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Prepping your Plate for Etching

Prepping your Plate for Etching

For a successful etch, there is a little bit of care and attention you need to give to your metal plate first. There are surface impurities and grease pockets within the metal that will need to be removed before coating your plate with grounds.

This blog is part of a series featuring tips and techniques to get you started with aluminium or zinc plate etching. This post will explain how to degrease your plates, and apply hard grounds for the etching process.

We only need to prep one side of the plate, but remove any protective covers from both sides of your metal plate.

Hold the plate in your hand by the edges, but avoid touching the surface of the plate with your fingertips. Rinse your plate under cold running water and apply some CIF Cream to the surface.

With the abrasive side of a clean dish sponge, scrub over the surface of the plate using circular motions.

You will start to see grey suds form. Continually use running water to rinse these away and apply more CIF Cream. Keep working over the surface with circular motions, and rinse out your sponge often. Occasionally rotate the plate in your hand by 90 degrees, so that you can access more of the surface. The whole degreasing part can take up to 10 or 20 minutes, depending on the size of your plate.

To check if your plate is fully degreased, rinse it under the cold tap. If you see the water run-off and avoid parts of the plate, these areas will need to be worked more. The edges and corners of your plate are particularly susceptible to this (like in the image below). Keep scrubbing these resistant areas, rinsing and adding more CIF Cream.

When you see that water is dispersing over the plate surface evenly, place your plate (worked side facing up) onto a clean absorbent surface, such as newsprint or a towel.

Switch on your hotplate and allow it to heat up to a medium heat. We’re using a teppanyaki grill which is a cheaper alternative to a professional grade hotplate. When your hot plate has reached temperature, carry your degreased plate over (remember not to touch the surface!) and place it onto the hotplate. Allow any remaining water on the plate surface to evaporate.

When all water has evaporated, draw onto the surface with your hard grounds. It will melt instantly. Just a small amount of grounds is needed – you can add more if required, but take care not to apply too much.

Using your roller, roll out the melted grounds and spread it across the plate surface, so that it’s even coated – not too thin and not to thick. If you need to, use your wooden sticks (such as chop sticks, BBQ skewers or lollipop sticks) to rotate the plate 90 degrees to access more of the surface.

When your plate is coated, switch off the hotplate and allow it to cool down. Using wooden sticks, carefully lift your plate away from the hotplate, and place down onto newsprint to cool down.

When your plate is cool enough to touch, you can use tools to create marks into the grounds, exposing the surface of the plate for the etching process. We’ll have more about this in another blog post soon!


Other Tips

  • Some printmakers choose to bevel the corners or file the edges of their plates. This helps to protect your paper from tearing during the printing process. If you would like to do this, it’s best done before removing any protective covering.
  • If you don’t want to create fine lines in your etching, you can dry off your plate using a hairdryer after you have degreased it. Ignoring all the steps involving the hotplate, and go straight into applying resists to your plate, rather than applying grounds.
  • Use a dry cloth to remove any grounds residue from your roller or hotplate – this is best done whilst both are slightly warm.
  • If you choose to use a teppanyaki grill, ensure it is dedicated for preparing your plates only and not food! Likewise, dedicate a separate roller for applying grounds, rather than using a good inking roller for the job.

For this project, you will need:

  • Aluminium or Zinc Plates

  • Hard Grounds

  • CIF Cream or other degreaser

  • A clean scouring dish sponge

  • A Teppanyaki Grill or Hotplate

  • A Roller

  • Wooden Sticks (such as chop sticks, BBQ skewers or lollipop sticks)

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