Dry point printing

Tarlatan draws a night of dancing aurora for the snow house.

Yesterday I spent about seven hours in the Gowanus Studio Space, in the print shop. It was the first time I’ve had the pleasure of working there, and my day was focused on pulling prints from two drypoint engravings on the etching press. Following is a bit about the process with some images from my day in the studio.

I’ve never worked in any intaglio printmaking methods before, but found a great deal of information and instruction via our dear friend Google. Minu has an excellent and friendly 3-part series regarding the method of dry point on plexiglas. I also found some interesting items on Youtube under the general search for “printmaking”, as well as some useful websites:

Magical Secrets: A Printmaking Community

The first plate I engraved was based on a small, simple sketchbook drawing from awhile back. It seemed a good choice not only for its simplicity, but for the fact that the sky and ground would offer nice fields to experiment with ink coverage. I cut the plate by scoring and breaking, then sanded the edges (to keep them from damaging the paper). After transferring the image to the plate with a thin sharpie, I began my engraving, using a double-point scribe. Curves are the most difficult thing to engrave. Practice on scrap plexi and go slowly.
When the plate has been engraved, it’s ready to go to the press!

I made a registration sheet on which to place the inked plate to keep the press clean. There is a grid beneath the glass on the plate, but nicer to have one made just for your plate and paper size; less possibility for slipping; and nice to not have to clean the press…


The plate is inked by using a dauber (basically a wad of leather wrapped round a handle, then wrapped again in soft lint-free cloth) to cover the plate with the thick, oil-based ink*, pressing it into the incised lines in a circular motion. Following that, one may scrape the excess off with small paperboard chips, thereby forcing ink into the engraved lines yet again.

Then you attack the plate with tarlatan rags (starched cheeesecloth), wiping the ink off the plate, again in a circular motion. I had best results (trial and error style) by doing an initial wiping with an ink-soaked, well-used tarlatan, followed by more deliberate and painterly wipings with a somewhat less saturated piece. For areas in which no ink is wanted (in my case, the houses, the smoke, the snow), use clean cotton rags, q-tips or newsprint– whatever works. This is art, after all, more than science.

Here you can see my registration paper taped to the surface of the press, with the plate still on. Next to it is the first print I pulled, just having been lifted off the plate (note that it creates a mirror image). The paper is soaked in water for 10-15 minutes, then blotted, prior to pulling.


My first print looked rather pale in the sky to me- a daytime winter scene. I determined to leave a greater amount of ink in the sky during the next inking. For each print, the plate must be inked anew. This can be as simple or complex as the artist wishes, and can be quite time-consuming to really get it to look right, but in my opinion this step is where so much of the excitement of printmaking lies– even more so than in the engraving process. This is where the originality of hand-printed multiples really shines through- that each print really is unique, despite it being an art of multiples.

I left more ink in the sky for the second pull, and used the crunchy tarlatan to create a sort of stormy looking cloud cover.


I brought two plates with me to the studio. I incised a second before printing the first as so much time had gone by- also it seemed a good idea to have two plates to work with on first day of printing (just in case one was wretched). A sneak peak of this plate was posted here, and I’d done a sort of “digital” proof, then decided to cut into it more to add darkness to the waves. One thing I hadn’t reckoned on was that the lines come out more pronounced than my inverted scan could have shown. It printed nicely, but my first pull of that one was exceedingly dark on account of it. Thereafter I did a great deal more wiping of the plate. Below shows the result– not too dark in the darks, as it were.

One of the later prints of the ship, after much experimentation with ink, found a good balance. (I forgot to continue process photos by this time).

This image of the viking ship shows a nice balance of dark and light. You can see how the stripes in the sail and the uppermost ridges of the wood are the lightest area, where I removed all the ink from the surface of the plate.

This image illustrates how inky the back of the plate winds up. I only wish I’d taken a photo of my hands, too– utterly ink-soaked and black. You can see the 2 sizes of the plates if you look closely.

And finally, a shot of many of the prints on the drying rack. (click to view larger)

As is evidenced by the prints, my prints vary widely in the amount of ink left on the plate. As this was my first time printing in this method, it was useful and educational to test and experiment; by the end of the day I’d got a feel for the process. I also added some burnt umber to my black ink, which resulted in a subtle shift, a warmer black that looked especially well on the off-white paper.



* Important notes regarding ink: For these plexiglas plates I actually used lithography ink, which is very dense and sticky. I’m sure etching ink would work as well, but will not give the room to play with leaving so much on the plate for texture. However, Litho ink cannot be used for drypoint on copper plates– it does not wipe off at all! It is friendly to the plexi because of its resistance, as the plexi is so slippery and smooth.

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