Soft & hard ground etching: Starting out

This is a new process to me involving etching into a zinc plate using 2 types of melted wax and an acid bath.

Zinc-Etch-1The protective covering was removed from the zinc plate, Brasso applied to the surface and the plate was vigorously cleaned several times, until it had a mirror surface.  Whiting and Cloudy Ammonia were mixed to a solution and used as a final clean and to remove any Brasso residue.  The plate was then placed on a hot-plate, heated to 90°.

Zinc-Etch-2Wax was rubbed partially over the plate and then a dedicated roller smoothed it out covering the entire surface.  The plate was removed from the heat, a final couple of rolls to even out the wax and it was allowed to cool.  A spare piece of plastic was roughly coated with wax, and the reason for this will become apparent soon.

Note: To this stage the process is the same whether opting for hard or soft ground etching, as long as the correct type of wax is chosen for the two different effects required going forward.  The process alters from this point and the following information relates to soft ground etching procedures.

Zinc-Etch-3For this example, plant material and a ragged piece of tarlatan were laid over the surface of the wax, the spare plastic was placed wax side down on top, and this sandwich was run through the press.  The top plastic stopped any wax from the zinc plate adhering to the blankets and, as it was also waxed, it avoided losing any of the wax resist on the main print plate.  Great system!  The plastic was carefully peeled back, all the items were removed and the zinc plate was immersed in an acid/water solution.  The plants and fabric had lifted the underlying wax away leaving areas of the zinc exposed ready for the acid to etch those areas.

Zinc-Etch-4After checking the degree of etch depth required the plate was lifted out, rinsed in water and the remaining wax was removed, making it ready for use.

As this is an intaglio process, ink is forced into the acid-etched recesses and it is possible to print very fine lines, patterns and intricate designs.  The printing ink is smoothed across the surface of the zinc plate, this is then removed from the flat surface leaving as much or as little as you decide and paper is used damp.  The press is set to a decent pressure and two blankets are used, along with butchers paper to absorb excess moisture from the print paper.

Zinc-Etch-5An excellent print and a good quality ghost print was also produced from this sample.

Well, that was the demonstration, now it’s my turn to have a go.  This is just the start of what looks to be an intriguing and absorbing print technique, and there are many variations yet to explore.  I’m looking forward to posting my progress.


About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
This entry was posted in My Creative Pieces, My prints and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Soft & hard ground etching: Starting out

  1. kath says:

    looks great Claire. was this at a workshop. looks similar to the etching workshop I went to in Melbourne where I made the bee print. though we didn’t use wax – that’s a good idea. we just scratched into the surface of the plate, put it in the bath and printed from it. am loving all your explorations!

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