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Photo etching

With the development of light-sensitive photo-polymer coatings on plastic or metal plates it is now possible to create photo-realistic etchings with extremely fine detail. Originally designed for industrial use, this technique can be used for intaglio and relief printmaking to create exciting original art work.

A number of different types of photosensitive plates are available which all work on the principle that the polymer coating is soluble in water or mild caustic unless exposed to ultraviolet light where it is hardened.

An opaque positive transparency of the image is required. Anything that you create on a photo film can be used: painting in black on Tru-grain, a transparent plastic surface, a black and white Laser-Jet photocopy on an acetate sheet (one can then play with the image scratching into the acetate or increasing the tonal range) or a scanned computer image. When placed over the light-sensitive surface on the plate and exposed to a strong UV light all but the area shielded under the image is hardened by the light. The plate is then washed according to the manufacturer's instructions to remove the soft unfixed areas of the design.

For relief printmaking, the design is transferred from a negative image onto a photosensitive plate so that the design is left fixed on the surface of the plate for inking while the background is washed off, biting away the surface in the process on a plastic plate or preparing it for etching in acid on a metal plate.

A similar process involving a light-sensitive polymer can be used in lithography to fix the design on a lithographic plate.

Another photo process is cyanotype printing which produces a painterly blue and white image from positive photographic images and autograph drawings. A versatile method for artwork both on papers and natural fabrics, cyanotype sits somewhere between traditional photography and printmaking.

Darkroom facilities and a light exposure unit are required as well as the usual press and materials

Solar plate & Photo-etching using Hydra-coat plates

Photo-etching course using Hydra-coat zinc plate and solar plate, both being ideal for photographic and autographic imagery; an added advantage of working with the Hydra-coat plate is that after exposure it can then be re-worked using conventional etching processes, where as solar plate can hold extremely high resolution and only requires water to develop.

The aim of this course is to learn as much about photo-etching as possible in two days. Starting by coating a zinc plate with Hydra-coat (a blue light sensitive emulsion) then placing a positive (image on a clear film) image to emulsion and exposing to ultraviolet light for the required time (time depending on density of the line), this is then developed in a caustic solution and etched in nitric acid or ferric chloride. Solar plate (toyobo) already has a light sensitive polymer surface with a thin steel underside, the same process applies for exposure as Hydra-coat but to develop needs only tepid (25 degrees) water.  

Materials used on this course;

Toyobo Plate

Zinc Plate

Hydro-coat emulsion

Oil based inks

White spirit


Various papers

Ferric chloride


Film positives

Epson printer

Fundamental photo-etching Methods;

Plate Preparation screening photo- emulsion

Using photo-shop to make printable photo files

 Print film positives

Exposure calculation

Exposure and development

Paper preparation

Plate inking  a la poupée wiping

 Burnishing and plate corrections

You will need protective clothing but gloves and other protection provided.

Bring sketchbooks, inspiration, pencils any tools relevant to the course.

Cyanotype Photographic Printing

Cyanotype is a photographic process, first developed in the 1950s, producing a painterly blue and white image from photographic negatives or autographic mark making onto tru-grain ( a clear grained film). Versatile for printing on both paper or natural fabrics.

The aim of this course is learn the basic technique of Cyanotype Printing.  

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