How To: Drypoint on Perspex (Plexi-glass)

During the 2022/23 website update, I decided keep a few of the older tutorials and this is one of them. I hope to update all tutorials soonish. You can find my latest making videos @minufreitag on  Instagram and TikTok in the meantime!

This tutorial is from 2009 (!). It is still very popular and people find it helpful, so I’ll keep it here for now. I bought am etching press in 2012 and am using it for all my drypoint prints now.

If you are interested in drypoint you might want to have a look at my new post about Collagraph printmaking using Tetra Pak!

There are a million different approaches to drypoint printmaking. This post describes one approach among many possibilities.

Background: Relief and intaglio printmaking

Traditional printmaking techniques like drypoint or etching enables an artist or print maker to print a certain amount of prints (edition) from a handmade plate. The plates are inked and the ink is transferred from either the surface (relief printmaking e.g. woodcut or linocut) or the incised lines (intaglio printmaking e.g. etching or drypoint) onto paper using a printing press.

In drypoint printmaking an image is incised into a plate with a hard-pointed “needle”. Traditionally the plate was copper, but today plexi-glass is commonly used.

Advantages of using Perspex or Plexiglas

  • The material is cheaper than copper or zinc plates.
  • The plates are easily cut into the right size.
  • You can see your sketch through the plate.
  • You can see the inked areas through the plate.

Three Steps

Intaglio printmaking processes follows three steps.

  • #1 ‘Transferring’ the artwork onto the plate
  • #2 Inking and wiping
  • #3 Printing the artwork onto paper

Materials needed

For step#1 Transferring…

  • Your Sketch
  • 2mm clear Perspex or Plexiglas
  • Ruler and cutting knife
  • Sandpaper or a file
  • Marker (fine line)
  • Etching needle

For step#2 Inking…

  • Ink
  • Gloves
  • Paint knife
  • Glass plate
  • Dabber
  • Pasteboard cuttings
  • Gauze
  • Phone book

For step#3 Printing…

  • Paper
  • Tray (water bath)
  • Towel (white)
  • Newsprint
  • Printing press including blankets

#1 Transferring the artwork onto the plate

The image is cut into the plate with a needle leaving lines in the plate.

Cut the plate into the right size and bevel the edges to prevent sharp corners from cutting into the paper while printing.

The final print will be a reversed copy of your plate. So you have to transfer a mirror image of your drawing onto the plate.

Place your perspex plate over the mirror image and transfer the outlines onto the plate using a marker.

TIP: Proof your plate early on to see the effect of your lines on paper. Keep your needle sharp with a whetstone.

Background: Lines and Burrs

The lines on the final print are formed by the burr – thrown up at the edge of the incised lines – as well as by the line itself, producing a soft, dense line rather than a smooth, hard-edged line, almost like a soft pencil stroke.

The size of the burr and the softness of the line depends on the angle of the needle while cutting the plate. A perpendicular angle will leave little burr, the smaller the angle the larger the burr pileup. A lighter line – less pressure – may have no burr at all. By holding little ink this will create a fine line in the final print.

The burr is removed – or flatten – by the pressure applied by the printing press – as well as during inking and wiping of the plate. So the number of prints from one plate are often small.

#2 Inking and Wiping

Ink is applied to the plate. Excess ink is removed from the surface leaving the ink in the burrs and deeper lines.

Inking and wiping the surface defines the colour and the contrast of your print. Once the plate is ready for the first proof ink is applied to the plate with a dauber. The ink is applied onto a glass plate where the dabber is ‘loaded’ with ink.

Once the plate is completely covered with a thin layer paste board cuttings are used to remove excess ink form the surface.
TIP: Clean the backside of your plate and review your plate on a white piece of paper.

#3 Printing the Artwork onto Paper

The plate is run through a press transferring the ink onto a piece of dampened paper.

Be careful too much pressure will flatten the burrs and ruin the plate. To less pressure will produce faint and blurred images.

There are different approaches the dampen paper. You could either spray or water your paper depending on the kind of paper you use. The paper I use should soak for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Let the excess water drip off while holding the paper on one corner. Put the paper on a flat towel and cover the sheet with the other end of the towel. Apply even pressure with your hands or underarm. The paper should be damp not wet.

Put your inked plate on a board. Carefully ‘roll’ the paper on top. Add another layer of newsprint and a felt blanket. Apply enough pressure using the press to push the paper into the lines.

The blanket helps to even the pressure of the press and to push the paper down into the incised lines. Release the press. Carefully remove your print from the plate.


TIP: Water your paper before you start inking your plate. Experiment with different papers.

More art updates and making videos can be found at @minufreitag on Instagram and TikTok, all follow option can be found here.

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