save money and allow students to support one another in the exposure process.

Plate Exposure

Post Exposure


USE | Used to washout the plate after exposure and to washout the plate after printing. These soft bristle brushes don’t do damage to the image while washing the plate after exposure. They also don’t scratch the image when washing out the plate after printing. PRICE | $1.90 a pair or $9.50 a dozen at Lee Valley QTY | We recommend you get at least a dozen.

NEWSPRINT OR PHONE BOOK USE | Once your plate has been washed out after exposure you will need to dry it off. You don’t want to use paper towel as the texture will transfer onto your plate so newsprint or phone book paper are the best. PRICE | $0.99 per pad of newsprint or free for a phone book. All art supply stores will carry newsprint.


QTY | Both of these materials will be used for several parts of this printmaking process so it is best to have a lot on hand. We buy cases of newsprint (40 to a box) to ensure we don’t run out at the studio.


USE | Once you have printed your plate and cleaned it off you will want to protect it. A thin layer of baby oil will keep the plate from damage. PRICE | $1.00 at any Dollar Store. QTY | One bottle.

Post Exposure

Printing Station


USE | Having proper surface space is key when print making. You will need two large desks, 3’ by 5’ or several smaller desks place together. The more surface space you have to work with the better organized you can be. QTY | At least one big desk per printing station. Ideally two, one for inking and one for paper to prevent transfer of messy inks.


USE | Used to roll out ink. Ideally the glass should be the size of the table, but a smaller piece, 14” x 14” will be large enough to roll out ink. The glass should be 1/4” thick to prevent shattering. PRICE | Price varies according to size. Find used glass. QTY | One piece per inking station.

printing station


USE | The metal palette knife is the essential tool for depositing, mixing and moving ink on the glass table. Also called a putty knife or scraper. PRICE | $3.37 for a value pack containing 5 scrapers. Home hardware carries cheap, wooden handle value packs. QTY | At least a couple. Acquire as many as you see fit.


USE | Cotton Swabs are very useful when you need a small area of your print cleaned up or if you want to get creative with your wiping and remove ink in selected areas. PRICE | $2.47 for 300 pack Can be purchased from a pharmacy, QTY | One box should be plenty.


USE | Natural or synthetic, either will work, this material is used when wiping your intaglio plate during the inking process. PRICE | $25.00 metre (natural) from Fabricland. QTY | Half meter would be enough.


USE | Plastic cards are used to deposit the ink onto the intaglio plate. This method encourages the ink to get into the line work of the intaglio image. You will want to make sure there is a beveled edge on the card so that you don’t scratch the surface of the plate. PRICE | Free! Just cut your extra discount or gift cards in half and file one edge. QTY | Each printer will need a card.


USE | You will need a large plastic tray that can hold the cotton paper you have cut for your intaglio print. This tray will hold water which will soak your intaglio paper prior to printing. PRICE | $16.00 for a 23” x 17” Rubbermade at Home Hardware. Specialty darkroom or printmaking trays are great but must be order from a specialty store. QTY | One will be more than enough.

Ink & Brayer


USE | It is important you use a high quality ink. We use Graphic Chemical’s etching inks for intaglio printing and Vanson’s rubber based inks for relief printing. Graphical Chemical sell their inks in the standard can but consider purchasing the ink in a caulking cartridge form instead. The cartridge conserves ink extremely well and is a great solution to the problematic crusty ink layer that forms in the can. Vanson creates a line of ‘rubber based’ off-set printing inks that are amazing and great for this process. Rubber based inks do not dry in the can, we have had cans of this ink open for 4 years and no signs of it drying. This is because the rubber based inks dry on absorption into the paper. These inks can be purchased from commercial ink suppliers in major cities. Vanson inks are our go to inks in the studio when relief or letterpress printing and our preferred ink for this process. PRICE | $20.00 to $35.00 for Graphic Chemical 1 lbs can or cartridge. Can be purchased from an art supply store or ordered. $18.00 to $35.00 for Vanson 1 lbs can. Order only, go to *Price varies depending on colour QTY | Single 1 pound can or cartridge to start in black.


USE | The brayer is used for rolling out ink onto the prepared relief plate or can be used directly onto your acetate when creating your image. The brayer, being an integral item within the print studio should be kept immaculately clean. Speedball brayers are found at most craft stores and are therefore the most common brayer to own. While the speedball brayer might be the cheapest there are fundamental problems and limitations associated with it’s construction. The rigid plastic housing cannot be dismantled and thus cannot be clean completely. A common problem with brayers that cannot be dismantled is the build up of ink at the axel prevents them from turning. Consider investing in a higher quality brayer, like the graphic chemical brayer, that can be dismantled and cared for properly. A great brayer will last a life time. PRICE | $49.49 for a 4” Graphic Chemical polyurethane firm brayer. $14.49 for a 4” Speedball soft rubber brayer. Can be purchased from an art supply store or ordered. QTY | One per station. Brayers come in many sizes, a good studio is equipped with several of each size. The 4” is a common sized brayer.

ink & brayer

Cleaning Supplies


USE | The retractable razor scraper cleans up ink remaining on the glass table. Using the razor scraper reduces the number of rags wasted. PRICE | $4.49 for housing and comes with a blade. 10 Replacement blade pack costs $4.99. Can be purchased from a hardware store. QTY | One razor scraper is enough.


USE | A good print studio will have a large supply bin of cotton rags. Rags are essential during the cleaning process. Cut down towels into smaller more manageable 6” squares. Thrift stores area a great place to buy towels at a cheap cost. PRICE | $5.00 bag of towels. ‘Value Village’ sells a bag full of towels. QTY | A few towels when cut smaller will make many rags that will last several printing sessions.



USE | Package up excess ink at the end of the session into a saran wrap bundle. The ink will stay fresh, it will not leach an oily residue. The clear quality of serene wrap will allow you to see what colours you have stored. PRICE | $3.79 Can be purchased from a grocery store. QTY | One box.


USE | Old phone books are a fantastic and cheap way to assist clean up in the studio. Deposit excess unwanted ink onto the pages, rip out and throw out. Roll out the remaining ink on your brayer (roller) before beginning to clean it with oil. You will also use phone book paper to do the final wiping step on your intaglio plate. PRICE | Free once a year. QTY | At least one substantially thick phone book.

Cleaning supplies

Print Without a Press spoon plastic sheet paper towel good paper plate


wooden SPOON

USE | If you are pulling a print without the aid of a press a wooden spoon is what you will use to apply pressure and transfer the image. A metal spoon can be a substitute. PRICE | $0.50 Go to a thrift store and buy as many as needed. QTY | One per station.


USE | When pulling prints without the aid of a press place this above the paper towel pad. The clear plastic binder sheet reduces friction when using a metal spoon as a barren to pull the print. These plastic sheets can be saved and reused. While not a necessity it does help quite a bit. PRICE | $5.49 for a package of 25 Can be purchased from an office supply store such as Staples. QTY | One package.

NOTE | Working without a printing press can only be done with the relief print image. If you are creating an intaglio print you will need a press as your hand cannot exert enough pressure.

print without a press

Print With a Press


USE | The most professional way to pull prints is with a press. The etching press is a keystone for any print studio. The pressure should be set to print plates. Solarplates are relatively thin and will work at standard etching pressure. When using the etching press you should lay down newsprint below the solarplate to protect the press bed from ink and lay newsprint above your good paper to protect the felt blankets from excess ink. CAUTION | The edges of the solarplate should be beveled if you plan to use the etching press to print. The bevel eases the roller up and onto the plate when printing. A non-beveled edge will pierce and cut the felt blankets. Use an emery board to bevel the solarplate edges. Another note of caution is that the etching press can be a dangerous piece of machinery if misused. Please be careful when the press is engaged and the wheel is moving. Do not put your hands near the roller, stand away from the press as to not get hit by moving parts.

print with an etching press

Material Checklist preparing the support Solarplate EMERY BOARD PAPER CUTTER OR UTILITY KNIFE

drawing materials


archival pens graphite crayon sharpies lithography crayon RELIEF PRINTING INK LIQUID INK

digital imaging Computer Photoshop Ink Jet Films Scanner

printing station table glass palette knife Silk Organza Soaking Tray Plastic Cards cotton swabs brayer

creating the plate TRANSPARENcy Solarplate GLASS CLAMPS

paper preparation cutting mat utility knife pencil ruler newsprint print making paper

post exposure

Surgical Brush Newsprint/phonebook

cleaning supplies razor scraper cotton rags saran wrap phone books

transparency options paper drawing photography Scanner Computer Printer Ink Jet Film


Acetate Light-Stopping drawing material Baby Poser

printing ink options

1 pound can vanson rubber based ink


1 pound cartridge graphic chemical etching ink chalking gun

printing options wooden spoon etching press or plastic sheet

plate preparation There are two different types of prints that can be made with solarplates – relief prints and intaglio prints. Each create a unique and interesting piece of work but require very different transparencies and printing methods. option ‘A’ : relief printing option ‘B’ : intaglio printing


Option A’ ‘ : Relief Print

option A

Creating a relief print with a solarplate is a much more accessible process than carving a woodcut or linocut. It will also yield a much crisper image and offer a more diverse range of line. You can also experiment with creating graphic design pieces, such as business cards. Keep in mind that everything will print in reverse so modify your digital image before printing your transparency. In addition you can print these by hand so you do not require a press!

When you are creating your transparency for a relief print you have to keep in mind that anything that is black on the transparency will become the white of the paper and anything that is left transparent will become the area which is CREATING THE inked during the printing process. Much like in linocut the area that is carved TRANSPARENCY away remains the colour of the paper and any area that is left uncarved carries the ink. Therefore, if you draw an image and want the drawing to be the inked area you will scan that image, bring it into Photoshop, change it to black and white, and inverse it so the white areas become black and the black areas become white. Then you will print it on a ink jet film and expose it to your solarplate. It is fun to experiment with this process, for example, bring one drawing into Photoshop and print off one positive and one negative film. Expose both films to two solarplates and print them. Here you will see the difference between the two and understand the drawbacks and benefits to each type of transparency. The thing to remember is that the UV light is hardening the light-sensitive emulsion on the steel plate, so any area that is blocking the light is not being hardened and will wash away with the water after exposure.

Option ‘B’ : Intaglio option B

Creating an intaglio print with a solarplate is a great way to shop students this amazing printing process without worrying about the harsh chemicals that are usual involved with the etching process. It also creates a clean, sharp line which cannot be achieved with Plexiglas drypoints. You can also create photo-etchings with the purchase of an aquatint screen.

When making the stencil for the intaglio print you will want to keep in mind the limitations of this process without an aquatint screen. Large, flat areas of rich CREATING THE black cannot be achieved as they will turn into “open bites” – wide flat areas which TRANSPARENCY will print light grey with dark edges. With an intaglio stencil you can keep your transparency as a positive image. Everything you have drawn will carry the ink during the printing process. If you are interested in creating a photo-etching it will be in your best interest to purchase an aquatint screen as this will give you plate a tooth that will hold ink in the grey tone areas and the rich black areas. With this you will only need to print off a black and white image as your transparency. If you wish to try a photo-etching without an aquatint screen it is best you watch a video online about creating halftone images, here your image will become a series of black dots. Or turn your photo into a stencil using a Photoshop filter. With both of these methods you will loose detail in your image.

1 EX. | This transparency is an example of negative film used to create a relief printed wedding invitation.


2 EX. | These transparencies are of the same wedding invitation by are the positive films, which could be used to create intaglio prints or relief prints where the text is white and the surrounding areas are coloured.

option ‘A’ : Example Image


Exposing the plate

You will need to purchase some key items to ensure success in the exposing process, but most of the work is done by the sun.

Pre-Exposure Setup 29 Exposing the Plate 30 Post Exposure 31-32


The Pre-Exposure Setup NOTE | Be sure that your transparency is laying flat and in direct contact with your solarplate. Any raised edge will create a shadow and will cause unwanted marks in the final image. PREP | Find a room that does not have direct sunlight or that you can work in low light. You do not need a darkroom for this process. A room that has blinds which can be shut is perfect. If you can work in the space with the blinds closed and the lights off even better. You are trying to let as little light hit the plate as possible. Assemble together you plate, glass, clamps, and transparency.


STEP 1 | Take solarplate out of its protective packaging. Place your transparency with the ink side touching the emulsion on the solarplate. This step is very important – have direct contact with the drawing material or printing ink with the emulsion will ensure that your solarplate exposes properly. Place the glass on top of the transparency and clamp each edge with the spring clamps. If you want to ensure that the clamps do not leave a mark on your plate use a board. Place your solarplate and transparency on the center of the board. Place the glass on top of the board and clamp around the outside edges (now the clamps are just on the glass and board and not your solarplate).

material checklist Transparency Solar Plate Glass Spring Clamps

Pre-Expsure Setup

Exposing Your Plate NOTE | If your studio has an exposure unit you can use this to expose plates instead of taking them outside. Dark and dense transparencies take a longer exposure time, while light and delicate transparencies take a short exposure time. If time permits it is always a good idea to run tests. You can cut up small pieces of the solarplate and test your transparency with different exposure times. It is best to exposure your plate during the midafternoon when the sun is the highest. We have had great luck with 1 min. exposures. PREP | Make sure you have an area outdoors that doesn’t get a lot of shadows from buildings or trees. Also, make sure you have a flat surface to rest your solarplate on outside. Before exposing your plate make sure to setup your post-exposure station as you will have to move quickly. By the washout sink have your surgical brush, a set of nylon gloves, and newsprint or phone book paper. STEP 2 | Take your solarplate and transparency, pressed together with the glass and clamps, and head outside to your exposure location. Remember to bring a stop-watch or timer with you. Place your plate down in the sun and set your timer. When your timer beeps pick your plate up and head inside for the next step.


material checklist Clamped together Solarplate, transparency & Glass Direct Sunlight Location OR Exposure Unit

Exposing your Plate

Post-Exposure Process STEP 3 | Quickly bring your exposed solarplate to the washout sink. Put on your gloves and begin washing your plate under tepid water (preferably 20 degrees Celsius). Using the surgical brush, gently scrub the surface of the plate helping the unexposed areas washout. For relief images wash until the steel plate can be seen and there is no longer any emulsion in the recessed areas. For intaglio prints rinse and scrub your plate for no longer than 35 sec. because you don’t want to rinse out any subtle detail. NOTE | For intaglio prints you will see your image if you tilt it on an angle, it will not be as obvious as the relief. If you run tests you can try different washout times and see what works best for your image (this is recommended). STEP 4 | After you have rinsed your image immediately blot your plate with the newsprint or phone book pages. Never re-use the blotting pages – discard after single use and get a new sheet. Your plate will be very sticky at this point so take care not to put your fingers on the emulsion as any impression will transfer. STEP 5 | Once you have blotted off the excess water take the plate back outside for post-exposure. Best to leave it for at least 15 min. or longer (you cannot harm the plate by leaving it in the sun for too long). Always post-expose in direct sun and do not place any glass on top of the plate for post-exposure. The plate will turn a slight golden colour and less orange.

material checklist sink surgical brush newsprint or phone book sheets

Exposing the plate

1 32

2 Washing and Post-Exposing



Much like with the plate preparation you will have a different printing method depending on if you created a relief print or an intaglio print. Read through the following section to ensure you have setup your printing station correctly and that you have all the materials you will need prior to printing your plate. Relief Print 35 Intaglio Print 36 Printing the Image 37


The Printing Setup: Relief NOTE | Ideally the table surface should be covered with a single large glass sheet. However this is not required, a small piece of glass large enough to roll out ink, hold a brayer and palette knife will suffice. Also keep a clean area for good printing paper and newsprint. If your desk space is small consider placing your good clean papers on another desk nearby.

Inking the Plate NOTE | It is always best to have everything set-up and ready before you begin the printing process. This will result in the best prints and a stress free printing experience. Your printing area should be set-up with a roller (make sure that your roller is wide enough to ink the whole image in one pass), ink, your precut paper, your solarplate and newsprint.


INK | Remove the ink from the can and lay out a bead of ink on the table. Roll out the ink with your roller so it is all ready to go as soon as you have your plate ready. Set the pressure on your press or have your baren/spoon ready beside your printing area. STEP 1 | Take your roller with ink and roll it over your image. Do this a number of times until the image appears to be fully covered in an even coating of ink. Your print will roll up in a similar way to a wood cut or linocut print. The high points will collect ink while the low points will stay ink free. TIP | If you notice ink getting into large open low points you can use a rag or cotton swab to wipe those areas clean. You can also cut pieces of acetate to block those areas if it continues to be an issue.

material checklist Solarplate Relief Print Ink Cotton Paper Brayer Palette Knife Newsprint Cotten Swabs

The Printing Setup: Intaglio NOTE | Similar to relief printing you will want to work on a surface that is stable and has an area of glass where you can deposit your ink. You will need to have your ink, plastic card, silk organza, phone book sheets, solarplate, newsprint, soaking tray, and paper at your station. STEP 1 | Place your paper into your soaking tray. You will want to let your paper soak in the water for as long as you can. Having damp paper is a very important part of this process as it allows the paper to get into the line work you have created and to transfer the most amount of ink onto your paper. Have a clean, white towel beside your soaking tray, you will use this to blot your paper after you remove it from the water. You want damp paper not wet paper. STEP 2 | Remove the ink from the can and lay out a on the table. Pick some up with your plastic card and spread it across your plate. You want to cover your plate with ink (not pressing too hard with the card). Once you have covered your plate with ink lightly scrap the surface of your plate removing excess ink and revealing some of your image. STEP 3 | Take your silk organza and make it into a ball with a smooth surface and start removing ink from the plate. You do not want to push into the line work of the plate, you are just removing the ink from the top surface and leaving ink deposited into the line work you have created. Once you see all of your image move to step 4. STEP 4 | Take a sheet of phone book paper and wipe the plate evenly and lightly. Do not crinkle the paper as it will create strange marks on your plate and could remove ink from your line work. Just wipe the plate with the paper flat, changing the paper frequently as it becomes dirty. Once the image is clearly visible and the rest of the plate appears to be clean move to the printing process.

material checklist Solarplate Etching Ink Cotton Paper Soaking Tray Palette Knife Newsprint Cotten Swabs

Plastic Card Silk Organza Phonebook White Towel

inking the plate

Printing the Plate

by hand relief print only


spoon plastic sheet paper towel good paper plate newsprint

PRINT | Move your plate to your printing area whether it be onto your press or to the table with your paper and hand-printing equipment. Place you paper on top of your image, followed by a sheet of newsprint. PRESS | If you are using a press place your blankets on top of your print and run through your press. HAND | If your printing with a spoon or a barren place the newsprint on top of the paper, followed by a plastic sheet and begin rubbing the print with the hand-printing equipment. Remember with handprint to move in a circular motion around the entire image and every once and awhile peeling up the edge to see how the image is transferring. STEP 7 | Repeat this steps 1 -7 until you are happy with your edition size

by press

printing the plate

felt blankets newsprint good paper plate newsprint

clean-up Proper studio clean-up is one of the most important parts of the printmaking process. Cleaning up poorly will result in ruined equipment, damaged prints, and unnecessary waste. Follow these simple steps and you will have a perfectly clean studio without ever using any solvents or hazardous cleaners. The Basics Cleaning the Brayer Saving the Ink All the Rest

39 40 41 42


The Basics


vegetable oil




clean rag cuts the ink

4 clean rag

removes the oil buff away the oil

buff clean and dry

NOTE | Cleaning the print studio doesn’t have to seem like a daunting task when you know how to clean efficiently. This section will give you advice on how to clean the elements of your print studio using safe cleaners and absolutely no solvents.


SETUP| The basic clean up of the studio involves four rags. Apply vegetable oil to the first rag, a small amount roughly several splashes the size of a dollar coin is enough to get started. The second rag is a dry clean rag that will absorb oily residue. Soak the third rag with vinegar, this rag will clean up any oily residue that remains. The last rag is reserved as a clean dry buffing rag. Everything can be cleaned by following the procedure outlined here and illustrated above. ORDER | We recommend that you clean the important item first, such as your brayer. Followed by saving and storing the ink, the studio tools, the plate, and last the printing station.

material checklist Gloves Palette Knife Phone book Rags (4) Razor Scrapper Vegetable Oil Vinegar Windex the basic clean up

Cleaning the Brayer NOTE | Out of all the studio items to clean the brayer is by far the most important. Improper cleaning methods will quickly lead to accumulated dried ink on the roller and the housing. Ink that is allowed to dry on the axle will keep the brayer from spinning. At the end of each printing session make sure you clean your brayer. CAUTION| Speedball brayers, being the most accessible and cheapest of brayers have the trouble of being contained within bulky plastic housing that is usually neglected during the cleaning process. If you are using these brayers take extra time to carefully clean the housing. CAUTION| It should also be mentioned that cleaning products like ‘Simple Green’ shouldn’t be used on the roller because it contains a concentrated amount of citric acid that can dry out, blister, crack and swell the roller over time. STEP 1 | Roll out excess ink onto phone book paper. STEP 2 | Using the rag saturated with vegetable oil, rub down the roller and housing to release the remaining ink. The vegetable oil will cut and clean off the printing ink. Make sure to pay attention to the sides of the roller, the axle and sections that could collect ink. STEP 3 | Use the first clean rag to wipe down and buff both the roller and the housing. This dry rag will absorb most of the vegetable oil and remaining ink off the roller and the housing. STEP 4 | Next use the vinegar soaked rag to further wipe down and clean the roller and housing. The vinegar will cut and degrease the remaining oil.


STEP 5 | Lastly use the second clean rag to thoroughly buff and dry the roller and housing. This will remove any remaining vinegar, oil, and grease. It is important that you buff the roller really well to remove remaining vinegar since it contains acetic acid.

2. vegetable oil 3. clean rag

1. newsprint

4. vinegar 5. clean rag cleaning the brayer

Saving the Ink fig 1

fig 2

fig 3

NOTE | Your printing ink can and should be saved. The method outlined here uses saran wrap to package and bundle the ink. A commonly seen method of saving ink is to package remaining ink into a folder piece of wax paper. The problem with wax paper is that within a period a few weeks the oils in the ink will leech outward and causes an oily puddle. Inks wrapped in saran wrap do not seem to exhibit this behavior. CAUTION| Saving etching ink can be difficult as it dries out unlike relief inks. If you have a lot of ink and want to save it be sure to wrap it tight and use it as soon as you can. STEP 1 | Use the palette knife and razor to scrap up as much ink off the glass table as you can and deposit it down in a pile off to the side. STEP 2| Clean off the glass table with an oily rag, followed by a clean rag, vinegar rag and another clean rag.

41 fig 4

fig 5

fig 6

STEP 3| Tear off a section of saran wrap and lay it stretched out on the clean glass table. STEP 4| Use the palette knife to scoop up the piled up ink and deposit it onto in the middle of the saran wrap in line (fig 1). Depending on the amount of ink you have left over you may have to do several scoops. CAUTION| Careful not to be too aggressive and rip the saran wrap with the palette knife. STEP 5| Fold the saran wrap in half (fig 2). Roll the saran wrap into a tube shape (fig 3). Pinch one side just before where the ink starts and twist the tube a few times (fig 4). Now pinch the other side where the ink ends and twist (fig 5). Continue to twist the ends and the ink should condense slightly into a cylinder shape. Keep twisting the excess saran wrap until it wraps back on its self (fig 6). Cut the excess off.

material checklist Palette Knife Razor Scapper Saran Wrap saving the ink

All the Rest STEP 1 | Once you have cleaned your brayer (if used) and saved your extra ink start cleaning the ink off the other tools – palette knives, plastic cards, razor scrapper, etc. with the four rag process seen on page 38. STEP 2| Once your tools are all clean put everything away in its proper area. If you used silk organza put in a box to be re-use. Discard any used phone book sheets into the recycle, as well as used newsprint. STEP 3 | Clean the glass using the four rag method seen on page 38. STEP 4 | Take the pressure off the press (if you used one). You do not want to leave the press down as it will damage your blankets. STEP 5 | To protect you solarplate it is best to put a thin layer of baby oil on the front surface and wrap it in paper towel and saran wrap to be stored. STEP 6 | Always put everything you use away and leave your studio as clean (if not cleaner) than you found it. This will ensure that you tools, materials, and work last longer and remains undamaged.

material checklist Gloves Palette Knife Phone book Rags (4) Razor Scrapper Vegetable Oil Vinegar Windex

cleaning studio items

If you are interested in relief print, graphics, type, intaglio, or monotype you will enjoy the versatility of solarplate printing. This handy guide will walk you through the steps of this printing process of fering you helpful hints along the way. Production of this handbook was supported by:

Solar Plate Booklet 2013  

Ontario Arts Council Arts Education Project 2013

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