Crackle texture collagraph print

Create crackle texture collagraph plates

If you like textures in printmaking you will love crackle texture. You will have seen this effect on Japanese ceramics and old paintings, it is often used to give the impression of age on painted furniture and ‘vintage’ ornaments.

Crackle texture suggests many associations….

Collagraph print with crackle texture

Collagraph print with crackle texture

Drought, desert, geological formations, rock forms, ageing, the effects of time and heat…. With this range of associations crackle texture can signify many different meanings in your prints.

Sometimes a particular texture can set you off with an idea for a new print, at other times it may be just the thing you were thinking of to represent a particular element in your planned print.


Abandon ready made crackle pastes!

You can buy different forms of crackle texture paste, many of these provide a great surface pattern for painted images. However the surface often lacks enough texture to ink up and print it effectively as a collagraph.

Alternatively some, (like ‘Golden’ crackle paste) dry to deeper texture but can have a very gritty finish that is hard to ink up as intaglio.  I would be interested to know if you have tried printing from any of the commercial crackle pastes and how it worked out.

I am guessing if you test out my tile cement method you will abandon the ready prepared pastes for making collagraph plates!


Get organised; make a supply of crackle texture

Because it takes a little while to dry thoroughly I usually spend a session creating sheets of crackle texture to cut up and collage into plates.

Having a ready supply of different grades of crackle means you can choose the best type for your particular plate.


The basic idea

Detail of crackle texture collagraph plate

Detail of crackle texture collagraph plate

This is very simple, I can’t remember how I devised it as I have been doing it for ages.

When people see it in my prints they are always intrigued and want to know how it is done. I used to be a bit cagey about telling people, but now I think what the hell, lets all do crackle texture!

The way you use it and the prints you make will be uniquely your own and it is too good a technique to keep secret.

Please remember you heard it here and mention the curious printmaker if you share it.

The principle behind the technique is sticking cement onto a flexible base – when you move the base around the cement will crack.

Heres how:
You spread a thin layer of tile cement onto a piece of fabric.
When it is dry you stretch and crumple the fabric to create cracks in the cement
Then glue it onto your plate.
That’s it!

Read on for more detailed instructions:

To make a sheet of crackle texture you will need;

Dampening fabric before adding cement

Dampening fabric before adding cement

1 – Old T shirts and cotton fabric.
2 – A stiff board to support the fabric  (+ masking tape to fix it while you add cement.)
3 – Tile cement
4 – Palette knives and spreaders.

5 – And to fix it to your plate; plenty of thick pva glue.


Clart it up with cement

Tile cement spread onto wet cotton fabric

Tile cement spread onto wet cotton fabric

Fix the fabric to a stiff board first – it stretches and gets baggy and heavy once it is covered in cement and can be hard to handle if not fixed to a firm base.

Spray it with water to make it damp and help the cement to stick to it.

Spread a layer of cement onto the fabric; a thin layer produces a finer smaller pattern, thick will be more ‘chunky’.


Crackled tile cement on cotton fabric

Crackled tile cement on cotton fabric

Try different types of fabric to see how they work.

Plain woven cotton will give lines crazed in all directions





Horizontal direction in crackle texture

Horizontal direction in crackle texture

Stretchy jersey T shirt fabric can be pulled in different directions to get a variation in the pattern


Add designs into the crackle texture

Leaf impression with crackle texture

Leaf impression with crackle texture

If crackle on its own is not quite enough for you, you can draw into the wet cement or impress things into it. (another post coming shortly about this)

Once you crack it you can get great fossil type images.


Turning it into a printing plate

When the cement is dry cut up the sheet then glue it onto a firm base plate, eg mountboard. Paint pva onto the back of the fabric and make sure it is well soaked in, also paint glue your board. Press the fabric with cement on it down well and stretch and hold it in tension as it starts to dry to open up the cracks. Pay attention to the edges to make sure they are well stuck down.

Let it dry completely.

Sand the whole surface to remove sharp points, smooth the rough texture and even the surface up. If you paint gesso over it this will help to fill larger cracks, sand this when dry.

Finish with a coat or two of thinned pva to smooth the surface and lighten the texture when printing as intaglio. Seal with shellac to prevent the pva sticking to your printing paper in the press.


Different ways of inking up crackle texture

Print detail with crackle texture

Print detail with crackle texture

It is important to smooth the surface by sanding and adding layers of pva. The cracks will hold ink so you want the top surface to be fairly smooth in order to  wipe clean and provide a contrasting lighter tone to the cracks.

You can also ink the plate as intaglio and then roll another colour over the top. Sanding and sealing the surface helps to make it flatter and smoother so the roller applies the ink more evenly.


Cracking fun

Making crackle texture like this is cheap, easy and fun. It allows you to manipulate the cracks before applying them to your plate so you have more control of the finished effect. The added potential of drawing into and marking the cement, or impressing textures into it before cracking it means you can create intricate effects.

I hope you try it – let me know how you get on.

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13 thoughts on “Create crackle texture collagraph plates

  1. Lynne

    I have often used ceiling plaster and spak filler on cardboard as my collagraph plates, which does flex a certain amount to get some cracking in the final images. But using fabric fixed onto the boards first to get more flex and crackle effect is a wonderful idea – thank you, I’ll certainly be giving this a go!

  2. Gill

    I tried this using ready mixed tile cement but when it dried it was very flexible and refused to crack. Did you mix your own tile cement?

    1. Emily Harvey Post author

      Hi Gill
      That sounds very odd, I can think of one or two things that may be happening;
      1. you may have spread the cement on too thinly, it needs to be a couple of millimetres thick to crack
      2. you may have a different type of cement, some of the fillers have a more stretchy texture?
      I use ready mixed tile cement and have never found it to be flexible once it is dry, if the suggestions above do not make any difference perhaps you could send more information about what you did and what is happening!

  3. Mary Garrard

    Hi, thanks for this post. Do plates made with this technique hold up under the pressure of a press or do you hand print? I’m imagining the cement crumbling even more as it passes through the press…

    1. Emily Harvey Post author

      The tile adhesive is really strong once it has set, I have never had any cases of it crumbling. It is an acrylic based cement and its ability to stand up to the pressure of the press is one of the things that makes it so good for plate making. I would leave it overnight in a warm place to set properly before printing it if you can.
      If you are doing the crackle technique make sure it is well squidged into the fabric as small sections can drop off if they are not well bonded to the fabric base.

  4. Aine Scannell

    hello again Emily (the water putty woman)…….I wonder if Polyfilla (powder) with PVA added to it, would work in a similar way? I bought it a while ago to try out a particular technique….thanks for a great post. I came over here having just read your more recent post ‘combing tile cement’.

    1. Emily Harvey Post author

      Hi Aine
      I think you are right, I looked at the youtube video you suggested and he actually said ‘cold water putty’. My guess is that this is a 1960’s USA term for polyfilla! I thought his prints looked great and plan to try some on the rough side of hardboard to see how it works.

  5. Eleanor

    Wow! I’m going to try it out. Thank you for the ‘class.’ Much appreciated. I love the effect and I have a project in mind. If it works out, I will send you some photos and commmentary. Once again, thanks for sharing Emily. Eleanor from Oz.


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