Monday, March 30, 2009

Attempting Plate Lithography...

Tonight was my first attempt at a type of printmaking called Polyester Plate Lithography... and the first time using the blankets on my press! :o)

Let me just say that the day started out pretty crappy (wasn't feeling good), then it started snowing (SNOWING... I was wearing capris and a T-shirt with sandals on Saturday)... anyway... it was a Blah start to the week.


I suppose I should start this post out with a brief explanation of a few terms, at least described to the best of my knowledge. You can skip it if you want... I'm not the best at describing things.

Drawing on a Bavarian Limestone, from Wikipedia

Stone Lithography: This is the traditional way of lithography, in which huge, specially-prepared Bavarian limestones are drawn on with litho greese pencils or Tusche (a special paint of sorts), etched with a gazillion chemicals, inked up, and run through a special press to make prints. I took a course on Stone Litho in College and it was difficult, to say the least. The stones weigh hundreds of pounds, even the small ones. Here is a link describing the process in detail, if you are interested. Needless to say... Stone Lithography is out of my scope, with my little Etching Press! And I probably couldn't even lift a 5 x 7 inch Bavarian stone, much less a good-sized one. They are HEAVY suckers. And they cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Gulp.

Process Lithography: This is lithography done through a computer of sorts from a photo, so people can have reproductions of paintings. It's not "real" lithography or real Printmaking, either... it's digital crap. I'm not a fan (if you can't tell).

Plate Lithography: This is pretty new, within the past couple decades I think? Instead of using a hundred-pound Bavarian stone with tons of chemicals, special plastic/polyester plates have been developed to mimic the stone. Sometimes they are called Pronto Plates. You draw on the plate (which kind of looks like a thin, white plastic) and then ink it up and run it through an etching press. Here is a picture of a Z*Acryl Plate with a drawing on it, ready to be inked up and run through the press (courtesy

This evening I decided to experiment with my new Z*Acryl Polyester Lithography Plates. They arrived Friday and I've been dying to try them (although, as I mentioned in a previous post, some, um, reading got in my way). Anyway... it has been a bit of a learning curve.

First of all, I watched a demo of Z*Acryl Plate Litho printing on Mirka's Printmaking Blog. It seemed easy enough... do a drawing on the plate, keep the plate wet with a mix of gum arabic and water, ink up the plate, run it through the press. So I did a quick drawing of Clifford on the rough side of the Z*Acryl plate using special Lithography Pencils. They are greesy and feel... strange... drawing with them. Kind of cool.

I then spray the plate with a mixture of 5 parts water: 1 part gum arabic (the brownish liquid in the spray bottle) and sponge it over the plate evenly. But... hmmm.... my Clifford begins to disappear. Is this supposed to happen? It happens in STONE litho, I think, once you apply certain chemicals... but then you add other chemicals or something that bring the image back?? But plate litho? Is that supposed to happen??

Disappearing Cliff....

Well, regardless... the pencils are made of a greese so they should grab the ink when I roll the plate. But the ink didn't seem to grab the greese lines. I rolled with Graphic Chemical Burnt Umber Etching ink and put it through the press. And....

... I get a partial Clifford. A Clifford Ghost. Hmm.

Okay, so then I decide to experiment with a more simple drawing. A line experiment. According to the Z*Acryl instructions, you can also draw on the plate with ballpoint pens and Sharpie Markers. So I did a few lines of a #1 Litho Pencil, then a pen (who knows if it was ballpoint or not), then a #2 Litho pencil, the mystery pen again, and then a red Sharpie:

I then spray the plate with the gum arabic/water mix and... everything disappears except for the Sharpie marks! WTH?

I roll the plate with ink several times (keeping the plate wet in between rolls) and then print it out:

Again... everything is gone except for the Sharpie marks! The picture above shows the plate (bottom) and the printed image (top). Where are my litho and pen marks? How come only the Sharpie showed up-? Arg!
So final experiment... a Greyhound Doodle, done in red Sharpie marker:

I spray the plate with my gum arabic/water solution and then use my sponge to wipe it evenly over the whole surface:

I then ink the plate....

... and turn it upside down over the paper to print:

... and out comes the First Proof!....

It is kind of fuzzy, but I re-ink and print a few more times, each getting a bit better:

So that was it for tonight.
Does anyone know why my Litho pencils aren't working on this stuff? I wonder if Pronto Plates (which hopefully I'll be receiving soon from Graphic Chemical!) are different then the Z*Acryl plates, and will work with the litho pencils?? I am going to try Tusche next time, too.
Can't wait to work more with this stuff!


Amie Roman said...

Dunno! Weird. I've posted a link to your blog on the Inkteraction forum; there seem to be a lot of printmakers there that use plate litho, so... check it out and see what the consensus is. Hopefully someone will come up with useful info for you!

Kannan Cangro said...

I've never used the Z*Acryl plates but I've used the pronto plates on many occasions, They work with ball point pen, sharpie (or any permanent marker) and laser ink jet or photocopy (the older the machine the better).

I also have found with some colored inks (white primarily) I have to use mag
(magnesium carbonate).

mirkah said...

Ive had students use sharpies and ball point pens, which have both worked fine. We even pulled prints off the wrong side of the plate. I think the problem with the litho crayons is that they are thich and waxy and have no way of bonding with the plate, so when you roll it up with tacky ink, it lifts up. If youd like a more painterly effect, you could get some toner or touches and paint on with a paintbrush. I know with the toner after the toner is set on the plate, then it needs to be put in the oven shortly to melt the toner so it won't lift.
Something else that does not work: I had a student try colored pencils and they lifted off about 50% so she only got her rough lines, but all the fine detail work disapeared.
For a painterly effect you could also try painting on the surface with some ink and a stiff brush and letting it dry on there. I would add some cobalt drier to it- otherwise you'll have a long wait.

If you have any questions just email me.

Amie Roman said...

Here's the response on Inkteraction. Good luck!

J.G.Nieuwenhof said...

It's the ink. You need to use Litho ink (much stiffer) and attracted to the litho pencils.

Chiu said...

I've printed on the smooth side with great effect, both with Indian inks and ballpoints as well as with using a photocopier - we use stiff Litho inks