Vinyl lacquer replacement

For the last little while a printmaker interested in using toner for images on stone, has been asking about a good replacement for vinyl Deep Etch V lacquer. To get vinyl screen ink costs much more than needed by the average printmaker as the ink is not cheap and the solvent is only sold by the gallon I believe. I had some suggestions about her inquires on a number of varnishes etc., that say they contain vinyl and cellulose materials, saying they would have to be tried. Today I decided to  send her this reply, but realized it may be of great help for many other lithographers out there.

Dear Nik,
I wanted to start a new thread on this because I think the topic needs review. Lacquers. Why were vinyl lacquers preferred in the first place? Was it solely because of durability (read: longer print runs)? Drying time(short)? Hydrophobic properties? Most lacquers share this property to some extent. I’ve been looking at the Tamarind shellac as an alternative too. I think flake shellacs are traditionally alcohol based so it might stand to reason that mixing them in with oil-enamels and thinner would allow them to mix…although I noticed the Tamarind people had a reminder to stir the mixture well prior to applying. I had no luck at the paint places finding vinyl lacquer I’m guessing lacquers are there I just need to know exactly what I want when I ask. I’ve a friend who teaches graphic arts and printing who I’ve put out an e-mail to I think if anyone can track what I need it’s him. The studio here only uses water-based screen printing inks from what I was told last night so I don’t think those would work too well. Thoughts? Thx.

Hi: ~m

I believe vinyl was started to be used because it is very resistant to water, which is why vinyl siding is popular. Besides it is one of the cheaper plastics that has been around for a long time. It dissolves in a number of solvents - some not too toxic, but offset printers want something that evaporates fast as time is money. They are tough and used as glue in white glue (Bondfast and others), so stands up to any abrasion action from the rollers and blankets.

Tamarinds shellac mix makes no sense to me. Try adding paint thinner to your diluted shellac. While alcohol and hydrocarbons mix, shellac is not affected by solvents. They are incompatible and why I used shellac in my traditional days to make reverse images on stone. Hydrocarbons don’t dissolve shellac and mixing enamel into it only makes sort of a poor emulsion if that. I have never tried their mixture as I was well into waterless before I heard about it and since it didn’t compute, I left it alone.

In my traditional days, I ran out of the little of the Titian lacquer given me by the platemaker at the printing plant where I worked at one time. To make do, I used shellac from the paint store and diluted it with butyl alcohol that I happened to have. It worked fine and not as smelly or toxic as the Titian stuff. Commercial ready shellac is dissolved in methyl alcohol, which evaporates too fast for spreading on a plate, but a small amount of butyl alcohol acts like a retarder. The Hanco Deep etch V stuff smells of amyl acetate (banana oil) and might be the major solvent for vinyl plastic. I don’t know what Daniel Smith uses as the replacement for this Hanco material.

Just to make sure I was right, I went to the studio and did some tests. I put a small amount of 2 lb shellac mix into a container and stirred in a few grains of Erosin red dye crystals. I added to the first batch a very small amount of 1-Butanol and it mixed in perfectly. I spread some on a plate and buffed it down with a tissue. It would have dried in a few minutes, but I hurried that along with a heat gun. The film was tough and could not be scratched with an unsharp instrument. I repeated the experiment with Butanal 2 (secondary alcohol) with the same results.
Because these solvents are still considered toxic I decided to try polyalkylene glycol in DOT 3 brake fliud. This stuff is not considered toxic and worked as well even in a smaller amount. So I would suggest you get some shellac from the paint store, making sure it is still fresh as it deteriorates over time when dissolved. For coloring you do not have to get the chemists ones I used, but use aniline dyes from Lee Valley. Still expensive for the larger quantity sold, so I tested Dylon #23 Scarlet and it dissolved in alcohol. This dye is found in a fabric store. If you are concerned about toxicity of methyl alcohol, you can dissolve orange shellac with denatured ethyl alcohol if you can get it.

If I was still working in traditional litho on stone and plate, I would certainly work on improving this lacquer replacement while printing editions. It washes out with acetone or isopropyl alcohol, but if I wanted a slower evaporating solvent, I might add a bit of odorless paint thinner as a retarder.
If you have any more questions, get back to me as I may be able to help more.

Nik Semenoff


  1. 1
    nats Says:

    Hi Nik, would just like to say WOW! The toner wash is brilliant. I managed to get some really good prints, with unexpected images. Look forward to printing many more plates with toner.

  2. 2
    mkochsch Says:

    Hi Nats,
    Can you post or send me some example of how your “washes” turned out? I’m curious to see the effects.

  3. 3
    nik.sememnoff Says:

    Hi Both of you:

    If you are having specific problems with toner washes on stone or plate, just give me as much details and I might be able to help. I would like to know such things as: 1/ Are the fine tints not printing? 2/ Is the background taking on ink as a tint or broken areas? 3/ Dark areas filling in?

    These are some of the common problems with toner and waterless litho as I have seen it in my students many times.


  4. 4
    nats Says:

    Hi Nik. The toner plate printed very well for the first two times. I tried printing the plate the following week and didn’t get an even tone, the middle of my print was very light, it was as if the ink had not taken. Am i doing something wrong?

  5. 5
    nik.sememnoff Says:

    Hi Nats:

    How was the plate stored? If there was ink in the image, it may have dried too much and no longer would accept ink. It oxidizes and should be removed or refreshed by washing the surface with acetone, which will remove the rejection layer. If I want to store a plate for a long time, I washout the ink and replace it with water soluble materials, such as diluted Treacle, A local printmaker who makes a living with popular subjects, places a sheet of Mylar on the inked plate and runs it through the press. This seals the ink and all he has to do is remove the sheet to print again.

    If you washed out the ink, leaving the bare metal, then it is likely that the small amount of oil like silicone has migrated into the small dots and blind them. Always leave something within the image or you will end up with a contrasty prints and no fine tints.

  6. 6
    nats Says:

    Thankyou for the advice nik. It may have been that i have let the old ink dry up. I will remove the old ink and reprint the image again as it is a plate i would like to do an addition of.

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