Etching has been a printing process I’ve wanted to know more about since I started my degree, I knew very little about it, but it sounded fascinating. The above picture shows the paper and plate just before they’ve been put through the roller to print.
The etching process is quite lengthy, but I wouldn’t say its too complicated. You start off with your plate, which can be made from zinc, copper or steel, however in the workshop zinc is more commonly used. First things first the plate has to be beveled, this is when you file the edges of the plate to roughly a 45-degree angle. This is so when the plate and the paper go through the printing roller the plate doesn’t pierce the paper.
Next, the plate is polished so that it becomes like a mirrored surface. The plate is then washed with water and degreased using an ammonia and white chalk mix. To check its fully degreased pour water over the plate and if it slides about instead of pooling it’s then ready for the next step.
After degreasing the plate has to become very dry and warm. To do this place on a hot plate or dry it with a hairdryer. It has to be warm so that the soft/hard ground can go on easily, this is a substance that’s slightly tacky put onto the plate so you can create your design. A thin layer is rubbed all over the plate, the ground needs to set, leave the plate for a minute or so, then its ready for your design.
Using an etching tool, which is basically a needle on the end of a stick of wood, you can start drawing very lightly onto the plate. Then the plate is ready to be put into the nitric acid, place the plate gently into the acid and move the plate occasionally so that bubbles don’t form on the surface aggravating the process. The amount of time the plate needs to spend in the acid does vary depending on the ground used and how clean you want you lines to come out. Twelve minutes is a rough estimate. Take the plate out and then place in water to rinse off. The ground is then removed using white spirit.
It’s at this point that you’d prepare your paper, which has to be cotton rag paper and soaked in water for at least half an hour.Whilst the paper is soaking you can ink up your plate. Take a small amount of ink on a small cardboard square and ink up the plate using horizontal and vertical lines to completely cover the plate. Then take a rag and work the ink into the plate using circular motions. Take the back of your palm, when most of the ink has been rubbed in, and work the rest of the ink in.
Your then ready to print, dry you paper between to larger sheet of paper and roller and big roller over them to squeeze the water out. Take your paper to the roller press and place it onto of some newsprint, place your plate on top of the paper and then some more newsprint on top of the plate. Fold the thick roller blankets onto the paper and pull the roller over your plate.
Then you have your first etching! You can probably use your plate several thousand more times.
Michael Landy etching.
Joe Tilson etching
Pictures are taken from Tate website.