In this second article in our series about the Fome Etching Press, our printmaking expert Jill Watton shows us how to use this popular intaglio printing press for intaglio printing and how to get the most from this great little printing press. She covers setting up for printing, intaglio plates, basic registration, and inks. The first article in the series covered setting up the press and the third article covers adapting the press for relief printing.
Intaglio Printing With the Fome Etching Press
by Jill Watton
Fome’s fantastic small scale etching press remains very popular with customers across the world. Well-engineered and highly portable, the presses punch well above their weight when it comes to print quality. Manufactured by Fome, just north of Venice, the presses will print many types of intaglio plate including etchings, drypoints, engravings and collagraphs. Available in three sizes, 25cm and 18cm, plus the soon-to-come 30cm, the dimensions refer to the width of the bed meaning you can print up to A3 on the 30cm press, A4 on the 25cm press and A5 on the 18cm press.
In our previous article Setting up the Fome Press, we covered how you can best secure the press to a bench or table for printing. Our customer reviews have shared some helpful tips for optimising use of the press. One recurring observation, and one we have come across ourselves, is that sometimes the intaglio plate will slip as the roller reaches it during printing. It tends to occur more often with the thicker plates. We think it is due to the smaller diameter of the top roller meeting the plate at a less acute angle than would a large diameter roller. We have found some simple solutions to add to all those that our customers have already devised and will outline them below.
The Intaglio Plate
It is possible to print a range of thicknesses of intaglio plates on these presses including our 0.75mm Transparent Printing Plate and our 1.2mm Polished Copper etching plate. Collagraphs of various thickness will work too, bearing in mind that the top roller can be lifted to a maximum height of 1.7cm. Any metal etching plate of 1mm and over will need the edges and corners bevelled to protect the felt blanket, but the Jacksons economy zinc at 0.8mm can be printed without bevelling the edges. A second blanket can be purchased for the presses which you may find useful for printing thicker collagraphs, but one blanket is sufficient for most applications and in fact is better for printing fine line work.
Setting up the Press
Before you start printing you will need to secure the press to a tabletop or bench. We have described how you can do this in our previous article Setting up the Fome Press. One simple option is with a pair of C shaped screw clamps such as the RFCLAMP from Fome. Once you have the press in position you will need to check that the pressure is adequate and even. You can do this most effectively by running your etching plate and the paper that you will be printing on through the press, before you ink up. Doing a ‘blind’ print will allow you to inspect the plate marks left indented in the paper, a good indicator of correct calibration. By comparing the plate marks left by the sides of the plate you can check that the pressure is even across the roller. If you run the printing paper through dampened, you will see the etched lines embossed into the paper.
A Basic Registration System
First up we will print a hard ground etching made on 1mm zinc plate. For the purposes of registration, we have drawn a simple template on a piece of paper and placed this underneath a sheet of Mylar film. The registration template shows a box, drawn in a strong marker pen, which will be the assigned position for the plate, and a cross of central lines both vertical and horizontal. We can mark the back of each piece of printing paper to line up with the cross when laying it over the inked plate. This is a very simple form of registration and works well for single colour prints by locating the plate to the right position on the paper. The film is a 125 micron Mylar Stencil Sheet 30x60cm. MYLAR2/2 cut to size and taped to the press bed with masking tape.
The next step is to prepare a number of small sheets of newsprint, you can use tissue also, enough for each print to be pulled. These are known as paper sliders. This is a really simple idea for positioning the plate over your registration template and is commonly used on all sizes of presses. The inked plate can be placed carefully down and then slid into position. The dark outline of the print box can be seen through the paper.
Printing With Oil-based Inks
For our Fome press, to prevent any potential slip of the plate, we have found the simplest solution to be lightly dampening the paper slider. A light spray of water is enough, you will find this is all that is needed to keep the plate in place. You can do the same when printing straight on the metal bed, it works just as well.
One thing to be aware of though is this technique is not so suitable for printing with water mixable (water washable) oil-based inks such as Caligo Safe Wash. The excess water held in the slider causes the ink to bleed slightly when subjected to the huge pressure of the press rollers. When working with water mixable/water washable oils we need a different technique to prevent the plate slipping, which we will look at shortly.
We have inked the 1mm zinc plate with Cranfield Traditional Etching Ink in carbon black tinted with a little madder lake, these are traditional style inks made with pigment and linseed oils and are not to be confused with water washable or water-mixable inks. The inked plate can then be placed on top of the dampened newsprint and slid into position. The dark outline of the registration box is visible through the slider so the plate can be correctly located.
Each sheet of printing paper has been marked on the reverse and is lined up with the registration template. Here we are laying down our dampened Fabriano Unica paper.
Printing With Water-washable Inks
The dampened paper sliders will introduce excess water that will dilute these new types of ink when printing on an etching press. The simplest way to prevent the plate from slipping when using water washable ink is to place it on a sheet of paper with a bit of tooth or slight texture that you have taped to the press bed. You can create a similar registration template on this sheet. If you clean the back of the plate before printing you can re-use this sheet, or you can pre-prepare a sheet for each print. Here we have used a sheet of A4 writing paper that is not too smooth.
Do take a look at the customer reviews on our website to see how other printmakers work with the presses. For tips on securing the presses before printing take a look at our previous post Setting up the press We have some helpful ideas on relief printing with the press in the third article in the series.
You might want to watch our short video – Intaglio Printing – giving an overview of the steps to making an etching.
More Printmaking Articles on the Blog
- This is a part of a series of three articles on the Fome Printing Press
- 5 Recommended Pfeil Tools for linocut by Artist Colin Blanchard
- Environmental Printmaking: a seven article series
- Screen Printing with Jackson’s Studio Acrylic Paint
- Stephen Fowler: Printmaking with Rubber Stamps
Links to the etching press and mentioned materials at Jackson’s
- Fome School Etching Press in 2 sizes (third size coming soon)
- Fome Clamp pair
- The Printmaking Department at Jackson’s
- Intaglio plates
- Mylar film
- Sharpie marker pen
- Masking tape
- Spray bottle
- Caligo Safewash ink
- Cranfield Traditional Etching Ink
- Fabriano Unica paper
- B.I.G. Etching Ground
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £45.