Notes on Paper Lithography and Gum Arabic Transfer
by Martha Oatway, Maryland Hall, April 28, 2012
Paper lithography is a simple way to make monoprints or to augment etchings, woodcuts and other prints. This process uses a photo copy as a plate and with a bit of technique allows you to ink the plate with oil-based inks. Water based inks won’t work since water is involved in the process; only oil-based inks can be used.
This method is great for adding elements to other prints or to build up a total image from multiple images.
I have found that 28-pound paper works the best for this process. The paper found in most commercial copiers is 20-pound, and it falls apart more readily than the 28-pound. In a pinch 20-pound paper can be used for small prints. During my search for the perfect paper, I tried cover stock and found that, while the plate looked all right before printing, ink hid in the cover stock and showed up in inappropriate spots on the finished print.
Staples carries 8 1/2” x 11” 28-pound paper. 11” x 14” must be ordered. I use Staples as it’s the closest copy store to my studio, but I’m sure that Kinkos and other copy stores will provide what you need.
Before I load my 28-pound paper into the copier tray, I grab a colored piece of paper and put it on top of the white paper in the tray. I then put my paper on top of the colored paper. This gives you a visual when you unload the tray and also lets you know if you’ve run out of 28-pound paper in the tray.
When copying, remember to use the “mirror” function to reverse the image on the copy. Otherwise the image and any writing will appear backwards on the final print.
Plexiglas plates for inking and printing
00 plate oil
etching and/or litho ink
vegetable oil for clean up
- Soak printmaking paper. Mix some gum Arabic and water 50/50
- Determine image to be printed, cut to size.
- Determine color of image and mix ink. The stiffness of the ink will determine how much plate oil you use. Litho ink is stiffer than etching ink and will need more oil to modify it. Some etching inks will need little or no modifying. Poorly modified inks will simply tear the toner off the paper after a few passes of the brayer.
- Blot your printmaking paper and keep it ready.
- Sponge on 50/50 gum Arabic solution on the back of the print, flip and sponge on the front until paper is totally soaked. Sponge off excess.
- Take a bit of ink from your mixture to roll out with the brayer.
- Roll out evenly.
- Start rolling on the plate from the inside to the outside. If you try to roll from the edge to the center, you’ll roll the paper up onto the brayer and probably rip it.
- Ink the whole paper and then sponge the surface of the paper gently with 50/50 solution. Sponge as little as possible to get the excess ink off. Over sponging will degrade the paper faster.
- I’ve found that one pass horizontally then one vertically, then diagonally with wiping between each works well. Keep inking and wiping until the image looks like it’s covered evenly. It’s easy to overwork the print. Over working the paper causes it to pill.
- Hold the image up to the light to determine if the toner is completely covered in ink.
- Working swiftly, take your printmaking paper from the blotters and put it on a clean piece of plexi.
- Re-wipe your plate with clean water if necessary. Carefully pick it up with clean fingers and lay on print paper.
- Put newsprint on the back and run through press.
- Throw the plate away.
Before you make another print, you must clean the palette and the brayer. Small fibers of paper become imbedded into the ink on the brayer and palette by the time you finish inking your plate. Each print you make should start with clean ink and a clean brayer.