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Regeneration of Copper Sulfate Based Mordant

June 28th, 2015

I have found that more etchers are switching to using my basic copper sulfate mordant for aluminium and zinc; while a few might have discovered that copper can also be effectively etched with a modified version of the original formula. One of the most important features of these copper sulfate based mordant is the possibility of regenerating the bath with the introduction of oxygen in some way. That seems to be overlooked by most and only a few serious etchers have been experimenting with these safer methods.

                                    Calvins prize fishred Jack
         These two prints are done on aluminium by Calvin Burns in one of my classes. They are quite large and he used a larger tray

I have published my research into regeneration along with the general use of cpper sulfate on my blogsite at: http://www.ndiprintmaking.ca/?paged=3. There are other articles about using copper sulfate on previous sections of the blog and also there is information on my university server at: http://homepage.usask.ca/~nis715/. Find Intaglio mordant paper on left index column ; the university has secured a new server and for some reason some images for it don’t show up even though they seem to be sitting in my website folder – but you will not be missing much information.

                                        copper sulfateCuSO4

     Copper sulfate can be purchased in large quantities to make if less expensive. The copper floats to the surface by the hydrogen in the lines.

I discovered the use of copper sulfate in 1991-2 and had an article published in the refereed journal for the arts LEONARDO (Vol 31, No2, pp, 133-138, 1998), after it was first accepted in 1994 but then rejected because of fear the copper compounds would get into the environment. Assuring the editors that none should get into the sewer system if the etcher followed my advice, it was finally published after a second set of reviewers went over the article.

                                 intaglio plt 2 ecuLcopper mordant ingred

          Aluminium etched with copper sulfate, salt and sodium bisulfate. The metal produces as rough surface and need not be aquatinted

Since etching is not my chosen print medium, I did the original research for the sake of saving money for my students by using aluminium instead of more expensive zinc. My research originated from my lithographic attempts of copper plating plates with cupric chloride, the experience of mixing copper sulfate with hydrochloric acid in place of the expensive cupric chloride that I didn’t have, produced corrosion instead of copper plating. This knowledge was recalled when a student asked if a cheaper metal than zinc was possible to use. In time I found that a strong enough hydrochloric acid can be made from salt and sodium bisulfate that made the copper sulfate into a very effective and safer method of etching both aluminium and zinc.

                                       Yoko waterYoko1

       Students printing from aluminium. Yoko Imabayashi has produced the last two images. Many etchers have taken to using this soft metal

By leaving a tray of cuprous chloride open overnight after doing some research late one evening, I was surprised to fine the light green bath had dissolved all the copper particles that come from etching aluminium, to have a good green bath and no particles. It was obvious to me that oxygen played a part in regenerating the mordant and I then understood why the large plastic containers left at the printmaking department to be taken away for safe disposal, had turned dark green with various amounts of white precipitate at the bottom. As a photographer, I had discovered that developer stored in plastic allows oxygen to permeate the polyethylene and spoil the solution. I found that as long as there was some color left in the bath, it would accept oxygen to regenerate the solution by the amount of oxygen presented.

                                                 used mordantFeCl

With enough salt, the mordant turns green. Air permeates the plastic containers to regenerate these bottles slated for disposal.
Ferric chloride cannot be regenerated and one has to pay for more of it and also the disposal charges.

As my teaching at the university showed up the small problems with this new safer mordant, I was able to refine the process over the many years, mostly for the sake of etchers and to be able to etch copper and not the more dangerous ferric chloride. Regeneration of the bath not only saves money but is better for the environment and the planets’ future.


I preferred to use toner images on which I rolled thin shellac that has be colored with dye. Turpentine removes the toner and does not touch shellac

I have noticed that some etchers found regenerating an interesting and important feature, but had not found my articles and research. They somehow had found the regeneration suggestions used by the circuit board manufacturers of electronic equipment. There one finds some companies using chlorine as one of most effective methods, but restricted to stiff control on using this dangerous chemical. This is not necessary for the average etching facilities in studios and teaching institutions. I had found an Australian electronic hobbyist who had a wonderful website explaining how scrap copper, hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide could start a copper etching solution that could be regenerated with the addition of peroxide and sometime more acid. The solution became more potent over etching more copper circuit boards. Unfortunately, this site is now restricted for some reason, but it contained much valuable information on the chemical reactions.

                                             HCl O2copper platetoner wash copper

A mix of HCl and peroxide forms cupric chloride that will etch copper. I chose to make HCl from salt and sodium bisulfate

Since my original formula for the copper sulfate mordant contained common salt and sodium bisulfate required to keep aluminium hydroxide from forming, I only had to add some oxygen containing material to etch copper plates and regenerate the bath. This I started to research in 2007 and finally published something in 2008 on my Internet sites and Printmaking Today (Vol.18, #2, summer 2009). It was followed up in the next publication of Printmaking Today, an article on it use by Alfons Bytautas, with whom I had worked on his reaction to this surprising discovery.

                                                   Ch 4 Copper sulfate mordantNaSO3

Bisulfate is in many products but the best supplier is swimming pool and hot tub shops. Sani-flush it no longer available.

Slowly my discovery has been increasing in use by the more progressive etchers, even some burin engravers have started to use and promote this safer method. Fabiola Mercandetti, an engraver in Rome has found my site and we have been corresponding for many months now about her efforts to make Italian etchers more aware about safer mordents. I really appreciate her efforts to make my methods as being the source for renamed processes that originate with my earlier publication as far back as 1992.

                               turps intaglio washout  Toner wash zinc

Heating the toner image over camp stove; the above pictures of this plate being processed. More pictures of removing toner with turpentine

For some reason my efforts have been completely overlooked by most etchers and they either don’t use my discoveries or refer to others who have renamed my original research. I did not realize that Goya might have used copper sulfate alone to etch his zinc plates. Fabiola has been doing wonderful research into what materials were used by early etchers for their plates, revealing many common chemicals were being used by some etchers instead of nitric acid, which might have been hard to get. While these household materials would etch most metals somewhat slower than my process, they certainly would be safe to use on the common plate metals. She holds workshops on safer etching and use of a burin as well in many Italian cities – which I wholly support.


Solids can be filtered out and the liquid can be poured down the drain. Copper particles – aluminium hydroxide and zinc silicate are white

On my blogsite, in previous articles, you will find how to remove all toxic materials if you decide to no longer etch plates. I explain how to remove the copper, aluminium and zinc compounds by precipitating the metals and then filtering them out. The liquid can be put down the drain as metals have all been removed. In my original articles, I had stated that bisulfate was not needed if zinc was the metal being used, but I have found that the bath cannot be regenerated as bisulfate is required for all metals to keep in acidic in nature.

                                   water glass

Metasilicate or sodium silicate are used to precipitate the metals from mordant that is to be disposed by the etcher 

I must also add that table salt is not the best salt to use because it contains calcium silicate to keep it from clumping in damp weather. This forms calcium sulfate, which is insoluble Plaster of Paris used for making molds etc. The sodium bisulfate is best bought from a shop that caters to swimming pools and hot tubs. It is a mild sulfurous acid (H2SO3) used in many other crafts where a less dangerous acid is required. I chose it because salt and the bisulfate are both dry chemicals and only need to be mixed in water as needed; keeping dangerous liquid acid off the studio shelves. To precipitate zinc, one should use sodium metasilicate or plain liquid sodium silicate, also known as Waterglass. It is available from pottery suppliers, but you must know that it dries to be waterproof if spilled. The metasilicate comes as a powder and is always dissolves it water, so the best to use. I used to get it as s TSP substitute, but it no longer seems to be available in the large hardware chain in North America.

                                 etching copper_Page_31EPSON DSC pictureetching copper_Page_34EPSON DSC picture

Regenerating mordant that etched copper plate. Tule is used instead of tarlatan as it can be washed if waterbased in mixed with etching is used.
One can make their own waterbased in from Lascaux screen base, a retarder and dry pigments.

In one of the recent e-mails’ from Fabiola, she told me about a stone lithographer friend of hers’ who tried using a mix of salt and sodium bisulfate instead of nitric acid for the gum etch in traditional lithography. The first attempts were not perfect, but in the end he got good results and I would like to hear more about his research. My prediction is that there forms a thin layer of calcium sulfate (Plaster of Paris) on the stone surface, which would be more hydrophilic that calcium nitrate. I wonder how far that research will go as I no longer have any stones and only print using waterless lithography.

You should go to previous entries on my blogsite as there is information on copper sulfate mordant as well as other interesting articles. They go back to 2007.

Book Published in Bulgaria

May 15th, 2015

Paul Constable, a good artist friend of mine, hadOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA been to a CARFAC conference and met a lady from Bulgaria who was surprised that Paul knew me and was very impressed. She gave him a 180 page book that was published as her thesis in lithography, which turned out to be on my waterless process that she obviously had found on the Internet. What astonished me, was the high quality of the printing, which shows she and other printmakers have perfected the process from the information on my blogsite and the University of Saskatchewan website at: http://homepage.usask.ca/~nis715/. As the book was published in 2007, it was before my website was put on a new server, which has lost some of my images that were uploaded when I started the site in around 1996. A few of them are not on my computer because of hardware changes; I am also having problems to put these few images back on the pages; but while I have done so in the HTML program, I have not been able to get them up on the server.

Since I have made my waterless litho method available since 1992, I have not seen anyone publish any improvements or new ideas in using it. I was very curious with this double page spread using reverse images, which I have done differently.


On closer looking at the image and the tools included, I realized one of the printers had discovered a method that closely resembles mezzotint in intaglio. With a waterbased black paint, the plate was covered and then removed with different tools and points to expose the metal underneath. Silicone would be applied and buffed down as usual, then the paint washed off probably with a bit of soap and water, making the plate ready for printing.

Bulgaria 1

I scanned the page of the 1/2 tone image, having to increase the contrast more than I wanted. I can see that very fine sharp points were used to some areas.

Bulgaria 3

You can see the point scratching and probably some deletions with the paint or ink. I would try a test using Chinese ink with one of the acrylic floor polishes that have been used by etchers as a ground. With acrylic, ammonia would help in removing the background so that printing ink would stick. Plain waterbased paint will work.

Bulgaria 2

   This image uses the technique to great affect and might be easier to produce the print than by using mezzotint and scrapers.  Waterless lithography is much simpler to produce images and print; one can use a bottle as long as the rim or bottom are smooth and even. There is no need for a press and students don’t have to give up printmaking after graduation.

For smaller images, a brayer is all that is needed and I have found that if I mix a waterbased relief ink with the Van Son Rubberbased ink, just plain soap and water will cleanup the slab and roller, as well as the plate for storage. This ink dries water proof in day or so, making it just as permanent as oil based ink on its own.








OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I really appreciate is that the author gave credit for my development, giving a short biography it seems from the text I really can’t read. The picture of me is with a print that used my linear offset technology to get better flats and detail that comes with offset printing. The blanket doesn’t show any ink residue for some reason, but it might have been a light tint I applied so that interference pigments could be brushed over the area through a mast cut exactly to the edge of the image, made visible with application of a dry pigment.



This is one of several images of mine used in the book, which shows readers what can be done with color editions using waterless. Because there is no water involved, the paper is not stretched while passing through the press under pressure. Using linear offset, the pressure is even much less than for direct printing as there would be dot gain as the rubber is squashed from too much pressure. One gets perfect color registration when using tabs and holes punched in the plates, a technique taken from the commercial color printing done daily in traditional lithography plants.










I wish I could read the text but the Cyrillic alphabet makes it harder to guess at the word, even if it was similar in sound to English. As a child, I spoke Russian because both of my parents came from Russia, but because of my older siblings, I spoke English when I started grade one in a one room county school house. Since my mother died in 1986, I have had no reason to speak or listen to the language; so I can’t understand any Russian spoken on RU.TV channel, which I watch because they have more interesting international news.


The author even included pictures of my 3-part roller I used to manufacture for better rolling up of plates – even traditional litho.  They also included instructions on how to make  toner chalks, using diluted shellac and a simple cardboard container to make square chalks that act like charcoal. These can be used on grained plates or newsprint for transferring to either grained or smooth back of recycled plates.

While on university faculty, it was a rule that any publication or even talks to groups, one always was to give credit for work done by others that influence ones own innovations. This is a strict rule at most universities as they condemned plagiarism in any form. I have found this not so on the Internet on blogsite or YouTube videos. 

My work in developing a safe mordant for etching metals has been co-opted by a few printmakers who seem to be taking credit for using copper compounds for etching metals and reducing toxic materials put down the drain. On the other hand, there have been books published of artists work who use my processes and give me credit for the safer and easier methods. This book makes my efforts worthwhile and I truly appreciate the author for the effort.

My Last Figure Drawing Session

August 25th, 2014

Last Saturday I decided to go to the local artists figure drawing session where they have a nude model that they draw using various medium – even a digital image on an iPad. These have been running for decades as serious professional and amateur artists take advantages of these ‘classes’. No instruction is given and each artist continues to improve their skills with this exceptional contact with other artists.


I had not been attending the sessions after they left the use of the university drawing room because of the parking cost, which was of no importance to me as I was a faculty member and had a parking spot on campus – I had more important things to do.


After having taken evening classes from George Swinton while he lived in my city, I had been taught the importance of drawing and composition in art and used that skill to get a position as an apprentice at the largest lithographic printing plant in the province. In the 1950’s, color separation was not yet known by the process camera operator and wash drawing in black and white always had dots in the white areas when done in normal processing. A more complicated double exposure using two negatives was possible, but reserved for expensive jobs and not the day to day illustrations I was called on to do. To get get the clean white background; I chose to use pen and ink on smooth rag papers, usually done at 150% of the final printed size.


I had always been good at drawing even my public school days and loved the simple line as I only had pencil and paper and made no watercolor or charcoal images. The years I spent at the printing plant, honed my simple lines with no retracing in most cases. This skill astounded many of my fellow artists who searched for their images amongst the interesting clutter of tints and textures.

It is easier to get an acceptable image when drawing landscape or still life as they can come in many shapes; but the human figure in known by all of us and used mostly in both fine and commercial art over other subjects. While some artist choose to represent the human figure in an abstract way, I had learned to draw academically as suggested by my mentor and continued all my life in figure work.


I went on to paint and printmaking in an abstract manner, but when attending figure drawing sessions, I usually did some of my work in simple line with 6B pencil or red and white Conte chalks on colored stock. In many drawings, I would use a piece of fine sandpaper to produce powdered chalk or graphite that I picked up with a finger to produce delicate shading to give plastic form to the figure. Over the years that I attended sessions and along with some very early work that somehow survived, I have a collection of over 400 nice drawing I would put up against the better artists in history.


About three year ago, after twisting my back while working on the house in a tight space, I pinched a nerve that gave me great pain in my right leg. My doctor diagnosed sciatica and prescribed morphine. After taking it for a few days, I had to go to the hospital because of the reaction, only to find I was allergic to morphine and with a brain scan, they informed me that I had a mild stroke. While at first it seemed only to affect my sense of taste and was nothing too serious. I later found that my finger dexterity was lost when I tried to produce some sterling or gold jewelry for the ladies in my family. My signature was sort of shaky at times, but still legally recognizable.

Being retired for some twenty years now, I have lost the constant contact with working colleges and friends who have also retired and moved away or died. Occasionally I would meet for lunch with my nephew or another artist, but mostly I busied myself in the studio or at the computer or television screen watching news and learning channels. Some years, students would come over for tea and some help on their projects; to pass the time learning a few of my tricks in my processes. They especially like printing their editions on my linear offset and my better collection of materials and ink.


I decided maybe I could enjoy the companionship of the figure drawing sessions that have stayed afloat all these years, so I gathered my sheets of newsprint and rag papers to arrive at 10:30 at the basement meeting room to find a completely unknown group of artists. Only three knew who I was and two had seen my drawing from before. I was not nervous as this was normal figure drawing that I had done for ages.


At the usual warmup period was the first realization how bad my conditions was. No longer was there a steady hand to drawing the line even in the fast impression of the pose. I looked like an unprofessional who had entered these sacred halls were nude s were to be seen. Now I was upset.


When the longer poses started, I decided to use my toner chalks on newsprint in the hope I could get an image that could be transferred to a litho plate for a waterless edition. The image would by more abstract and tonal instead of line, but my fingers and hands would not do what my mind wanted. Other poses and finally a brown Conte stick gave me more acceptable results, but I now realized my drawing days are over at the age of 85. It has been an interesting art career working at a printing plant where I honed my drawing skills and learned the basis of lithography that led to my developing a waterless litho technique now used over the planet. My many years as art director of the first television station in the city and finally media specialist at the Extension Division at the university because of my knowledge of these standard communications methods. This eventually led to my associate appointment with the art department and the teaching of printmaking classes. An honorary Doctor of letters from the university and other recognition as well for my safer printmaking processes.

So is my art career over? When asked when he will retire? Henry Moore answered with “Artists NEVER retire!” Recently I read in a study, it was found that creative people who do not abuse their bodies with drugs, tobacco or alcohol, live too a much older age than normal people who just watch television or have nothing special to live for.

Recently I have been sorting my papers with notes for the university archives. I have not been satisfied with the recent litho editions and chose to work on the archives; which is important for me. This has taken a lot of time as reading some of the communications was sort of reliving part of my later years. The friends I have made over the Internet from all parts of the planet, whom I have never met personally.


I also decided to see what I could do with digital inkjet printers and polarized light, using a digital camera and light box to take images of cellophane, plastics and other birefingent materials. My last post shows what I am doing in this area and hope to have a number of pieces in the Rouge Gallery show this fall. I also plan to add ‘interference pigments’ like I have done to my waterless editions in the past.

One evening when I could not get to sleep, I made a list of the important things still left to do – it came to sixty three. I am not ready to retire.

Colorful Images using Birefringent Materials

June 22nd, 2014

In the late 1950’s, I was teaching art at the local art center to adults as a recreational class. After three sessions, I decided there should be some way to expose the students to the wonders of the world that they seem to be missing. I looked through my slides and picked pictures that most would overlook – like the small leaf plant spreading across the now cracked dried mud or the close-up of a creative worm that made an interesting design on a large leaf.

These are images on Cibachrome from 35mm glass slides as originals

To have them be more aware of color, I chose to make a series of glass slide in which I used cellophane and other plastics that refract light into two wavelengths of different degrees. By putting a piece of polarizing material between the light source and the slide, I could produce exciting images with the polarizing filter meant for use on a camera. The richness of pure color obtained this way excited most of the students as they had never seen colors so fresh, to be changed into the opposite hues by turning the camera filter.

IMG_20140313_001172IMG_20140616_0001 (3)72IMG_20140616_001272
This series are on 4×5 glass and an enlarger for exposure to Cibachrome

In 1984, I published an article in Leonardo, the international refereed journal for the arts. I had discovered that Cibachrome from Ilford could reproduce the colors quite nicely when I modified my enlarger to accept the heat absorbing glass and large polarizing plastic (polarizer) that could be revolved as well as the filter (analyzer) on the lens. By being able to rotate both polarizing filters, more colors could be obtained. Being a positive to positive method of printing, I could see the colors on the enlarger table before putting in a sheet of paper and exposing the image. Color corrections filters from Ilford made the colors true to the original and I continued to print images in 8 x 10 and 11 x 14 sizes. Somehow the final colors in the Cibachrome seemed to darken over time, even though processing was strictly adhered to in all cases.

The new series are photographed with a digital camera and macro lens

With the revolution started with digital photography and inkjet printers, I at times thought it would be interesting to revisit my early research into birefringent material, but my wide format printer did not use permanent pigmented inks, so not saleable as works of art. Today, printers with pigmented inks are available, along with many interesting substrates meant for these inkjet printers.

Another new series using 4×5 glass and birefringent materials

Luckily for me, the printmaking department at the University of Saskatchewan, where I once was on faculty teaching printmaking and now artist-in-residence; I have access to the equipment for just the cost of materials. It will be interesting to see how these images come up in larger sizes and how pigmented inks compare to the dye based ones commonly used.

Copper C0mpounds for Etching Metals

November 1st, 2013


It started in 1992, on the request of one of my students, who could not afford the zinc plate I asked them to purchase   when we began the etching section of the printmaking class. Since ferric or stannous chloride was not acceptable to the director of the department, I tried using copper sulfate as I had found from past experience in trying to CuSO4 powdercopper plate the images on lithographic aluminium plates. The original formula from the Lithographic Technical Foundation called for the use of cupric chloride, which I could not get even from chemical stores at the university because it was an expensive material. Hoping that adding hydrochloric acid to copper sulfate I might get the necessary results, I found to my horror that the image was actually etched out instead of plated. Recalling this disaster, I went on to develop a mordant by adding hydrochloric acid to a solution of copper sulfate. We purchased large sheets of common aluminium and had them sheared to smaller size to sell to the students at cost to finish the class that year.

copper mordant ingredDuring the summer session class, I decided to remove the liquid acid and added salt to get the required chlorine molecules, ending up with cupreous chloride and sodium sulfate in solution. Because there now was little actual acid in the bath, particles of aluminium hydroxide formed that made the solution thick and cloudy, even though etching of the plate could proceed slowly. What was needed was an acid that would not attack aluminium but keep the pH below 7 to prevent formation of aluminium hydroxide. Again I looked for a dry material that could work and chose sodium bisulfate that forms weaker sulfurous acid, which I have used as a pickling solution in goldsmithing.

To fully understand what was going on, I approached the chemistry department, who became interested in the process as they realized it was much safer than the use of nitric acid, which had been used in the print department since its inception in the 1970’s. The professors assigned their students to work out the chemical reactions, which they gave me so that Dr. Bader and I submitted an article to LEONARDO, the refereed journal for the arts, in 1994. The article was accepted – but then the editors became concerned that copper compounds would be put into the environment and said they could not publish the piece. I   convinced them that since normal etching of copper was done with nitric YokowtrLacid and most likely much copper ended down the drain; but our process could eliminate that. Another group of referees were asked to review the article that was finally published in 1998. Since 1992, my process was available to printmakers through mail or my university website, so I had to answer many questions by e-mail from interested etchers. Etching done by Yoko Imabayashi.

Because of my interest in electronics, while surfing the Internet in 2007, I found a blog site in Australia in which hobbyist electronic workers started to use cupric chloride to etch their circuit boards instead of ferric chloride. It was a very detail account of how to prepare the starter solution from scrap copper wire, hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide. The strength of the bath would increase with every board they etched and so was an efficient process for them. They did this because of the cost of cupric chloride and its’ unavailability in the community. The fact their bath regenerated with the availability of oxygen, made this the cheapest and safest method of etching copper.

                                     Realizing that a strong enough hydrochloric acid can be made from salt and sodium bisulfate, I proceeded to do research into modifying my original copper sulfate etch to work on copper plates. By 2008 I had worked out the problems and contacted Alfons Bytautas at Edinburgh Printstudio; as I had been invited to do workshops in Ireland that year and hoped to visit him as well. Alfons had been working with my original copper sulfate mordant and now started to experiment with the cupric chloride solution and how well it can be regenerated. I published my work in Printmaking Today, Vol. 18, #2. Alfons followed up with his article in the next issue. What is most amazing in using these copper compounds to etch the metal, is the regeneration of the bath so that it is much cheaper to use and better for the environment. This seems to have been overlooked by those who have decided to etch zinc or aluminium plates – at a higher cost than need be to their budget.

Over the last year, I have been exchanging e-mail with Fabiola Mercandetti in Rome, Italy. She and Marco had chosen to use the burin instead of etching plates with dangerous nitric acid – but they had found my websites and started to experiment with safer etching. Fabiola has been doing brilliant research into the historic use of copper compounds in etching and to my surprise; it goes back to before Goya’s use on his zinc etchings. All this time there has been this safer method for etching plates but the printmakers simply overlooked it and chose to stay with acids. She and several others realize that my publication on my websites and LEONARDO has reintroduced the process to this generation and it has been taken up by a few studios and teaching institutions because of their awareness of dangerous materials in our studio. It is another example of reinventing the wheel!

The reaction between copper and other metal depenclip_image006_thumbds on the electrochemical reduction/reaction potential of voltage between the metals concerned. With copper at +0.34 volts and aluminum at -1.66 volts, there is a potential difference of 2 volts, thus aluminium should etch faster than zinc with a difference of only 1.1 volt. With the presence of weak hydrochloric acid, it reacts with both of these metals to produce hydrogen gas in very a small amount to lift the resulting copper particles out of the etched line to float on the surface as long as it is not disturbed. There is no need for feathering, which actually breaks the bubbles and allows the copper particles to sink.

While many combinations of chemicals work, I found that one kilogram of copper sulfate added to 10-20 liters of water will make a good mordant, depending on how strong you want your bath. To this add salt until the solution turns green, indicating the presence of cuprous chloride. I have since found out that it is best to use pickling salt rather than common table salt that contains calcium silicate to prevent clumping in damp conditions. When table salt is used, insoluble calcium sulfate is formed, which is known as Plaster of Paris, used in casting projects. Technically pure salt can be purchased for softening water in the household and sodium bisulfate can be found at stores dealing with swimming pools and hot tubs. These compounds produce hydrochloric acid with a pH under 1.0.

For etching both aluminium and zinc, I recommend using the original formula because of the hydrogen produced to keep the plateintaglio plt 2 ecuL textures free for etching. Cupric chloride with copper plates produces no gas and the heavier dark compound sinks, making a vertical tank with bubbling air good for two reasons. One is to keep the plate surface free of the dark compound and the introduction of oxygen that helps regenerate the bath.

Since manFuturecopper_thumby etchers prefer copper to the other metals, cupric chloride is the perfect answer for their studio. The commercial electronic industry has mostly turned to using cupric chloride over ferric chloride for a number of reasons. First, they don’t have to constantly purchase the ferric chloride and pay for its disposal; the regeneration of cupric chloride with air not only saves money, but with the increase of strength of the mordant, chemical companies are willing to buy the surplus produced on a daily basis. If it is respectable enough for these companies, it certainly should be looked at seriously by schools and large print shops dealing with etching.

Hydrogen peroxide comes at 3% in drugstores and 12% aDSCN1151t beauty salons. While the 3% works, the constant use of it for oxygen will dilute the solution too much, so a stronger version should be sought after. In health food stores, there is 35% available in Canada but may not be so in other countries because of it possible use in bomb making. I use the 35% that I keep in a refrigerator to help it keep its original strength, but never add the full strength to the bath as it releases too much oxygen that is just lost for reaction within the solution.

If peroxide is not available, then oxygen containing compounds such as potassium or sodium chlorate can be used, but the constant addition produces too much of other sodium/potassium compounds that can impede the mordents’ effectiveness. From time to time hydrogen is required for the reaction, so the pH can to be lowered with hydrochloric acid, but I still recommend you use the safer dry materials of salt and sodium bisulfate.

Both a pH meDSCN5004ter and hydrometer would be helpful if you need to get into producing a constant strength mordant. Inexpensive pocket pH meter can be found on the Internet and hydrometers used for testing car batteries can be purchased at most automotive suppliers. Fabiola has found a US patent (#2,908,557) from 1959 that outlines a new method of etching copper, in which I found that concentrations of hydrogen, chlorine and oxygen molecules can range by a great deal and still etch the metal efficiently. As long as sufficient amounts are present, an excess seemed to not trouble the patentees.

Alfons has researched cupric chloride very thoroughly and has published his results: Salt -175 grams and sodium bisulfate -125 grams in one liter of water. Add 200 ml of hydrogen peroxide and 200 grams of copper sulfate. This produces a mordant with specific gravity of 1.2609 and pH of 1.4. My research mixtures had a specific gravity of 1.200 to 1.305 and pH anywhere between .98 and 2.0. With a lower pH, more hydrogen is formed so the aluminium and zinc plates also etch faster. When first mixed the color is a beautiful leaf green and gets darker as more cupric chloride is formed, eventually becoming a dark brown when it stops reacting with the copper. The addition of peroxide will quickly return the bright green color and the bath is regenerated.

Disposing of mordant

There might be a time when you want to stop etching and get rid of the bath safely down the drain. Since copper compounds are toxic to fish and not removeBlogarticle027s_thumbd from the discharged water, it is simple matter to remove all the copper by putting in a scrap piece of aluminium until all the particles are at the bottom and there is still much of the scrap metal left. The copper particles caBlog014s_thumbn be filtered out with a common coffee filter and a proper funnel, leaving aluminium hydroxide in solution. The hydroxide can be removed by adding a base such as washing soda or borax. The white hydroxide can also be filtered out with a coffee filter or synthetic cloth as I have done. The remaining liquid has no toxic compounds and can go down the drain.

If you were etching zinc, the zinc chloride produced is soluble in water and should not be put down the drain. To remove the zinc, add sodium silicate or metasilicate to form zinc silicate that is whitish insoluble material that can be filtered out.

If copper plates were used, scrap aluminium will remove the copper like it does with cuprous chloride and the lesser amount of aluminum hydroxide formed can be filtered out as well.

Where to find materials

Much depends on the size of your community and number of major suppliers with stores. Here are suggestions for the least expensive products but good for the processes:

· Sodium bisulfate – Swimming pool and hot tub dealers, jewelry/craft stores. Dry crystals that produce milder sulfuric (sulfurous) acid in water.

· Sodium silicate- Pottery clay suppliers; used to modify clay. A viscous alkaline liquid that dries waterproof.

· Sodium metasilicate- House hold products in hardware and groceries. A dry powder soluble in water to replace phosphate powder that is bad for the environment. Look for ingredients on the box as some contain only washing soda. Bondex at Home Depot is my supply.

· Copper sulfate- Gardening supply or some hardware stores. Used to keep algae down in dugouts.

· Salt- Pickling salt at groceries or salt for use in household water softeners. Don’t use large pellets supplied by some softener companies. Salt must be free of calcium silicate.

· Hydrogen peroxide- Use at least 12% available as hair bleach in beauty salons. Health food stores might have 35% that you can dilute for adding to mordant.

· Chlorate compounds- Chemistry supplier but may be a bit more expensive and detrimental to the longtime effectiveness of the solution.

Interesting web sites with more information

Instead of going into all the fine detail of why and how copper compounds can etch metals more safely and just as effectively as acidic mordants , I recommend you go to the following websites where there is much information over many articles written as the processes were being developed.

· http://www.ndiprintmaking.ca/?paged=2– My personal website that blogs recent developments or items of interest in the arts.

· http://homepage.usask.ca/~nis715/ . This is my site at the university of Saskatchewan and has important information on all my innovations.

· http://members.optusnet.com.au/~eseychell/PCB/etching_CuCl/index.html. This is an excellent site to explain the chemistry of etching copper, starting with hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide.
A Google search for “Copper etching with cupric chloride” will give you many commercial circuit board manufactures methods that might be of interest to you.

Cataract Effect on Color

October 16th, 2012

A couple of months ago I went through cataract surgery, first on my right eye, then a month later on my left eye. While this upset my vision because my glasses prescription was no longer valid for the right eye, so I removed the lens because the surgery practically returned my focusing like it was when I was much younger. Being 83, I never noticed the shift in color vision over the last few decades and kept producing art work as I had all my life. I was told by a friend that there would be a difference in the colors of my work, but I didn’t think it would be as noticeable as it was.

color balanced Lcolor balanced R
The gray scale/color swatch that I use when copying art work, shows the slight color cast

I decided to see if I could make some sort of a record of the difference in color perception between my two eyes in the month that my left eye retained the yellow/brown crystalized lens. By opening a file in Photoshop and bringing up two images of it, I would close either eye and try to adjust the color of the left image by shifting it with a yellow/brown filter layer. It was hard to get right as I picked all sort of images that people would encounter in their pre cataract surgery experience. The color shift was usually subtle but noticeable now that I have lived with new glasses and better focusing of images on the monitor.

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I was astonished that how the shades of blue were diminished by cataracts 

What the consequence of cataracts means to artists and gallery viewers has not been a subject for art historians or artists in general. The only information I can find on the Internet is work done by an ophthalmologist, Michael Marmor at Stanford University; with links to his and other interesting articles listed farther on. The major articles seem to refer to Dr. Marmor in some way and seem to be written after his first article appeared in 2008. Dr. Marmor probably used Photoshop to manipulate Monet and Degas works as we see them, into what the artist might have seen with their inferior eyesight. Some Internet sites mention other artist with visual problems, including Mary Cassatt and others.

An early acrylic landscape done when I had no cataracts

In fact Claude Monet destroyed some of his later work when he saw them with the one eye when the was cataract removed. Edgar Degas first noticed his failing eyesight at age 39 and was unable to read by age 57. They both wrote extensively about their problem.

How much bluer the right eye responded to the color in nature

When I got my last prescription for glasses, the doctor insisted I start taking Omega 3 to prevent macular degeneration that can destroy ones vision as we get older. A much younger goldsmithing friend had to give up the craft because of macular degeneration and no longer drives as well. Apparently early humans became intelligent apes because of the Omega 3 they found in bone marrow and animal brains – things most of us no longer consume. That is consistent with one program in the brain series on Charlie Rose, where the specialists say humans no longer get enough Omega 3 that lets the signals move across the junctions within our brains, causing dementia, etc. Why fish is considered brain food. Considering that the eye is just another part of the brain with connections, it seems like a good idea.

Ben's LBen's R
A waterless lithograph print, editioned in 1994

These are some interesting sites to visit to get the pictures used to show how much the colors have changed in Claude Monet and Edgar Degas later work and their concern. I thought it better for you to see the images on the sites they were originally posted, leaving my comparative images on my blog.




A Couple of Ideas Jewelers Might Find Helpful

March 2nd, 2012


As an artist, many years ago I used to also build jewelry as part of my living but have spent most of my recent years printmaking and teaching at a university. I had a well-equipped shop doing constructed and centrifugal lost wax casting; working in both gold and sterling on commissioned piece – as well as selling through some outlets across Canada. Luxury taxes made jewelry not as profitable as commercial art so I after a number of years stopped serious jewelry manufacturing and turned to printmaking and teaching.

As I am now very old, I would like to pass on two simple modifications of common tools we all use, which has made working on a piece easier and less frustrating. I have followed the jewelry forum with great interest, as well as looked what equipment is for sale to the craftsmen, to see nothing like my simple innovations.

When I started to work in titanium, I found its’ two main characteristics to be overlooked for use in making a pair of self-closing tweezers. The high melting temperature of the metal and the fact it is a very poor heat conductor make this possible. By using appropriate length of suitable spring steel to supply the power for the closure, two pieces of titanium can be pop riveted to produce tweezers such as these.

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I am sure you could spend more time and do a better job than I did on the two shown, but they were assembled in a hurry at different times; when the first thinner prototype set was mislaid. The working principal is to set a fulcrum point (lines) somewhere in the middle of the tweezers so that pressure on the spring section would force the titanium points apart. One doesn’t need much pressure as they are meant to hold pieces of solder while tipping the claws holding a diamond – or critical joints where heat dissipation and fear of tweezers soldering together is avoided.

I also use a sharp titanium or tungsten point to push solder around.

72 peg 372 peg 172 peg 2

Beside the regular V slotted board for sawing, I have been using tapered wooden table legs to make special filing bench boards. A slight tapper will allow you to turn the peg into any ordination suited best for filing at that time. I have a large selection of pegs that I even change shape to better accommodate the work.

I have been included in major shows in those years, even won DeBeers Diamond major award in 1977. You can see pictures of some work that I had time to photograph in those busy days on my blog at: http://www.ndiprintmaking.ca/jewelry.html. Since I have the tools, metal and skill, I do sometimes build pieces for members in my family.

Nik Semenoff D. Litt

So You Don’t Have a Press

January 20th, 2012

New printing press are expensive and used one sell for top dollars as they are quickly bought up by a practicing printer looking for one. Students that graduate with printmaking in mind, find few opportunities in most centers; like a cooperative studio in which they can use the equipment on a payment of membership. Only one of my printmaking students has continued printmaking because I was able to help him build both a litho and later an etching press. One of my better print students has stopped doing art for the lack of a press, which he told me when I met him on one of his delivery routes working for a small company. If only these students could continue printmaking until they somehow can make connections with a press, their spirits would keep the dream alive and to keep looking instead of giving up. It was this reason that I developed a unit consisting of seven ball bearings assembled on two shafts with alternating tracks covering a total of three inches width. It was intended for printing waterless lithography, but has been accepted mostly by monoprinters.

Because of the small area making contact of the seven
bearings unto the plate surface, the pressure can be
between 800-1050 psi, depending on ones strength and
position above the plate. This seems to be sufficient for
properly dampened rag paper.

Sometime ago, a European printmaker (Ad Stijnman) contacted me about pictures of Sashas’ Palm Press to include in a paper dealing with intaglio. He told me it has been successfully used to print etching plates, which surprised me as I had never considered there would be enough pressure for successful prints. As I have never printed an etching edition in my life – only did research into a safer mordant – so I decided to do some research.

I had given away an old small etching press years ago to a student when I built my own 15 inch wide convertible etching/lithography press; which I have recently sold because there seemed no need for an etching press after my work in 2008 on the cupric chloride mordant to etch copper plates. I had a bunch of proofs from my early research using plates I had made using various techniques. I started to print these plates using Daniel Smith etching ink and a palm press, using a soft orange felt-like chamois matting made in Germany, which acted both as a sizing catcher and felt blanket.

I found that the ink had to be softer so added Easy Wipe. To start the research, I chose to use cheaper cover stock instead of thicker harder rag paper. Soaking and surface drying the sheets was done as normal, but using other two large piece of the German synthetic “Chamois” and a rolling pin. By adjusting the ink viscosity and wiping techniques, I was able to get decent prints but felt things could be made much easier.

Years ago I had worked with Alan Flint into making one’s own waterbased ink by using Lascaux clear screen base and dry pigments. This ink was easy to grind with a spatula and could keep in a plastic jar for years without forming a skin on the top. It tended to dry faster than oil based ink, so a bit of acrylic retarder would give me (and some special students) more time to wipe the plate cleanly and for the creation of plate tone if that was required. I had some of this old ink on hand from that research so decided that a waterbased ink would be the direction to go because the damp paper should absorb the ink better than an oily one. As I used up the small amount I had, I decided to see if Hunts or Golden screen base would work as well when ground with Mars black or lampblack. They all seemed to work well enough that in the end I mixed the three versions together into one jar.

Because some etchers have been using Daniel Smith waterbased relief ink for their etching plates, I decided to try that route as well since I had a range of these DS relief ink. I found them too stiff and so modified it with Lascaux clear base to get the proper viscosity.

Being a heretic amongst etchers, I have been using tulle instead of tarlatan for wiping the plates. This works just as well and can be washed clean in soapy water.

The amount of soaking of the paper became a bit of an issue with the water soluble ink; since it could penetrate deeper and produce a wider darker line than intended. Still experimenting with cheaper cover stock, I found a technique that worked well with the palm press, so decided if the use of bottle bottoms would work here as well as it had in my research into printing waterless lithographs. I had experimented with three different sized bottles, eventually deciding that the largest and smallest where all I needed.

bottles ssmall bottle sDSCN0865

The large baby food bottle was attached to the wood by means of screws from inside the metal lid, then the bottle was put into the top. The smaller bottle was quite tall so I snapped off the opening and glued it into the hole I drill in the piece of wood.

By adding a wider piece of wood on top as a handle, more pressure could be applied without hurting my palm and fingers. The smaller bottle has small bumps that greatly increases the pressure on an area to get the paper pushed deeper into the lines. To prevent damage to the damp paper and allow the bottle to slide easily over the surface, I chose a sheet of thinner frosted Mylar that was meant for use with CAD printers. It is ¼ thinner and should not spread the pressure over a larger area and therefor have a greater effect.

It was now time to try proper rag paper to see if professional prints could be made. I found that plain soaking of the sheets did not produce the quality I wanted because too little soaking left the fibers hard and poor pickup of ink. Too long and the simple pressing of the sheet between blotting material, left too much water within the fibers so the ink could come completely through the to the back; with the image becoming too dark as the ink migrated sideways as well. On a regular etching press, the sizing catcher and felt would absorb excess water but the Mylar could not – just squeezed it out.

nude s ragfish s 001fly 001s

Some of the other plates that I printed with a bottle and dampened rag paper. The nude is 4.25 X 5 inches, the fish 6 X 7.5 inches and the fly 4 X 5.5 inches.

To make the Mylar surface more slippery, I used the “Johnny Wax” that I have developed to replace common grease on a litho press tympan. The Mylar is much larger than the paper and stays in place when the bottle is rubbed across it in many directions. I usually start by going in a circle at the center of the plate, working out until I could feel the edge of the metal. For aquatints and darker areas, the smaller bottle can be used to make sure the paper has been pressed down into the deeper recesses and pull out the ink. One can carefully lift one corner of the paper to see how well the ink has taken and put it back to apply more pressure if needed. It is important to go over the entire surface carefully without leaving any area weak from ink.

man 001sfeather 001sbook 001s

These three prints were made with waterbased ink and either large or small bottle bottoms. The first print is a (9.5 X 7 inch) solarplate that was made for me by Dan Welden for him to see how toner images on Mylar would work with his plates. Actual printing time: 39 seconds.

The middle print (8 X 11.5 inch) is an aquatint on aluminium using copper sulfate as a mordant. Actual printing time: 59 seconds

The last is an electro-etched zinc plate (5 X3.5 inch) using Riston film for exposure to a toner wash on Mylar and a small Xerox copy of a book. These prints are on Stonehenge rag paper. Actual print time: 37 seconds

Because I no longer manufacture palm presses, there was no point of showing prints using that method – since the bottle works just about as well, it should be possible for more etchers to use this process.

What was required was the older method of preparing paper for printing by wetting every second sheet into a stack that was then wrapped in plastic and pressed between flat surfaces, by placing a weight on the top – thus letting the water content to even out overnight. The sheet was now limp and just damp with no free water on the surface. Now the rag paper produced even better prints than the cover stock, which was soaked for a shorter time and at uneven intervals.

I noticed on the Internet that there are many etchers who do not produce large sized prints and this might make many of them happy to print with this method. With the new waterbased etching ink on the market, you should find one suitable that works; if you don’t care to make your own, as some printers still do, using lampblack and plate oil varnish.

I have uploaded two interesting videos to You Tube; one on this process and the other a more detailed teaching event showing steps of my waterless litho  process. The easiest way to find them in to go to You Tube and use my name as the tag, which will target these videos and disregard other tags that will complicate the search. I now realize the text passages are too short, but using the space bar, you can pause the video and read a leisure.

Instead of reediting the pieces, I would rather take the time to do more on some techniques that will help make printing easier.

Making an Etching Press with Jacob Semko

March 25th, 2011


Planning Making the Press

The concept of using only metal where the pressure needed, can help it easier and cheaper to
make presses. My small press is convertible to either etching or lithography – even having linear offset system for litho. My press is much more complicated to build and uses a drive motor.

After working on his litho press with me, Jacob decided that he would like a large etching press for etchings as well as relief prints. We talked it over to decide the size and other features he wanted included. Since I had made a smaller convertible for my daughter who as teaching art at the time, it was a proven concept that just needed to upsized. The principal of making just the pressure area from steel was accepted as Jacob had woodworking facilities at home to finish off the construction.

The Rollers

Cutting and trimming a large diameter steel tube is best done with an abrasive cutoff saw. My saw would not cut all the way through, so the tube was rotated to cut sections at a time.

The first thing to consider was the two rollers, the possible diameter and method of construction. As there are two scrap metal yards in the city, we went to them to see what kind of steel tubing was available. We found suitable 3/8th inch thick steel tubing that was 6 inches in diameter; for two lengths to make a 30 inch wide bed. The first thing to do was to cut the tubes to size – using a cutoff disc. The tube where then trimmed to length, leaving a little for final truing on a lathe.

It was decided that we would use a high quality shaft as the Brandt press at the university had broken when a student had put too much pressure on the rollers. When I went to my friend who owned a machine shop, he came to look at the damage and told me the steel was likely a number XXXX which should have been YYYY, that he had in his shop. I told him that the outside tube might be supported with a doughnut-like ring inside, which would make it impossible for him to replace the shaft. We took off the roller and in week or so, called me that it was fixed with the better steel shaft and a trued new surface on a lathe.

The steel had to be cut in straight lines, then trimmed to fit unto the wooden support screwed to a faceplate. The center of the intended disc was first placed touching the point of the tailstock, then four screws were set into place. A hole was drilled and expanded with a boring tool to fit the diameter of the shaft.

We decided to reinforce the tube from the inside with doughnut rings, so the 1/4 inch sheet steel from the scrap yard was sectioned to make six rings – one on the inside of each and two for the ends. The cutoff saw was used to separate the pieces and trim them closer to a circle. The best way we thought of making the donuts was to cut out a plywood disc and screw it unto the faceplate of the lathe. Four holes to screw the sheets unto the plywood on the faceplate was all that was needed to produce center hole that was made to fit the shaft, using a boring tool.


The plates were  transferred to a three jaw chuck to lathe the outer edge that would fit inside the roller tube. You will notice that I have made a more solid tool holder as I had found the original tool post was not really ridged enough, which I only use when needed for angle cuts. The block will take both 1/4 and 1/2 inch bits, considering the project.


Roller Assembly

The discs fit the inside with little room to spare because of the welded seam produced in the manufacturing of steel pipe. The shaft was one of the most expensive part of the press because of special features needed to prevent it breaking.
Since it was summer and nice outside, we decided to move welding outdoors since I could easily get power to the 110 VAC arc welder from a power plug near the basement window. Since the chosen steel could become brittle from arc welding and extreme local heating, we used an acetylene torch to preheat the shaft before arcing the ring into place.

After drilling centers on the shaft, we were prepared to weld the pieces together. Jacob did most of the welding, using my underpowered 110 VAC unit that was allowed in residential areas.

With the center support and one end welded to the shaft, it was inserted into the tube and centered with three improvised threaded rods clamped to the tube edge. The other end was shimmed to place the shaft perfectly in the center and then welded into place. The clamping support was removed and the center ring was welded to the tube by holding the welding rods vertically. Now the other end ring could be used to close up the end by again using small shims to get it as perfect as possible.

Using disc grinders and round grinding points, the rough but still strong welds were smoothed out.

Since my small 110 volt welder was inadequate for thick metal, the welds are not cosmetic but strong enough for the stress. Some grinding and filling with body putty made a decent looking set of rollers. One of the shafts is longer at one end to accommodate the gear to turn the bottom drive roller.

Since my lathe was too short for this set of rollers, we took them to an industrial metal shop that  trued the surfaces and shaft ends cut to size. As they didn’t seem to have a belt sander on hand, they used a disc sander that produced the unsightly surface.



DSCN0332One could use ball or roller bearings, but to keep costs down, we used the bushing system similar to what I used on my convertible press. It was more work but a learning experience for us as well. We decided to use two inch long bushing that set the dimensions of many other parts, like the upright supports and wooden sides of the press.

Welding the boxes needed to support the bronze bearing, which are more than good enough for slow turning and the pressure needed for printing an etching. The heavy support of the bearing was need for Jacobs press as I did not use that feature with my smaller rollers.

The first thing was to make metal boxes with support for the Oilite bronze bushing. The sides were made from 2" wide steel 1/4" thick, while the end taking pressure was 1/2 inch. The piece were welded together using magnetic holders to get perfect square units. Sheets were cut to fit inside the boxes and welded into place from the inside. A thicker piece of steel was cut to length and one end ground with an inside curve that fits the bushing diameter.

       DSCN1910         DSCN1923
My lathe does not have an indexing feature, so to hold the chuck solid, I used two clamps.
The hand grinder has a attachment for use on a lathe, making it possible for us to grind a curve.

There would be hardwood filling the space with the grain running horizontal to accommodate any side pressure put on the bushing; this was done by gluing two pieces of oak at 90′ to each other to get the required thickness for the box. The piece of steel that was ground to the curve of the bushing was welded into place – after the hole to accept the shaft for the drive gear was made by drilling and filing smooth. The other three bushings did not need this effort.

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Much fitting and adaption of materials was necessary to get the bearing strong enough for a press.

The wood pieces were fitted as close as possible by using temporary screws to put out the sections as we worked. Epoxy was used to glue the wood and metal box together – but it was necessary to keep the epoxy from flowing into the interior of the bushing by using a paper tube lathed to size and pushing it tightly against the metal backing. Grease nipples were added after drilling through the wood and the bushing, for future lubricating of the press.

Construction of the bushing holder seems complicated, but it would be nearly as complicated to use commercial ball bearing as done on manufactured presses. All dimensions would be different.

Holes had been drilled at the ends that held short rods unto which strong spring were used to keep the rollers apart. You will notice the different lengths of the boxes that give us space to keep the drive roller off the bottom of the completed press. The top roller bushing needed a ring to hold the threaded rod that is apply pressure. This was welded on and the sides ground off to the thickness of the box.

Frame Supports

        Marking, drilling and cutting the angle for the taper at the top of the bearing supports.

The framework to hold the bushings and pressure system were constructed from the 2" wide flat steel and also 3" wide material for the outside. The top was tapered by cutting off a piece 1 1/4" and 8 " long at one side. Holes were drilled for the bottom bushings and two more to connect to the wooden sides of the press. Holes at the tapered end were added to accept metal cross pieces holding the pressure screw and top cross bar

It is important to use jibs for assembling a number of similar pieces. It need not be complicated but well thought out by using common materials in the workshop.

A jig was setup to make sure the supports were identical and accurately welded together. The basis for the jib was just a piece of scrap lumber planed to the width of two inches – the same the the bearing thickness. A series of screws keep the metal off the wood as the welding heat would burn the lumber. Rods were inserted into the holes where bolts go and the pieces adjusted to get perfect 90′ angle in all directions. Then they were welded together by first tacking the metal to prevent warping in the long weld.

Before drilling the holes into the bearings, we used a gauge on a machinist granite block to make sure the distance from the bottom was the same on both sides.

Holes were drilled in the bottom bushing and the supports temporarily bolted together to make and weld the upper assembly. It consisted of short joining flat metal and spacers to fit the 2" spacing set for the bushing boxes. Nuts were welded on one side of the supports to accept bolts that would tie the two side supports together.

The coupling devises were fitted between the support, then lathed to accept the vernier column before welded in place. There may have been easier ways of doing this, but this worked out.

A threaded coupling "nut" was made wider by welding on pieces to opposite sides, then ground flat to fit nicely in between. One end was lathed circular to accept a piece of aluminium tubing that was engraved with spacing lines (more later) for setting pressure accurately.  This was done by putting in a short section of threaded rod into the lathe chuck and screwing the coupling unto it – making it perfectly centered. All parts welded together – as well as the spacers.

Vernier Pressure System

This was a luxury feature that is included in the better presses to make pressure setting accurately. It consisted of aluminium tubing that fit inside one another. The smaller pieces were lathed on the inside at one end to fit the top of the threaded coupling used to apply pressure. It was then engraved on the lathe by using a pointed tool for longitudinal “0” line and the shorter spacing lines.

I used a small 3-jaw chuck from my Unimat to hold the tube between centers, using a larger bullnose at the tail stock. It was easy to make the long vertical line by working the tool along the lathe bed. The short lines were transferred from tape spacing by turning the chuck by hand, using the square handle that comes with chucks.


Using the lathe to make the division on the vernier was our way of producing the working system.

The finer increments allowed by the division of 360′ was done on the larger tube. One end was given a slight angle by setting the tool post to produce the short taper. A sheet of paper was produced with lines 36′ apart with a circle to make sure the tube is centered. A special small piece of metal, with an angle equal to the taper on the tube, was secured to a handle to make sure the line would be vertical. Then the soft ground was scratched with a needle and etched in copper sulfate mordant. Numbers were stamped above the lines with a standard set of punches.

The components making up the vernier pressure system that was epoxied into place on the press.

Two screws were put at the top to adjust the vernier for setting the zero point. The threaded rod was capped by lathing another coupling to fit the inside of the larger tube just finished. It was cut in half and screwed to one end of the heavy threaded rod. A hole was drilled through it and the rod for a short piece of thinner rod forced and glued into place to help adjustment. The two screws would grab unto this small section as it went down when turned; the graduation would be 1/10th the pitch of the treaded rod. Jacob topped it off with a piece of ebony lathed to fit.

Frame Assembly


The assembly of the supporting frame and drive roller required some spacers, so Jacob used my rolling mill to produce shims that fit the exact thickness for each bolt. Holes were punched and the brass hammered flat to slide in. The cross piece connecting the two frames at the top was now cut to length from a piece of rectangular tubing and welded unto respective sections; ready to assemble the press. This was the distance set by the length of the rollers and bearings.

Adjustable Bed Support

Making many fittings for the support of the press bed. Epoxy was easier than precision lathing.

What is usually used on presses is an offset method that adjusts a bearing or wheel to just hold up the bed evenly as it goes through the rollers. Short pieces of rod were cut and lathed at one end to fit the inside of ball bearings that we picked to act as wheels. They were then put into the lathe chuck with a piece of metal against one of the jaws to produce an off center hole to allow the adjustment needed. Two holes were drilled and taped to set the height of the wheels. The bearings were epoxied to the end and later put unto long rods that had flat pieces of iron welded at each end. These were dropped into holdup slots attached to the inside of the press walls. The total length was exactly the distance between the two wooden sides and screwed at a height that would allow for adjustment.

The Wooden Press Sides

     The press in place at Jacobs’ first studio – and has been moved many times since being built.

At this point Jacob took the rollers and frame home to work on the rest of the press. He used plywood unto which he assembled assorted hardwoods to produce an interesting surface. The press bed was made of hardwood unto which a 1/4” piece of aluminium was used for a perfectly flat surface. You can see the bed support wheels within the body of the press. Pillow blocks were added to transmit the handle energy to the opposite side of the press, where a simple reducing system of a chain drive was used. The bottom has become a storage space for blankets and such, holding quite a bit of material where it could be easily accessible.

I am sure Jacob and his father took some pictures on their work of building the wooden frame and assembling the final press, but I have never seen them. Since the woodworking is simpler in such a project, I feel there has been enough information given for some printers to take on building a press.

If there are any questions about some part of the project, please get back to me directly on my e-mail as the registration system has been dismantled because of spams etc. I will be posting an article on my small convertible press, which is much more complicated, having to employ an off/on pressure system required for scraper bar lithography.

Building your Own Press

July 5th, 2010
EPSON DSC picture

Early designs for litho presses as shown in De Capo Press reprint of Senefelder’s book

There have been questions on other forums asking for information on building ones’ own press – etching or litho. I have heard of printmakers designing and building their own press more directed to how they print – whether they printed privately or as collaborators. I have seen some very sophisticated litho presses doing the job just as well or maybe more effectively than from one of the major press manufacturers. One by a professional litho collaborator who made a very sophisticated press. Yes it can be done with a little help from your local machine shop and a bit of knowledge of metal work, welding and fabrication. Certainly at a fraction of commercial units.

Just like most printmakers, I did not have the funds for a commercial press – even at a second hand price. Being quite handy with tools and having a better workshop than most artists, I decided to build my own litho press in the mid 1980’s; but rethinking the use of a press to make one better. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Back in the 50’s, I had acquired a dozen small 12 x 10 inch stones from an old printing shop who were eager to get rid of them at a giveaway price, so I built my first press using the frame of a small letterpress for the moving bed and a screw down frame from an old copying squeeze-down press that many linocut printers still use for editions. With some  modifications, such as a scraper bar and pressure release system, I was able to master the diabolical craft of traditional lithography and produce small size prints. 



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         old stone weed

A similar press was taken apart and modified to form the scraper bar system that allowed me to print stone lithos like the proof on the right.

As my life moved on with different priorities of a family, I more or less gave up lithography except for small art projects with my children. In 1982, I was invited to use the facilities at the University of Saskatchewan as I now on faculty in the college of Extension as a media specialist, involved in producing printed material. The marvel of drawing on a large stone rekindled my interest in lithography as I started to print editions in the print department.

I presume most printmaking departments are troubled with the same problem; careless students who seldom cleanup after printing their edition, leaving presses and area a disaster for anyone hoping to produce clean editions. Being given access to the facilities, I did not take advantage of being a faculty member, so allotted my time on the press to be the same as the students. But this became a problem as too much time was spent to clean the area if I wanted to end up with spotless prints. It was now time to think how I could produce a larger press to handle at least 22 x 30 inch sheets.


Hand printing takes tremendous pressure to get ink transferred to paper, but that only concerns the middle section of the common press – the rest of the unit is to support the moving press bed. The total space a press takes up consists of the middle transfer section and the ends to hold up the press bed as it passes under pressure. This is from Jacobl Semko’s litho press, using a 4 inch diameter steel roller made for us by a friendly machine shop who was interested in helping the students .

Common ball bearings were used in their presses, whereas I used bronze bushings supported in steel and resin casings.











In litho presses, one side becomes more important as we print in one direction only – etchers can go both ways. So for a litho press, the working side is longer than the press bed, the section on the other side of the scraper bar can be considerably shorter; thus saving space in the studio. Unless one is printing on large stones, the weight of the press bed by itself can be carried by less robust metal work – even hardwood could do the job. This means one only has to be concerned with the main transfer system that contains rollers and an adjustable pressure system, plus a means to move the bed through without too much effort. In many ways an etching press is easier to construct as pressure is set by screws for the end bearings; the rest left to blankets. On my press, the total length is 74 inches with 42 for the retracted bed, 8 inches for the vertical main section and 24 to support the bed while printing. You will notice how I use the space to store stuff, producing a very cluttered studio.

To lessen the confusion of construction, I will first discuss on how I proceeded making my large litho press, adding features not available on commercial presses. I feel there are big advantages to the three concepts I have adapted and helped with those build by my students. These are:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         1/ Robust construction is needed only for the middle ink transfer section, the bed support can be weaker as long as alignment can be maintained. This means the press can be taken apart and moved easily by one or two persons, not requiring crews and large moving vehicles. Triangulation on the legs can be added if there is concern of the legs going out of line, but I have not found this a problem on my press in over 25 years of printing with the legs not even bolted down.





2/ A proportional pressure system better than the common cam – one that will give higher lift of the scraper bar in the up position – but provides ever increasing pressure as the lever comes to the end of its movement. This a method used in a small 3M stamping press which we used as a model.



3/ An adjustable spring system that keeps the press bed just a millimeter off the drive roller, so there is no need to lift the bed or disengage the drive system from the roller. When the scraper bar is engaged, the bed is pressed down against the roller so printing can take place. To return the press bed, all one has to do is release the scraper bar so the bed lifts to move back easily on small wheels.


91010014 There are other features one can add; such as motor drive with automatic stop, or a completely different smaller motorized method to pull back the bed into the start position. I have added both of these to my large press to make printing much easier at my age.























Because I didn’t realize that there was a progressive system being used in industry, my own press uses the standard caming method designed into the pressure lever. I have added lead weight to help keep the heavy handle up when at rest. Also, I have devised a way to measure the squeeze of my linear offset blanket on the sheet of paper. Commercial offset presses run around .004”, but I don’t have to be that accurate. If too much squeeze (pressure) is applied, there will be “dot gain”, which will darken the image as rubber can spread.

I suggested the progressive design to the two students who decided to make their own large litho presses, using my other two ideas as well. This is how Jacob Semko adapted the 3M stamping system to his press.  He and Marshall Heaton build their litho presses using the sculpture studio as it had welding equipment and space, but some things were done in my workshop.  Adapting the progressive principal caused them many problems to get it just right. I presume someone with greater machining skills would have not had as much trouble.

















These are pictures of a press I encountered in Hong Kong that seemed to use some progressive system that made it easy to apply pressure. Hard to see from these pictures, but it was able to produce ample pressure.

EPSON DSC pictureEPSON DSC picture

View of the linear offset blanket which I use to get perfect flats with no salt and pepper, yet it is accurate enough to print fine tints. It can be removed and flipped over for easier cleaning than in a vertical position.

You might have noticed that the registration pins are now at the far end away from the scraper bar, near the end of the bed. This makes it much easier for me to place the paper; not having to lean over the bed to get to the opposite side. By using set of pivoting points, plus the registration pins that encounter the tympan/blanket, I can get very accurate registration if I am careful. For a third point of reference, I have a line engraved on my press bed, which I transfer a bit to the edge of my plate opposite the pins, giving me three points of registered on the plate.

#offset hinge

Illustration of the system used to remove the tympan/blanket for easy cleaning. Coned bolts gives me accurate printing of editions.

,  The bed lift system shows the wheel on the bed when it was driven in as far as possible, revealing the steel wheel that will keep if off the drive rollers. The screw and locking nut at the bottom of the picture, is the adjustment for the amount of space between drive roller and metal strips on the bed. The red handle can be used to lift the bed, but the spring does it too.

I have two motor systems; a larger one to print the sheet and a smaller one to pull the bed back. Micro switches stop the movement of both so I don’t have to be at the press. This allows me to rollup the plate while the blanket is transferring the image unto the paper.

I have many pictures of the small convertible press and the large etching press I worked on with Jacob. I will gladly put them on the blog if enough are interested to see how others have built presses. Send me an e-mail if you want more information.