Print plates made of packaging

I am experimenting with a technique to use packaging to make print plates.

The principle is to use packaging which has a shiny surface on top of cardboard. I remove the shiny surface where I want the print to be dark. For example here is a plate ready to ink up and print:

Here is the basic process:

  1. Find and flatten the packaging
  2. Draw the design in ball point pen
  3. Cut out the outline with scissors
  4. With a scalpel carefully cut out and peel off the areas to be dark in the print
  5. Paint the plate with shellac, a varnish, to make it stronger and less absorbent
  6. Put ink on
  7. Wipe the ink off
  8. Make marks in the remaining ink using sticks, bits of cloth
  9. Print the plate on an etching press

The print process is an intaglio process: the ink is in the dips in the plate.

Here are some short videos of parts of the process (no sound).

Cutting out and peeling sections that will print dark
“engraving” lines with a ball point pen: these will print dark
Painting shellac onto the plate to make it stronger and less absorbent
Inking the plate
Wiping the plate

Printing the plate and revealing the print (thanks to Yvonne at East London Printmakers for filming me!)

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • The plates which work best for me are UHT milk cartons, medicine packets (aspirin) and boxes of tissues (Tesco “springforce”). The UHT milk cartons are good because they have a metallic coating on the inside which makes a satisfactory printing surface. They deliver a good contrast between the cut-and-peeled areas and the unpeeled areas. Here is an example of a UHT milk carton plate. The dark areas are the peeled areas which will print black.
  • The plates are more absorbent than traditional copper plates. They use a lot of ink.
  • My plates will yield about 5 or six prints. After that, the definition is no longer very good. Also, bits fall off!

Acknowledgement: I first saw this technique demonstrated by Karen Wicks on instagram @iacartroom

Here is a collection of prints I made by this method:

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