#2 Drawing materials for waterless plates

While I have time, I decided to add more information to this project. To understand waterless and its difference with traditional lithography, it doesn’t rely as much on chemistry as Senefelders original process did. Waterless is simply a delicate masking system to keep silicone from bonding to the plate. Any material that adheres well and is not affected by the odorless hydrocarbon solvent used to dilute the silicone, will form an image. Of course the safer the drawing material, the better it is for the artist. Luckily common waterbased glues and similar materials work very well. These are applied with brush, pen, sponge or anyway that will produce the type of image you like. If you look at the sample I placed into the blog posting before #1, that will give you an idea of some material that work and the sort of image they can make.

I have found that common Asian Sumi ink works well if it has enough binder to produce both brush and pen images direct on a plate. If there is not enough binder, the silicone can break through and completely change your concept. By adding sugar or any water soluble adhesive, the Sumi ink will work. The only thing really needed is the glue, as the pigment is only used for evaluating the drawing. Sugar might start to sour and become alcohol, so add some disinfectant to kill bacteria.

Other glue-like materials that work well are gum Arabic, dextrin, casein, hide glue, polyvinyl alcohol and acetate, or anything that will dry hard enough to reject the silicone application. I suggest adding a bit of Sumi ink or other coloring so you can see your work for evaluation; not much is needed.

I prefer dextrin because it will produce a very thin line with a thin film, which can be used easy for fine detail in a pen. I use Rapitograph pens in a number of sizes with tinted diluted dextrin adhesive. You will likely find other material that you should test first before committing a lot of work on a plate.

There are pencils that work perfectly with waterless, Staedtler 108-9 is perfect as it alone will form a rejection film for silicone. With a hardness close to middle numbers of grease crayons, it fits very well into the process. Other pencils made by Staedtler, Stabilo, Venus and Derwent, work well if heated with a paint stripping gun until they lose their gloss. The image become impervious to hydrocarbons and produces an image.

There is on the market water soluble children crayons that work well if heated in the same manner. I have three makes but you should try those available in your community. Because this blog is available internationally, I am reluctant to give names to too many products that might not be available elsewhere. Testing at your end is important.

Lacquer based markers make good drawings but have to washout with acetone, which some printers may object to using. More about this solvent later. There are a number of different manufacturers with some producing a better rejection film than others. They should be fresh capable of depositing a good film of lacquer instead of a dry-brush line. Don’t use the waterproof markers containing xylene as these will be washout completely when applying silicone.

Common ball point pens work while fresh, but have to be heated like most of the pencils. These make a fine light line that may be broken due to the surface texture of your plate. Most work, but some not good enough in my opinion.

Now we come to my dry copier toner technique. This requires heat or a high octane hydrocarbon to set the particles. Acetone is used to washout the image, but this will give you reticulated washes that have become common in the printing community since I introduced the technique in 1985. This includes the toner chalks that produce charcoal like images, as well as how to make them. There will be more on this technique later as it requires more detail than I am prepared to give right now.

There have been attempts to produce graduated tinted washes with the glue like materials, but that does not work. In printing the image has to be made up of small points of deposited ink, the finer the better. Grease tusche does this as the grease separates from the water as it dries, leaving tiny areas of grease that produce interesting reticulation. Glue when diluted, will still form a silicone rejecting film until the concentration of glue gets under a certain point, then the silicone gets through, forming something completely different than what you expected. There is no subtle graduation - just a rough edge where the unmanageable break point came.

Some have attempted to use poster paint tempera materials, but I have never found them good enough to do more research in that area. Since polyvinyl alcohols are probably the most common binder, they fall into the same category as using that binder alone for an solid image. Controlling reticulation seem improbable to me and I stick to toner washes with their complete control and fidelity of editioning.

Copyrighted Nik Semenoff 2008


  1. 1
    Connie Says:

    Dear Mr. Semenoff, I just wanted to say thank you for posts #1 and #2.
    Allow me some questions, but if I am jumping ahead, please just say so and I’ll hold my horses until you cover the topic. These are not urgent questions.
    Plate Margins:
    I’ve been wondering for some time now about plate margins in waterless lithography. In traditional lithography I always made a margin with gum Arabic and then drew the image in the open area in the middle. It allowed for easy registration, especially when doing multi-color prints, and since I was using a paper smaller than the plate, an impression from the plate edge on the paper was avoided, and the paper margin remained clean (the press bed surface around the aluminium plate was never clean due to rolling up the ink on the press bed).
    Not knowing how to go about leaving a margin on the aluminium plate in waterless lithography, and not wanting to draw an outline directly on the plate for the image area, lest it would print, I came up with a method (basically making a mat using mylar) that allows me also relative accurate preparation for multi-color prints - however, I’m wondering whether there isn’t a different or easier way. I am not really interested in using the whole plate for the image, as I assume that the size of the paper should not be larger than the plate size (or its margin may get stained). I like the paper being bigger than the image for matting when framing the print.
    Paper Size:
    Any guidelines? When I started out printing waterless lithography I cut the paper the same size as the plate but noticed that the edge of the paper always picked up some ink from the edge of the aluminium plate (due to inking up the image with the roller going over the edge of the plate in this method). I found a way to clean the plate edge, but maybe you have some recommendation as to what to use? At the same time I also cut the paper now a tad smaller than the plate. This was the only solution I could think of for accurate, clean registration, as I am currently using your palm press to pull the prints. I would appreciate your comments on plate size/paper size relationship especially in regards to registration and having a clean printed paper at the end.
    Xerox Copies of Images on aluminium plates:
    I am thinking of making photo copies (at the local convenience store) of some of my small plates, in order to reuse or further develop the image, maybe even for something other than waterless lithography. Would this cause a problem to the plate (or the machine)? Does it make a difference whether I do this before or after applying the diluted silicone coating? For this question I’d appreciate a quick reply as I like the image I made, but don’t think that it will turn out the way it’s on the plate as I used Sumi ink and rice glue, and as you pointed out, the delicate gray tones will get lost when printing. So I’d like to make a photo copy of it as soon as possible.
    Thank you and regards,

  2. 2
    nik.sememnoff Says:

    Waterless borders can be handled much in the same way as traditional, but require masking to have a level film of silicone. When I have to use a border, I first cut an old piece of Mylar or some used HC negative to just a bit smaller that the area of the image. I place this on the plate weighted down with something heavy to prevent it moving. There should be enough space between the plastic and the edge of your border to lay down a strip of masking film. I used 3/4 inch masking tape usually around the studio and that gives enough grab to both plastic and plate. Then I spread silicone and buff it smooth like I would an image. The reason for all this hassle is to get away from the ridges that painting on diluted silicone is likely to leave and then produce marks while printing the plate. Use some sort of material like plastic on the masked area as paper can be penetrated by diluted silicone and certainly give you problems.

    Always use paper smaller than the plate in waterless as the edge of the plate is more prone to be damaged by the ink roller and certainly the palm press as they ride up unto the plate. In large editions this becomes obvious; depending on a number of factors. So you have basically figured out something similar that works for you. It also depends on the size of plates you are using since I think you are not printing from full sized plates using a palm press.

    Because I use registration pins and commercial plate punch on a more or less regular sized sheets of paper, I have set up a number of templates for them. I use cheaper sheet of paper bigger than the plate and punched at the top. I then outline the size of the plate and also the border area around the image. At the corners of the image area, I cut out a small triangle with the 90′ sides against the border line. This I use to outline the borders for that edition by placing the template on the plate in register with the pins hole, then just use a pencil to mark the border corners. When the template is removed, I join the corners with a pencil line. Depending on the type of image, I may use the masking method or just keep the border in mind and keep it away from the image.

    I am a little confused about how you intend to use the plate with a photo copier? Because of the aluminium surface, I don’t think you will get a good reproduction from a copier. Reflection from the metal will likely burn out some areas, but that is just an opinion of mine. If you have a scanner, you might be able to get a decent file by manipulating the setting of the scanner software. It should make no difference if silicone has been applied or not as the image is adhered to the plate and cannot be damaged unless treated roughly. Certainly placing the plate on the copier glass will not damage it. If you are hoping that the light gray area of your drawing will print exactly like on the plate, I will place a bet that they will not. There is no reticulation breaking the drawing into small pieces. The rice glue will just give you a solid flat. In situations like this there is no harm in trying as you are not taking a risk of your life in the test. Go for it.

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