How to…

produce an Etching Aquatint print

  1. Find an image you would like to create a print of which is simple in design and has good contrast.
  2. Prepare a visual guide beforehand to show where the stop out should be applied.
  3. A negative reverse image created in Photoshop from an photograph or drawing reference should suffice.
  4. Cut a piece of Zinc plate to the size of the chosen image you want to create.
  5. Turn the plate over so that the protective covering is on top.
  6. File down the edges of the Zinc plate smooth using a file remembering to file any sharp edges away.
  7. Once the edges have been filed smooth, peel off the protective sheeting.
  8. Cover the shiny Zinc plate with a mixture of talc and Ammonia.
  9. Using a piece of paper towelling, clean the shiny side of the plate then rinse away any residue with water under the tap.
  10. Make sure the plate is dry
  11. You will then need to cover the plate with melted wax with either Hard wax (for general etching of line drawings or Soft wax (i.e. relief printing of feathers, leaves, fabrics etc…)
  12. Place the plate shiny side up on hot plate for a minute until warm.
  13. Apply the wax by moving the wax tablet around the plate until most of the plate is covered.
  14. Use a dabber to cover any remaining areas of the plate not covered by the wax.
  15. Remove the printing plate from the hot plate and leave to cool down and set for approx 5 minutes.
  16. Get some tracing paper and using a soft pencil, trace out an outline of the image. This is usually done for photographs or line drawings.
  17. Place the printing plate wax side up on printing press with the tracing facing down onto the wax.
  18. Run the plate and tracing through the press once with light pressure applied.
  19. A copy of the tracing should then appear on the waxed side of the plate.
  20. Using a sharp pointed tool, etch out the lines on the plate using the tracing as a guide.
  21. Apply one coat of Straw-hat varnish (a watered down blue liquid) to the back of the plate to protect it from the acid. Leave the varnish to dry for 3-4 minutes.
  22. Place the plate in a strong bowl of diluted nitric acid for approximately 15-20 minutes to achieve a strong line.
  23. Feather the plate every 3-5 minutes when in the acid using a feather.
  24. Remove the plate out of the strong acid and rinse in cold water and dry.
  25. You now need to remove the wax coating using Turpentine and then dry using paper towelling.
  26. To allow the ink to adhere to the plate, you will need to create a speckled effect by applying a fine or coarse speckled layer of resin.
  27. A dust cupboard is required to create the fine or coarse speckled effect on the plate.
  28. Firstly remove the dust plate from the dust cupboard.
  29. Turn the handle on the dust cupboard at least 3 or 4 times. For a fine speckled effect – Allow 30 seconds for the dust to settle. For a coarse grain speckled effect – Allow 5 seconds for the dust to settle.
  30. Place the dust plate with printing plate (shiny side up) placed on it into the dust cupboard for 10 seconds.
  31. You will then need to burn the resin onto the printing plate using a gas burner until the plate starts to smoke. Important: Allow the plate to cool down for at least 10-15 minutes, as it will be very hot!
  32. Once the plate has cooled down, lay it on a flat surface.
  33. You will then need to apply Stop out (a thick brown liquid) on the parts of the plate you want to keep light (i.e. keeping the paper white and not inked) using a fine brush. The acid will etch any parts left untouched. You can also use Stop out pens, which use a blue-like ink to stop out finer detail on the plate.
  34. Use the daily printing scale to work out what the acid bite times should be. This will usually be in 5-10 second increments and longer. The longer the plate is left in the acid, the darker the print will be.
  35. Place the printing plate in strong acid for the first bite.
  36. Using the visual guide prepared beforehand in step 2, you will now know where the stop out should be applied on the plate and work out the times for each acid bite using the printing scale.
  37. Keep adding Stop-out before each acid bite until all aquatints have been created.
  38. After each acid bite, place plate in a bucket of cold water to rinse.
  39. After the last acid bit has been done, wipe off the all the resin with a mixture of Meths and Turpentine.
  40. Before inking up the printing plate, make sure all traces of Stop out have been removed and the plate is sufficiently dried.
  41. Ink up your plate using a dabber and card scrapper.
  42. Wipe of the excess with a scrim cloth and also tissue paper to remove the last excesses of ink.
  43. Obtain some ‘bread and butter’ proofing paper, which should be soaked in water for at least 5-10 minutes and then dried in a blotter.
  44. Then print the image using a printing press. Firstly, place the inked printing plate on tissue paper ink side facing up.
  45. Align proofing paper over plate and cover with newspaper and printing blanket.
  46. Adjust the pressure as required then rotate the wheel/and or handle of the printing press one way then back again.
  47. Remove the print and place between thick papers to dry.
  48. Repeat steps 41 to 47, using good quality ‘Fabriano’ printing paper. Order this paper from Itaglio print-makers, London.

Paper Specifications:

  • Paper stock: Fabriano
  • Grade: Rosapina
  • Colour: White
  • Size: 70 x 50 cms
  • Weight: 285gsm
  1. You can now print off as many copies of the same print as you require until the plate looses it effectiveness. Recommended print run 25-100
  2. ‘Artists’ Proof’: You will probably print off mainly proofs until you are happy with the tone and colour.
  3. Once you are happy with the print quality, you can print off an Artist’s Proof ‘AP’ which you can exhibit at shows and even sell.
  4. Editions: Produce a number of near identical prints. Then number each print (i.e. 1/10, 2/10 etc…)
  5. Finally title and sign or initial each print in the edition created.
  6. See example layout below on how to number, sign and title your prints.

1/25          ‘Title’     Signature