loom weights print

Making plates from wet-and-dry carborundum paper

Fake a mezzotint

I think of wet-and-dry carborundum paper as a fake mezzotint because it will create a beautiful velvety toned ground that is reminiscent of this traditional (highly involved and time consuming) technique.

If you want to make flat areas of strong even tone without waiting for glue to dry then this is the technique for you. If you use double sided tape it is almost instant.

Wet-and-dry sanding paper saves you a job

pack of carborundum paper

pack of assorted wet-and-dry

When using carborundum powder to make plates conventionally, artists paint glue on the plate and sprinkle powder onto it to create a rough surface that holds ink.

Wet-and-dry sanding paper is carborundum powder ready stuck onto a paper backing. This is strong, has a uniform even tone and is very cheap if you go to Poundland!

Different grades of grit

sandpapers printed in relief

sandpapers printed in relief

Wet-and-dry comes in different grades, (coarse, medium, fine) but there is not a great deal of difference between them when it comes to printing. The coarser ones will hold a bit more ink, and finer grades can be easier to ink up and wipe but all grades will print nice strong tones.

See the post ‘what is carborundum?’ for more information on different grades of grit.

Ordinary sandpaper is made from very coarse grit and is difficult to use for printmaking as it holds so much ink if you want to print it as intaglio.

However it can be fun to use in a relief print.

Cutting wet-and-dry paper

Caution; wet-and-dry is an abrasive and it will blunt cutting tools so don’t use your best scissors (or any scissors in fact). It is best to use a knife with disposable blades to cut it, and you can just break off the blunt one after you have finished.
The other option, for a more organic and spontaneous effect is to tear shapes from the paper.

Glueing wet-and-dry paper

wet and dry patches stuck with wood glue

wet-and-dry patches stuck with wood glue

Because the paper is treated to make it waterproof you need strong glue to stick it down; try pva wood glue, wide double sided tape or a contact adhesive like evo stick.

It is important to make sure all the edges are well stuck down or else ink creeps under and will splurge out in the press making a messy blobby mark on your print.

Once the glue is just dry run the plate through the press before you print it to make sure everything is well attached.

Work from dark to light

If you have covered your entire plate with wet-and-dry it will hold a lot of ink, and depending on which colours you use it can be very dark, so you will work from dark to light when making this plate.

The idea is to alter the gritty surface (which prints dark), to a progressively smoother surface that will shed ink as you wipe it, and therefore print in a lighter tone.

Aluminium tape for light areas

foil and tar gel on carborundum paper

foil and tar gel on carborundum paper

Self adhesive aluminium tape is brilliant for sticking over the wet-and-dry. If you run it through the press before printing it will mould itself into the texture of the rough paper underneath.

Increasing the number of layers of tape will make even lighter areas. You can also press into the soft aluminium with a drypoint tool to draw fine lines.

Tar Gel, a posh alternative to dribbly pva

The example above has tar gel dribbled on, this makes a lovely clear line which prints very light. It is easier and more manageable to apply than pva.

PVA for subtle 3d shapes

PVA glue creates areas of tone on carborundum paper

PVA glue creates areas of tone on carborundum paper

If you want to continue the fake mezzotint idea you can produce a soft fade from dark to light by painting on increasing layers of diluted pva.

The first layer will start to smooth the gritty surface and subsequent layers will each make it a bit smoother (producing a lighter tone).

The thinner you mix the pva the more subtle the effect will be.

It is a good idea to draw the areas you want to paint on the plate first and number them to keep track of the increasing coats of pva.

Creating specific areas of intense colour

intaglio with blue relief inking

intaglio with blue relief inking

There is no need to cover your whole plate with wet-and-dry; you can cut or tear shapes from the gritty paper and stick them onto the flat surface of your plate.

Make sure the edges are all well stuck down. There’s no need to seal it with shellac  unless you have areas of pva glue exposed.

These patches will really hold the ink and provide strong contrasts and rich tones in your prints, especially if you also have areas of smooth texture which print in a light tone.

Inking up wet-and-dry sanding paper

print made with wet-and-dry paper

print made with wet and dry paper

Because the carborundum paper is rough it will hold lots of ink and therefore will be a strong colour, not necessarily dark though – e.g. if you use yellow it will be a strong yellow.

My advice is approach black ink with caution; everything can become very dark and heavy!

Loosen the ink with linseed oil (or whatever works with your ink) as it will be easier to apply and wipe off if it isn’t too stiff.

Once you have printed your plate a couple of times you will find the wiping gets easier. You can actually leave a lot of ink on the carborundum paper so don’t be too enthusiastic about wiping.

After you have completed the intaglio inking you can rub over the surface with a contrasting colour on a rag or paper. This will leave colour the top of the gritty particles giving an interesting effect of depth and vibrancy.

You can also try rolling over the surface as a relief print – this sometimes produces unexpected results….

Let me know what happens, leave your comments below….

Follow me on social media

8 thoughts on “Making plates from wet-and-dry carborundum paper

  1. Pingback: Artists making carborundum prints - The Curious Printmaker

  2. Pingback: Printing Plates from Aluminium Tape - The Curious Printmaker

  3. Joan Lewis

    Hi Emily
    I’m a complete novice and have gone and bought some (expensive) carborundum gel hoping to make a nice plain plate to work on using my squeegee but it’s all fragmented and patchy! Should I have got a screen print contraption? Like in the Akua video?
    Wish I’d just got the powder and pva, any advice would be appreciated. Love your website.

    1. Emily Harvey Post author

      Hi Joan
      Are you wanting to make a plain dark base to work on with pva/gels etc? If so I would suggest using sheets of wet and dry sandpaper – these are ‘ready made’ with a nice even coating of carborundum. If you stick one to a base plate, using double sided tape or spray mount you can work on it with layers of shiny acrylic gels/pva to create light areas.
      I have used the Akua carborundum medium to paint with, and as the video shows it can be screen printed (not done this myself) but as it is relatively runny it could be difficult to make smooth flat areas of gritty texture.
      It is good to have a range of different things to try so don’t give up on the Akua medium – if you can afford some carborundum powder as well you may find that is more flexible for creating different surface textures by sprinkling it onto glue or mixing it in with the glue.
      The main thing with carborundum plates, (I think) is to make sure you have some smooth shiny areas which will print light, to create good contrasts with the dark carborundum.
      It is not the easiest technique so keep experimenting!

  4. Aine Scannell

    Hi there Emily

    Although I kind of know a lot of this stuff Emily……….it’s still inspiring to read about your exploits.

    Really like that section titled “PVA for subtle 3d shapes”

    Must give that a go……….by the way

    Did you seal that plate just thinking the plate might get stuck to the paper after being run through the press. I just love printmaking……………..as do you obviously !!!

    1. Emily Harvey Post author

      Hi Aine
      Thanks for your comments. You are right – I did seal the plate when it had pva on it, I used shellac which doesn’t seem to alter the tones made with the pva. It is pretty likely to stick to the printing paper if any pva on the plate is not sealed.
      Let me know if you try it!

  5. Kate

    Thanks for these carborundum posts – I am having great fun just exploring using it in different ways! I have had good initial success in producing a graded effect by using thinned Liquitex gloss Medium/Varnish over 400 wet dry sandpaper. It suits my impatience, as you don’t have to wait very long for the layers to dry, and there is no need to seal it. (Initially I did have a disaster by using overly thinned pva on unsuitable gritty paper – too keen, too late at night). I am going to try out piecing together a plate using different grades of wet/dry paper – my initial test is looking hopeful!

    1. Emily Harvey Post author

      Liquitex sounds like a better solution than pva if it doesn’t need sealing. I will give it a go too. Disasters are all good, as in the saying ‘if you never make a mistake you never make anything’


Add your comment on this post

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.