Student Projects, Print Making
The general idea for our final project was to create the perfect print by testing the different steps of printmaking to determine how they affect the final outcome. We decided that the most crucial steps in the printmaking process are as follows; the etchants used and the length of time in the etchant bath, the type and color of dye, the amount of pressure applied in the press, and the thickness and color of paper used. We completed our experiment through several steps, where each step had one variable and a number of controls. We eliminated one variable in each step, thus creating a printmaking process that was the most effective. We conceived the idea for our project while etching zinc plates in a lab for class. We wanted to modify this process because some of our classmates were successful in their intaglio prints while others were not. In order to modify the lab done in class and make the project our own, we decided to use copper plates to form an intaglio print that was made using different etchants, dyes, pressures, and papers. We were intrigued by the idea of using copper plates because of their long history in the art of printmaking as well as our study of metals in class. We believe that we have found one of the most successful ways to create an intaglio print using copper plates.
The history of printmaking began with Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450. His invention allowed for the mass production of prints. It opened a broader market for artists because prints were less expensive to buy and could be more easily distributed, The collection of art was no longer restricted to the upper classes. Because of Gutenberg's German nationality, printmaking flourished in Germany and was fully mastered by the artist Albrecht Durer in the 16th century. Although engravings had been produced since the prehistoric age, printmaking in the form of etching developed in the 15th century as the result of the invention of the printing press. The printmaking process was furthered in the 17th century by the use of acid etchants, such as the ones used in our lab. As art history students, we are interested in this development of art as one of the most expansive collections of any art form. The variety and breadth allowed by printmaking makes it an attractive medium with which to experiment. The modern technology that can be applied to this antique process is interesting to art historians and scientists alike.
Copper plates (4)
Ferric Chloride, Dutch Mordant and Nitric Acid
Three Colored Inks: Blue and black oil-based inks and Reddish-Brown water-based ink
Different types of paper of varied thickness
Etching Tools: Burin and Stylus
3 Trays for etching
1) The first thing we are going to experiment with is etchants. We are going to use three different etchants: Ferric Chloride, Dutch Mordant and Nitric Acid. We will vary the length of time that the copper plate is in the etchant bath. We will use a 1.5 molar concentration and etch similar lines in three different copper plates for 10, 20 and 30 minutes When we have finished the etchant bath, we will determine which etchant and length of time is the best. We will determine this by inking the plates and putting them through a press to see which lines are the most definite.
2) We will then examine ink types to determine which colored ink as well as type of ink displays more colorant on the paper. We will use three different colors of ink as well as oil-based and water-based colorants. We will determine the effectiveness of the print through observations.
3) The next step will be to determine what thickness and type of paper is the best for the print. We will do this by varying the thickness of the paper as well as the color. Once we have determined the best type of paper, we will then be able to perform our last and final step.
4) Our final analysis will concern the amount of pressure used to press the plate through the print. We will vary levels of pressure on the press to determine which amount of pressure yields the best print. We will determine the effectiveness of a print based on clarity and distinction of lines, lack of smudges, and distinction of etched lines that show up on the paper.
After all of these tests, we hope to determine the most productive way of creating an etching using copper plates.
The first step within our experiment was to determine what etchant would create the most distinct lines in order to make a clear, distinguished print. We hypothesized that the 1.5 molar HNO3 would be the most effective. We placed a copper plate in an etchant bath for 10, 20, and 30 minutes to see which etchant and which length in the etchant bath would be the most effective
In order to etch our copper plates, we first had to make the etchants. For the 1.5 M HNO3 we merely diluted 3 M HNO3 by adding 300 mL H2O to 300 mL 3 M HNO3. We made the ferric chloride solution by adding 60 g of ferric chloride solid to 500 mL H2O (it is important to remember to add the solid the to the water and not the water to the solid because a violent reaction will occur in which gas is released!). A lab assistant made the Dutch Mordant according to the information we found in a textbook concerning printmaking. The solution consisted of 500 g of KClO3, 10 L H2O, and 750 mL of concentrated HCl.
Hypothesis: We believe that the Nitric Acid will be the most efficient etchant because of our observations of its reactivity with Zinc in our previous printmaking lab.
Observations During the Etching Process:
|Little to no bubbles formed on any of the plates during the etching process. In our previous lab, we had observed many bubbles forming and predicted that the same would happen in our experiment. However, there was little to no use for the paintbrush because of the low molarity of the etchants, hardly any bubbles formed on the surface of the copper.|
|After we placed the copper plates in the etchants for 10 minutes and removed them, when we etched the plates for the next etchant bath, the ground flaked off as a result of the length in the acid bath. It was very difficult to draw distinct, straight lines without chipping.|
After reading in texts about ferric chloride, we learned that the plates should be placed upside-down in the etchant bath and should be supported somehow in order for the etchant to circulate underneath the plate. We placed corks underneath the plate, but when we removed the plate the first time the corks floated up and we had difficulty in placing the plate back on the tops of the corks.
|After we completed the etching process, it was difficult to remove the ground with mineral spirits. We hypothesized that the reason for this was because the etchants were less concentrated and because we put the ground on the plates a few days before we etched the plates, leaving them to dry for longer. We believe these two elements contributed to the difficulty of removing the ground. The easiest plate to clean was the one etched with ferric chloride and we believe that this is because it was the most concentrated etchant and it reacted the most.|
|1.5 M HNO3||Ferric Chloride (60 g Ferric Chloride + 500 mL H2O)||Dutch Mordant (500 g KClO3 + 10 L H2O + 750 mL concentrated HCl)|
|10 Minutes||Lines barely visible with very little etching||Lines slightly more visible, but not precise due to flaking of the ground||Heavy flaking with barely etched lines|
|20 Minutes||Some flaking of the ground, etched lines with very shallow grooves||Visibly etched lines with flaking of ground||Sharp, distinct etched lines with flaking of ground|
Clear and distinct, but shallow etched lines
|Deep, distinct etched lines||Sharp and distinct, but barely etched lines|
Once we had observed the copper plates after being etched, we decided that the ferric chloride for 30 minutes was the effective etchant because the lines were sharp, distinct and looked as if they would be able to hold the most ink.
To make sure our observations were correct, we inked the plates and ran them through the press. We then observed the prints and reaffirmed our observations because the copper plate that was in the ferric chloride for 30 minutes created the best print.
Conclusion: We concluded after completing our first step that the Ferric Chloride was actually the best etchant for our copper plates. We had hypothesized that the Nitric Acid would work the best. However, we made this assessment based on the etching quality when using Zinc plates and the two metals obviously react differently to different etchants. Therefore, we were wrong in our hypothesis, but found an effective etchant for our experiment.
After we chose the etchant we would use for our final copper plate, we sketched a design of a tree onto sketch paper and then transferred the sketch onto our copper plate that was covered in the ground. We chose the tree design because we could use lots of lines and cross hatching. Lines and cross hatching create the best effects for an intaglio print. We etched the copper plate with the tree design for 30 minutes in ferric chloride.
Hypothesis: We hypothesize that either of the oil-based inks will work the best with our design due to their thickness and ability to penetrate the surface into the etched lines. In our previous printmaking lab, only oil-based inks were used with intaglio printing.
The second step in our printmaking process was to determine which ink was able to fill the etched lines and create a clear print. We tried three different inks; two oil-based an one water-based. We chose a black oil-based ink and a blue oil-based ink as well as a reddish-brown water-based ink. In order to maintain all other factors constant, we used the same paper and the same amount of pressure for the inking's. Our observations are below.
|Black Oil-Based Ink||
Lines are clear and distinct
Some haziness in the background
|Blue Oil-Based Ink||
Background is a light blue
Can see flaws in the copper plate
|Reddish-Brown Water-Based Ink||
Clear, distinct lines
Hardly any background haze
All of the inks we used created aesthetically pleasing prints that were artistic. Our job was to determine which ink created the clearest print as well as one which would be considered art. In the end, we chose between the black oil-based and the reddish-brown water-based inks because of their clarity of line. However, we liked the earthiness of the reddish-brown color because it matched the nature theme of our tree design. We also knew the water-based would be easier to ink and clean, thus making the printing process more efficient.
Conclusion: We concluded that the water-based ink was actually the most effective as well as the most artistic of all three inks. Once again, we were wrong in our hypothesis.
Once we chose the type of ink, the next step of our lab was to determine the ideal pressure necessary for our print. We faced one problem in determining how to measure the pressure because there was no readable number gauge on the press. We decided therefore, to completely release all of the pressure from the press and count the number of full turns of each knob to collect a numbered scale of pressure. For the first print, we used eight full turns, starting with no pressure. We labeled this print as "low pressure". The next problem that we encountered with the press was that one side of the press only turned nine times before it reached the highest pressure, whereas the other side continued to turn until fourteen rotations had been completed. For the second print labeled "medium pressure", we turned the left side twelve times and the right side eight and a quarter times. (The left side being the side closest to the printer and the right side closest to the wall.) For the third print labeled "high pressure" we turned the left side fourteen times and the right side eight and three-eighths times.
Hypothesis: We hypothesize that the highest pressure will be the most successful in transferring the ink from the plate to the paper. We think that the greater the pressure, the more chance of having the paper access the ink in the small lines of our plate.
Our observations are in the table below:
|Low Pressure : 8 turns||Print is not visible, little to no evidence of the design.|
|Medium Pressure: 12 turns (left) 8 1/4 turns (right)||Print is visible but vague. There is evidence of a printing process, but the ink has not been properly transferred to the paper.|
|High Pressure: 14 turns (left) 8 3/8 turns (right)||Print is visible with clear and distinct lines. The ink has been properly pressed and absorbed by the paper.|
Conclusion: The highest pressure worked the best as we had hypothesized. We will use this as well as our reddish-brown water-based ink as our constants and now vary the types of paper.
We chose four different types of paper with varied thicknesses, colors and textures. We wanted to see how these different papers fared in the print making process. There were two sheets of greenish paper, one that was thick and textured and the other was thin and transparent against the light. We also chose two off-white/white sheets of paper, one that was a thick textured paper similar to watercolor paper and the other a normal sheet of computer paper. For each print, we soaked the sheets of paper in water before printing and blotted them before they went through the press.
Hypothesis: We hypothesize that a thinner paper will be the best type for our print because it will more easily access the ink in our etched lines because they are so thin and precise.
Our observations are in the table below:
|Thin White (computer paper)||Clear distinct lines but the color is light and there is a red haze in the background. The paper absorbed too much water and this created a thick haze on our print that made it less appealing.|
|Thin Green||Clear distinct lines, the color was muted by the green tint of the paper.|
|Thick White (similar to watercolor paper)||Very clear, distinct lines, with no background haze. This is the best print.|
|Thick Green||Lines are barely visible due to the very dark tint of the green paper. The ink was poorly transferred onto the paper.|
Conclusion: After comparing the four finished prints, it was clear that the thick white paper was the best choice for our design pressure and ink choice. This was not the result that we had predicted in our hypothesis, but perhaps the texture of the paper enabled it to absorb the ink in the groves of our plate. The paper was also less affected by the soaking and it was not as susceptible to the strength of the press. With this print we feel that we came extremely close to producing a scientifically controlled print as well as an aesthetically pleasing work of art. We have thus fused the Chemistry aspect of this lab with the artistic creativity necessary in printmaking.
Our final project was one that combined several different ideas about printmaking and its detailed process into one lab. This project differed greatly from the initial proposals we formulated for our project. We had originally been interested in investigating the effects of pollution and weathering on different types of paint and media. This project would have yielded few results due to the time constraint of only a few weeks to complete the project. Therefore, we came up with a completely new idea based on our interest of printmaking from the lab we did in class. We wanted to investigate in more depth the different roles of each element in the printmaking process because we had seen that some prints created in lab were more successful than others, and we set out to create a process which would yield the most successful print. Our project went through a series of steps of elimination as we tried to discover the most effective tools in the process of printmaking.
We found that the best print was a result of etching a copper plate in Ferric Chloride for thirty minutes, applying a water-based ink, subjecting the plate to high pressure in the press and using a thick, colorless, textured paper. All of these elements came together to produce a professional looking print.
Adams, Faux, Rieber. Printing Technology. 4th ed, 1996.
Chemistry for the Graphic Arts. GATF, 1992.
Leaf, Ruth. Etching, Engraving, and Other Intaglio Printmaking Techniques. Dover Publications, Inc.; New York, 1976.
Ross, John, Clare Romano, and Tim Ross. The Complete Printmaker: Techniques, Traditions, Innovations. The Free Press; 1990.
We would like to thank both lab assistants, as well as those who helped us locate materials in the supply room. We would like to thank Michelle for concocting the Dutch Mordant etchant. Ms. Fitz was an invaluable resource and inspiration to our project with her knowledge of printmaking, her artistic fervor and her generosity in lending us her personal books on printmaking; we enthusiastically thank her.