Making a Water based Intaglio Ink that is Not Toxic

While I have never printed an intaglio edition is my life, as a teacher at a university, I hOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAave tried to find safer materials and methods for the sake of my students and etchers all over the world. Although I have been using two different versions with my classes, both can be used on plates and dry to be water proof after a short while. More than 30 years ago when I started teaching printmaking, I found the studio toxic from the common chemicals and solvents being used in all print media, so with my interest in chemistry and materials, I started with keeping hydrocarbon solvents out of the studio. I chose Daniel Smith etching ink and mixed in about ΒΌ to 1/3rd of their water based relief ink for the students to use. To clean up the slab, plate and tools, only warm soapy water was needed.

While visiting Alan Flint at his studio in Hamilton, Ontario, we discussed toxic materialsEPSON DSC picture and how best to eliminate them with less toxic other available products. He had a jar of Lascaux clear screen base and some pigments that were simply ground in water; this was the first experiment. It worked much better than expected, but we went unto other projects. He with his teaching at the university and the collaborative studio printing other artists works. I simply had other things to do.

Lascaux screen base and inks are made from one of the many acrylic formulations available to ink manufacturers. In my early days, I found I could buy large 5 gallon buckets of AC 33 or anyone of the dozens that Rohm and Hass price list provided to me. It was very thick and had to be diluted a bit with water before pigment was added. When artists found this source of a pigment binder was a fraction of the artist acrylics and must have complained to the manufacturers, these smaller personal purchases have been stopped.


Since intaglio is not my preferred medium, I only tried to repeat our attempt after ordering a container of Lascaux clear base as I had a full array of dry artist pigments in my paint studio; as well as a small ancient etching press that was given to me with a promise to work on safer intaglio printing.

I found that it was easy to grind up a batch of any color by just using a strong wide palette knife and the ink slab for my litho ink. After a few tests, I decided to add a retarder to make sure the ink would not dry while getting ready to print. I found it best to place the plate face down on the glass slab while the dampened paper was prepared.

Instead of using newsprint to remove surface water, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA used an orange synthetic chamois like materials basically used as a wash cloth for household cleaning. Newsprint contains sulfates and other chemicals and that is what makes that paper turn brown in time when exposure to air. This could contaminate the print so the synthetic material was cleaner to start and can be washed and dried with less cost for the print studio.


While this ink would work on any intaglio plate, I found it easier to spread by using a plastic credit card because the water content would soften card stock that was ordinarily used. Instead of tarlatan, I chose to use the fine netting used for bridal veils and available at fabric stores for much less money. At the end of a printing session, it could be washed with soap and water, then rinsed in running water and dried for the next session. It would not come out white as the original, but that made no difference for the initial wiping of the plate. The final wipe used pieces of a phone book and as the tint was getting thinner, it could be wiped perfectly clean for a white sheet and no plate tone.

Another advantage of this ink is if kept in a plastic container with a good screw top, there was never any skinning like oil based ink; I have used my original mixture for more than 10 years and right to the bottom of the jar. The test prints from my early research do not rub off any ink as the acrylic binder is much that same as acrylics used in painting.

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