#7 Paper for Waterless Editions

Because I wonder how many read the comments, I have decided to respond to Everfrees’ concerns here. Of course, press pressure is dependant on the paper one uses and has to be sufficient to place ink down into the deeper fibres of the sheet. So that will be sort of covered later on. Because we as printmakers, do not like the ‘salt and pepper’ flats that result from insufficient ink on the plate or too hard a paper, I always wonder why we pick rough paper for printing planographic editions.

While offset proofing presses do away with this deficiency, few printmakers have them in their studios and must do with the common scraper bar presses. I have not had enough experience with printing lithographs on etching presses, so have to rely on others knowledge on this. It seems to work well enough as a number of printmakers are printing waterless litho on theirs.

If the printer is using only one colour and does not require accurate colour registration, my suggestion is to use dampened paper like etchers do. Large sheets may become a problem, but not beyond most printmakers capabilities. In the early days of my lithographic experience, I regularly printed on dampened paper in only B&W with my small stones and plates . The prints were much richer in fine detail but may appear not as rich black.

Smooth litho plates do not carry as much ink as the lines and coarse aquatints of etching plates. Some printers probably can get good colour registration on damp paper, but it takes a master printer with much knowledge. The scraper bar on the litho press has a tendency to squeeze the paper and stretch it a bit; wet paper is more easily affected by this action and it would be hard to hold vertical registration in a multicolour edition. Even with dry papers, this is a problem and why I modified my tympan to prevent it creeping on the press bed.

If you examine a high quality art book with illustrations of masterpieces, you will see that the four-colour separations are printed in more than 120 lines per inch and much finer in newer publications. You will also notice the paper is glossy; the fibres having been filled in with clay and sizing. The paper is then calendared to produce as smooth a surface as possible so that no small dot of ink is lost in a hollow of the sheet - and this is likely printed on sheet fed offset presses. That is one standard for excellent reproduction that some printmakers might demand, but impossible to achieve on a hand press. I have heard that there is an archival rag paper now available that is coated with clay, just like wood pulp paper, but I have no more knowledge about it. So what are we to do?

Because of my commercial printing background, I tend to require as good an impression as it possible with today’s technical advances. There are a number of good rag papers that produce excellent flats from both heavy inking and pressure of the scraper bar. How this effects dot gain in dark areas becomes another issue.

Because of this problem, I developed what I call linear offset for my home built transfer press, which completely does away with salt and pepper flats. Today I started a new edition using Johannot paper, which is quite rough and hard surfaced when compared even to Arches cover. On my first proof I realized I should have taken the trouble of used my linear offset option and exposed the Mylar flat as a mirror image. Now I will have to struggle with the next three plates, printing the flats I require. Because textured colours are going to be added over the flats, I have decided to go with the slight imperfections because of this, but how many times have printers accepted less than their own standards when it comes to rough paper. Some lithographers use screen media for their flats instead of struggling with of over-inking and hard time printing using a non-motorized press.

One of my more favoured papers is Arches 88, which is a waterleaf sheet that is smooth and soft to take up ink even in the shallows of the fibres. The cost of European paper is increasing in North America, because of this, others of their good papers are being used less here I would suspect. There are a number of good 100% rag paper manufactured in the United States that sell for considerably less and produce excellent editions for waterless lithographers. Of the these I liked most was Rising Mirage, unfortunately no longer available. This was a 100% calendared sheet that was smooth enough to retain nearly all of the fine detail of toner washes on the plate. Stonehenge is another 100% rag paper that I have used with success, and actually liked it as much as BFK or Arches cover. A less expensive but good 100% rag paper is Daniel Smith Lenox, which was inexpensive until the last catalogue arrived. I had printed the last few editions on 26 x 20 inch sheets, which I had to cut from the larger 26 x 40 size. I wonder how much snob appeal is involved in using European papers over those produced in North America. Just asking?

Even though I have a motorized litho press, my age is having an effect on printing the full 22 x 30 inch sheets of which I still have a large supply in my paper cabinet. I don’t believe size has anything to do with quality of an image, especially when one sees the original Dutch paintings in a museum. Etchings used to be quite small and intimate, unlike today’s demand for original art on ones walls. Taking the attitude that small is quite OK, I have decided to use up more than 400 sheets of various 22 x 30 paper by printing 15 x 22 inch sheets.

I have close to 100 sheets of Somerset, a 100% rag paper made in England, and one of the best European papers because of quality, price and smooth surface. There is about 200 sheets of BFK and 50 more of Johannot. At least 100 sheets of Stonehenge and 60 of Arches 88.

While in Japan, I was taken to a village where they still make “Washi” in the traditional way and bought some light cream coloured sheets that are just waiting for the proper image. It was December and my wife felt extremely sorry for the vatwomen working in the cold water with the Kozo pulp and their large moulds. I also have many sheets of Nepal bask paper that is brownish and rough, which was give to me by a printmaker during an earlier trip to Japan. What to do with it and the 60 or so sheets of Moulin du Gue, that is extremely rough and seems to be heavily sized, more like for watercolours than printmaking? Having 15% linen fibre might account for some of its hardness. What concerns me with this paper is the darkening in from all around the edges, even though it has been in the dark of the paper cabinet since 1985.

I have made it clear that I prefer a smooth paper for printing waterless editions, even though I have offset capabilities of handling large sheets. Paper is the usual 250 gm/m2, but I have used thinner paper with great success - as have others. As long as the paper is archival, preferably from cotton or like fibres, and smooth enough to eliminate or reduce salt and pepper areas, then it should work fine. Price might be a major factor as it usually is for poor artists.

So what how do we handle press pressure? That is hard to explain. The type of paper you are using will set the demands on pressure, as well on the quantity of ink on your slab. Unlike traditional litho where water can be used to help control rollup, waterless depends completely on the ink characteristics and amount on the slab. Build up carefully even though over-inking a plate does not ruin it, like with traditional printing. Rough heavily sized papers with require the same pressures as intaglio, but you will have to experiment with your press to get the results acceptable to you.

The simple palm press I invented for my daughter teaching waterless at high school, can produce acceptable prints under the right conditions. Professor Ozaku in Japan has managed to invent a simpler unit out of bamboo toothpicks, which will print small sized prints on smooth paper just about as good as many would like. All I can say about pressure is make sure there is enough.

There are probably other opinions out there amongst printmakers and the readers would appreciate hearing from you. Use the forum as well as the comments if you wish.

Copyrighted Nik Semenoff 2008


  1. 1
    Connie Says:

    Thank you for all the detailed information. - Personally, I always check for new posts and comments when accessing NDIP. I would love to hear from others (maybe in the forum) on how they are doing applying your methods. I am still struggling with the basics, but I am determined to learn.

    With kind regards,

  2. 2
    everfree Says:

    I have to thank you for this answer to my questions. It had me hopping with delight at the mere mention of all these papers, some of which I have and will try. It is so good to get this advice, from someone when you know its backed by such a wealth of experience.
    It would be interesting to find out if North American papers are sold in the U.K. and if so to have the chance to try them, I shall certainly be looking out for them…. no snob , me, just searching for information. This just keeps getting better.

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