Paper and its properties

As we live in uncertain yet innovative times, new and unique recycled papers have emerged. Paper manufacturers are challenging the medium in a multitude of ways. Gmund Bier for example is made of chlorine free pulp and spent brewer’s grain. The names of the collection indicating their fermented origins: Lager, Pils and Ale. G . F Smith created Extract, a paper made out of 90% of the waste from a coffee cup. Every 380gsm sheet of Extract paper contains at least 5 upcycled coffee cups. Curious Matter by Arjowiggins has a unique texture, created from raw potato starch, the by-product of the processing of potatoes into chips and fries in the food industry, and transformed into a surface coating that is unexpected to the touch. Fenner Paper distributes Crush by Favini. An eco-friendly paper that has been given a distinctive flecked texture and appearance by adding residues from fruits and nuts that are taken from agricultural food waste.

This image shows G F Smith, Extract paper swatch book on top of empty paper cups
G F Smith, Extract – Paper swatch book

When choosing paper for your project you want to make sure to think about its properties, history and usage as well as how it can communicate your project.

I spoke with Vanessa Fletcher, Consultant and Student & Graduate Specialist from G . F Smith about paper and how to choose the best material for your project.

Vanessa, how do you find out what the ideal paper for a particular project is?

As a consultant for G . F Smith, I am privileged to be involved in lots of unique projects. To really help a customer though it’s important we know what the specific use is for. Are they creating something that will need a paper to work in a particular way, or are they looking for a very specific colour. I ask as many questions as possible so that I can start to suggest a more bespoke offering. G . F Smith has a huge collection of papers, it can often be overwhelming to know which paper will best suit your project without any guidance. Our papers are specified for all types of projects, from packaging to greetings cards. If we find out exactly what the client is using the paper for, we are better informed to let them know which papers will suit their job. One client once asked me for a paper that was lucky! They were designing all of the assets for a new hotel in Hong Kong, they wanted the paper to have some connection to luck and prosperity as that was an important guideline for all materials used in the hotel. I was able to suggest a few papers based on colour, provenance (a lot of our papers are made around the world in unique mills with a lot of history) and what the paper was made from. For other less demanding projects, I could be asked to select a paper based on its printability. Some books will require a paper that is more opaque, while others will want a paper that can reproduce incredibly vibrant colours. We have a paper for almost every purpose!

The papers at G . F Smith vary in texture and materiality. How do you examine and assess a paper sample?

It sounds obvious but feeling the paper is hugely important. You can gauge how it will suit your project by sometimes just feeling it’s texture. It’s often feeling the difference between gsm’s that will inform a choice too. Look at the paper under different lights, colour can seem very different in natural light compared to synthetic light. I always suggest asking yourself when assessing which paper to use: is this right for the project? If you’re designing a high end coffee table style book full of rich colour printing, but you love the idea of a heavily textured paper, this might be the wrong use for that paper.

When making a final choice between similar papers do you have any tips for making a decision?

This is often a common problem when choosing between white papers. G . F Smith carry a huge amount of coloured, textured and specialist papers which are usually very unique and if specified there aren’t too many alternatives. However, G . F Smith also carry many white papers in our “fine uncoated” and “fine coated” collection. The difference between one white paper and the next can be confusing, but there are a few things to consider when making a final choice between similar papers. Cost can be a huge consideration, a paper that is made from cotton content will be more expensive than a regular paper. Also, does your project require a paper that is made from recycled content? Many recycled papers look very clean and almost identical to those made from virgin fibres. Weight and bulk are also a consideration; a paper with a higher bulk can be a great way to reduce the weight of your book but keep the thickness. This is often a key consideration for books that are shipped internationally as it makes for cheaper shipping.

When choosing paper the cost inevitably plays an important part in the final decision, both as a total cost across a project and the cost per item produced. Our students usually only need small quantities and therefore this isn’t always the case but could you give us an example on how costs can be considered without scarifying the quality of paper when it comes to commercial projects?

Cost is inevitably a huge deciding factor when producing a project. We are lucky that at G . F Smith we have a range of papers to suit most budgets. We do also try and recommend that paper is thought about carefully in a budget, its often the case that compromising on the material can make a job very expensive as it can sometimes lead to unsatisfactory printing etc and result in a reprint with a better paper. 

Can you give a good example of when a cheap paper has been the best choice for a project?

Our affordable papers are used for so many jobs, probably for jobs you’d expect to be produced on far more expensive papers. Quite often big fashion house look books, high end magazines and books will specify lower price point papers because of the sheer volume. However, sometimes a paper will be too beautiful to pass up pn the opportunity to not use for a specific project – that’s where you can get creative with budget. It’s often the case that a more expensive paper can be used if you are think about alternative solutions. Can you use less paper by making it smaller? Can you mix paper types and instead of using lots of expensive paper, mix in some affordable ones? Also think about your printing process, can you use less colours, less special finishes etc. Some beautiful print has had as little as just black ink on an amazing paper.

Do you have any advice for our students on how to create something intriguing and special during lockdown without having access to any particular facilities?

It’s difficult to think of making when you aren’t surrounded by your usual facilities and resources. Home inkjet printers can be great though, and experimenting with papers in them can have some nice outcomes. Paper can be used for more than just printing on too. Cutting, tearing, scorching, sewing into, folding are all ways to create and make without any facilities. There are interesting print processes you can experiment with too at home. Creating designs from cardboard to print ink/paint onto paper. Cyanotype is also a great technique. Sometimes the best and most explorative design can come out of restriction. I’d suggest using the G . F Smith sample service to order some sheets that you like the look of…sometimes just having the paper there in-front of you can inspire something you hadn’t thought of.  

The sample service at G . F Smith is available for students to have up to 12 x A3 sheets sent to a home address. Send your request to: studentsamples@gfsmith with your name, address and course. If you can’t access a G . F Smith swatch book, take a look on their website where you can see a full size image (and you can download it) to get an idea of what you’d like to order. Also, have a look at G . F Smith’s student update for this month here:

Featured Graduate: Izzy Smithson

Izzy in her studio at Royal College of Art, 2020.
Izzy in her studio at Royal College of Art, 2020.

This week’s Featured Graduate is Izzy Smithson. You may be thinking, hold on, I’ve seen her in the workshop this year! Izzy graduated from the BA Illustration and Visual Media in 2017, and has been working with us ever since. As a Printmaking Support Technician, she supports students across Printmaking and Screenprinting. She is frequently on duty during our popular Saturday Club sessions, and can often be found elbow-deep in ink, alongside many of our dedicated students.

Her work traverses the boundaries of installation, illustration and printmaking, layering autobiographical, found imagery, and gestural mark making on alternative, and often industrial, surfaces.

Tell us about yourself.  How did you get started in printmaking?

I have always been interested in printmaking but have never really had the time or resources to try it until studying my BA. It was at this point where I was brought up to the printmaking workshops by my tutor at the beginning of my third year. Previously I had been in the studios, but not fully dedicated to this way of working. Since the first day of being introduced, I spent every day for the rest of my third year in the printmaking workshops and have been learning and experimenting ever since.

I am an artist and printmaker from London and love to experiment with every print process and have recently been pushing to combine these with installation. I enjoy how printmaking has multiple layers and processes that can be experimented and challenged.

Photo of folded, screen printed publication 'Home', 2020.
Home, 2020 (Screen printed publication).

Who are your biggest influences?

Lubaina Himid & Amy Sillman & Mike Kelly (Educational complex) are my current influences when it comes to my recent work. Through looking at their contextual ideas and experimental ways of making work, I have taken a lot of inspiration from their materiality and focus on narratives.

My grandparents are also some of my biggest influences. Whilst visiting them as children, we would always be occupied by creating art and crafts. They would teach my brothers and I how to draw, paint and collage alongside watching them create their own paintings. Recently I have been creating a project that is based solely around the personal journey to where my grandparents’ house was. I am always interested in the interaction between humans and environments but have been able to use this experience to explore ownership of space, collective memory and journeys of loss.

Where do you make work now?

In 2018, I started my Print MA at the Royal College of Art, where I have been able to access facilities in the printmaking workshops and have a personal studio space to create a lot of work in.

In the current situation, due to COVID-19, I have been working from an office room in my boyfriend’s dads house, trying to create with what I have around me and what can be ordered in. My workspace consists of lots of stuff, as a lot of my work starts off by drawing, collaging and layering with my personal archives and this then progresses into printmaking, installation or whatever fits best.

Photo of Izzy's current set up at home, 2020.
Izzy’s current set up at home, 2020.

Looking back on your time at LCC, what advice would you to yourself, if you could travel back in time?

My time at LCC was influenced heavily by the technicians and friends I made around me. I gained a lot of knowledge and experience from having the technicians around me all the time, enabling me to constantly learn and be experimental. Take advantage of the vast facilities and the knowledge that they all hold, they will always be supportive and try to make your ideas come to life.

If I could go back I would say to not be precious about my work, continually experiment and push myself out of comfort zones. I always make mistakes and make work that doesn’t “work”, but I use this as key learning and motivational points.

Installation photo of 'In Uncertain Water We Are Treading', 2019.
In Uncertain Water We Are Treading, 2019.

How did you get started as a technician?  What’s it like?

I started to train to be a technician in the summer of 2017, just after graduating from LCC. I was given the opportunity to do a traineeship in the printmaking and screen printing workshops, where I gained a huge amount of experience. This then led onto helping to run workshops as part of London Design Festival at LCC, including a live drawing micro-residency. I was being asked back for multiple days to help with workshops and daily running of the studios, before gaining a regular day working as a Printmaking Support Technician, which I have continued whilst studying.

I assist with monthly public workshops at Science Museum with ScreenGrab and volunteered in 2018, for a short time, as a technician at Print Club London.

I love being a technician and find myself learning every day. Not only do I really enjoy printing, but also helping students/printers to bring their ideas to reality and enabling them to experiment and push themselves into new areas.

Installation photo of collage 'Waiting For Something To Come Bite Our Toes', 2019.
Waiting For Something To Come Bite Our Toes, 2019.

Where can we see more of your work?

Most of my work in progress can be seen on my Instagram and more “finished” work on my website.

Instagram: @izzysmithson

Selected Exhibitions Since Graduating

  • 2017 Graduate Show, London College of Communication
  • 2017 Elephant Press, London Design Festival, London
  • 2018 Print Showcase, Royal College of Art
  • 2018 Object Resurrection, Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art
  • 2018 Sustainable Futures, Dyson Gallery, Royal College of Art
  • 2019 Work In Progress Show, Royal College of Art, Battersea
  • 2020 Against the Grain, Southwark Park Galleries

Screenprinting at home: a beginner’s guide to buying a screen

image of a 90t yellow mesh screen, painted ready for monoprinting
90t yellow mesh screen, painted ready for monoprinting

Screenprinting at home, or in a personal studio, takes a bit of investment so it’s good to do some research, seek advice and make sure you’re spending your hard earned pounds on the right equipment for your requirements.

Buying a screen can be confusing, as there are lots of options to choose from, and lots of opinions about what is best! The right choice for you may not be the same as for somebody else, so think carefully about what you hope to achieve with your printing.

You will need to think about:

  • The surface you want to print on to
  • The inks you want to use
  • The design you want to print

These are all factors in finding the right screen to suit your project, and also your budget.

Screen frame

The first choice you will need to make is the screen itself; what the frame is made from.

The two options are:

  1. Wood
  2. Metal (usually aluminium)

There are pros and cons to both.



  • Cheaper
  • Can be re-stretched by hand, particularly for textile printing


  • Warps over time with constant washing
  • Takes longer to dry
  • Re-stretching by hand can be difficult to do, especially with fine mesh



  • Lasts forever
  • Dries quickly after washing
  • Lightweight
  • Stretched professionally ensures an evenly stretched weave, even with fine mesh
  • Can be re-stretched many times without warping


  • More expensive
  • Can only be re-stretched professionally


Your next decision is your mesh.

We talk about mesh in terms of mesh count: this is the number of threads per centimeter.

For example, a 120t mesh has 120 threads in each direction, per centimeter, meaning it is very fine.

A 43t mesh only has 43 threads per centimeter, meaning it is coarser and therefore the weave is more open.

  • The higher the number, the finer the mesh.
  • The finer the mesh, the more detail you can print.

This diagram shows the difference in mesh counts:

diagram showing different types of screen printing mesh

The wider openings in the lower mesh count allow more ink to be pushed through the screen. This is beneficial when printing onto absorbent surfaces such as t-shirts and tote bags, or when using a thicker substance such as flock adhesive.

The smaller openings in the higher mesh count let less ink through, so that only a thin film of ink sits on the printed surface. This is good for paper so that there is less tendency for it to cockle as it dries.

There are lots of mesh counts to choose from but the most commonly used ones are:

43t – for printing on to textiles, using flock or foil adhesive, or using alternative inks such as conductive, thermochromic and glow in the dark. At LCC we use 43t and also 55t, which is a bit finer.

77t –  the ‘in between’ screen, can be used for printing finer detail on to smooth textiles, or on to heavy paper and card stock. At LCC it is often used for printing on to bookcloth and veneer for skateboards. A good option for home printing, as it gives you flexibility across different surfaces / inks.

90t – for fine detail, printing onto paper, card and other hard surfaces such as acrylic and metal. The most commonly used screens at LCC, and the screen I am using at home.

120t – for very fine detail and fine halftone dots, on paper.

(The ‘t’ after the number is a UK measurement, so be aware that American mesh count is different, if ordering online)

It is also worth noting that the finer the mesh, the more fragile it becomes, and also more expensive!

Mesh colour

image of yellow and white mesh on rolls for screen printing. ©Photo from
Which one, yellow or white mesh? ©photo from

You may have noticed that screens have different coloured mesh on them, usually yellow or white. Which one to choose?

This is to do with the exposure of screens in a UV exposure unit, when using photo emulsion stencils.

Yellow mesh absorbs some of the UV light, and so helps create a sharper and more defined edge to the design.

White mesh can deflect the light slightly, causing it to “bounce” or “scatter” which results in lower resolution and less definition.

However, it is only really noticable on finer mesh counts, normally 77t and above, which is why textile screens often have white mesh, and screens for printing on paper tend to be yellow.

For suppliers please see our links here, and of course do get in touch with any questions!

A note on paper

You get up in the morning, excited to print.  
You’ve been inspired by some AMAZING blogs and web content by your favourite technicians. 
You negotiate with housemates, and commandeer the kitchen table.  
You roll up the ink.  You might have a lino block ready, or a monoprint image to trace.   
You put down your paper, and carefully, press, press, and press.   

And then this happens:  

Photography of a poorly printed monotype of a pigeon.
Pigeon, printed poorly. Monotype, 2020.

That sinking feeling in your chest.  The bitter taste of disappointment.  The desire to give up, and turn on the TV.  Step back.  Breathe.  Try a different paper.  It might make all the difference.   

Here are ten prints, on ten different papers. Monoprinted with a pen, the handle of a wooden spoon, and the back of the spoon. Rolled up the same way each time, and printed off a thin perspex plate.

Left: monoprint on newsprint
Right: monoprint on graph paper

Left: Newsprint,  52gsm.  Nothing will ever print as well as newsprint.  It is smooth, flat, sensitive, and beautiful.  And no, there is no archival, cotton, thicker version of the stuff.  It is going to disintegrate. It is going to fade. I’ve even ripped it, bottom right corner. Truth to materials.  

Right: Graph paper, 60gsm.  Smooth, machine made, wood pulp.  I used this, because I don’t have any plain copier paper at home.  Easy to print, and I love a grid.

Left: monoprint on Simili Japon
Right: monoprint on Zerkall Smooth

Left: Simili Japon, 130gsm.  Made in the Netherlands to look like Japanese woodblock paper, it is high grade pulp, acid free, unbuffered.  Beautifully smooth, very sensitive, highly absorbent.

Right: Zerkall Smooth, 145gsm.  Mould-made, acid free, blended cotton and woodpulp.  A favourite for relief printing, but the increase in weight means a bit more work is required.  Less absorbent. Look at those spoon marks in the flat section!  

Left: monoprint on Somerset Satin
Right: monoprint on Fabriano Eco

Left: Somerset Satin, 300gsm.  Really thick, very lush, 100% cotton paper.  This is the one we recommend in the workshop, but it is HARD WORK if you’re printing any flat section by hand.  This print shows the distinctive surface pattern of a mould made paper.  It is also my fourth attempt on this paper.
Right: Fabriano Eco, 200gsm.  The hard surface of this paper, and the very slight tooth, means that monoprints look quite ‘dry’ and crayon-like.  Completely different when compared to the Somerset. You would not know these were printed with the same ink, and exact rolling technique, except that I’m tell you, it’s true!  

Left: monoprint on Hosho pad
Right: monoprint on Colorplan Smoke

Left: Hosho Pad, 90gsm.  This mid-week Japanese paper has the advantage of being designed to be printed by hand.  Soft, sympathetic, and yielding.  Almost romantic.  
Right: Colourplan Smoke, 270gsm. This GF Smith paper is a favourite amongst graphic designers, and comes in a wide range of colours and weights.  I have two colours, so I printed on both.  

Left: monoprint on Colorplan Harvest
Right: monoprint on unknown paper

Left: Colorplan Harvest, 270gsm.   Sturdy, robust, woodpulp paper, these take quite a lot of work to print a flat area by hand.
Right: Mystery paper, approx. 135gsm.  Some say Fedrigoni, others say GF Smith fluted, this random paper was under my sofa.  It prints beautifully, holding a soft line, and its lighter weight made it much easier to print than its graphic cousins.  

When you have access to the press, you take for granted the pressure, evenness, and ease, that 500 years of careful engineering have produced.  When you only have yourself, and a spoon, you have to embrace the process of uncertainty, and research the familiar in an unfamiliar way.  

Monoprint of a pigeon, printed on Hosho Pad, 90gsm.
Pigeon, again. Monoprint, 2020.

Paper choice matters.  Whether you’re making a book, a print, a drawing, packaging, poster or other publication, the physical qualities of the paper will inform your work, and place it within a wider making narrative.  This is true by press, or by hand.  Sometimes, the best-laid plans are scuppered, and other times, you find yourself pleasantly surprised by the mystery scrap you found underneath the sofa, as I have.  

A print flying off my balcony as I try to take a photograph.

PS. Moments of dissatisfaction and frustration come to us all.  Even when things are going well.  Here is the moment when I take a print onto the balcony to photograph. The wind catches it, and it’s gone.  

PPS. What papers are YOU using? Reply and let us know!

A23D: a 3D-printed letterpress font

capital K of the font A23D with a slightly inky surface
A few years after its realisation, A23D is well used and at home at New North Press

A23D is a 3D-printed letterpress font commissioned by Richard Ardagh of New North Press. The font is a prototype, connecting the newest and the oldest forms of print technology, and looking to the future of letterpress in the 21st century.

A project such as this requires expertise at every level. A font needed to be designed for 3D-printing, materials had to be tested. Letterpress is a precise science. A printable surface must be 23.32mm or 0.918″ high – type-high – and withstand the pressure and consistent wear of the printing press and process.

On-screen wireframe of a capital A
Wireframe drawings of A23D

Collaboration is key in a cross-disciplinary undertaking involving old and new technologies as well as the art of type design. When Richard had conceived the project, he approached renowned type designers Scott Williams and Henrik Kubel, of A2-Type, to design a font that ended up referencing the production method of 3D-printing. A23D SOLID became the starting point, and hidden core for the design of the A23D wireframe font.

part of an alphabet of capital letters in the font A23D, a hand is inserting a slug for spacing
The alphabet set up and ready for its first impression

Testing and production of the font was handled by Chalk Studios. Considering the demands set to the finished font, many tests had to be conducted in search for the right process and material. The letters were produced using polyjet 3D-printing, where layers of photopolymer liquids are built up and cured by UV light.

A23D letterpress setup, being inked in fluorescent green
A23D set up on the press bed for the initial specimen posters, designed by A2-Type

Since its creation in 2014, A23D has gone on to win an award for Typographic Excellence from Type Directors Club, New York and has been exhibited at V&A, London and Pompidou Centre, Paris. It has also been used as the basis for live project briefs at Chelsea, LCC and Plymouth art colleges. The font is now part of New North Press’ library and enjoys regular use in print projects.

Watch Adrian Harrison’s video documenting the project below to learn more about the design and production of A23D.

A23D: A 3D-Printed Letterpress Font, film by Adrian Harrison

Featured Graduate: Natasha Howie

Natasha working at home
Natasha working at home

Natasha Howie graduated in 2018 from BA Illustration and Visual Media (IVM). She now works in event production, whilst continuing her illustration practice on the side, which encompasses printmaking, photography, and graphic design.

1.Tell us about yourself.  Have you always made art?

My interest in art started at an early age, learning alongside my older brother. His ability to capture a character through loose sketching and delicate cross hatching fascinated me. Consequently, I have always appreciated work which is both subtle yet dynamic.

In recent years I have also come to really appreciate the immediacy of reportage illustration. Learning how to capture fleeting gesture, expression and the soul of a place / people. Drawing in situ presents unexpected challenges which have provoked me to become more fearless and carefree in my practice.

3 colour screen print on paper 2018
Les Valaisans (05), screen print, 2018

2.  How did you get started in printmaking?

As illustration is now considered quite an ambiguous term, I was fortunate to work alongside a hugely eclectic group of people on my course. Practices ranged from animation, photography, print, poetry and performance. This very quickly encouraged me to explore different approaches to image making and to branch away from the traditional methods of drawing. With the slight tendency to disregard the research and development stages of creative briefs, I found myself always rushing into a final piece. Given this, I was prompted by my wonderful tutor Ima to slow down and try some printmaking. It was the first time I truly became captivated by the beauty of the process and it enabled me to discover multiple ways I could transform my hand drawn visuals. I then spent the best part of my 3 years at LCC exploring various forms of print; relief, intaglio, screen-printing, risograph and letter press.

monoprint and digital image on paper
Night Swim, monoprint / digital

3.  Who are your biggest influences?

I am really interested in Dutch and Russian poster design, in particular work by the Stenberg Brothers and H.N Werkman. I find the use of muted colours, texture and simple linear drawings a very satisfying combination.

A more contemporary artist I recently discovered was Renee Gouin. Her work consists of layered elements, typically very angular in shape and coupled with a minimal colour palette, the resulting work I find captivating.

During University I chose to explore multiple briefs working on the offset monoprint press using hand cut stencils. This method created sharp, abstracted pieces which presented very similar characteristics to the Constructivist movement. This is something I hope to continue to explore when I gain access to another print studio.

linocuts on paper hanging in a drying rack
Behind Closed Doors, linocuts drying at londonprintstudio

4.  Where do you make work now that you’ve graduated? 

After graduating, I continued to make work at LCC Print Club on Saturdays and then once I had gained a new role at londonprintstudio, I used my days off to work in the studio. I spent the majority of my time there exploring linocuts using the Beever Press. I decided to try this method of printing after being very inspired by the work of graphic designer Andrzej Klimowski who I met whilst working there.

Following my time at LPS I started to work within event production and I have since been trying to keep my illustration going as my side hustle. Under the current circumstances I have had to move back to my parents’ place in East Sussex. I have a little desk set up in my bedroom and I am using my time here to work on some commissions and continuing to build up my portfolio. This is a very peculiar time however it has presented a rare opportunity for myself to fully focus on generating some new work, albeit sometimes it is difficult sleeping and working in the same room I feel very lucky to have a space to create.  

5.  Looking back on your time at LCC, what advice would you to yourself, if you could travel back in time?

I would have taken up more opportunities to work on my Adobe and graphic design skills as I do believe this really helps to secure a future career.

I would have also liked to work on more collaborative briefs, such as the Elephant Café Cook Book (which came out so beautifully!). And I wish I had kept an eye out for more competitions set by industry professionals, especially as I had the opportunity to use really valuable facilities.

monoprint and digital image on paper
Mexican Night, monoprint / digital

6.  Where can we see more of your work?  

When I graduated from LCC I took part in the Topolski Artist Residency, work from our final exhibition can be viewed here:@topolskistudio

I was selected to be part of Flock 2018 Graduate Show at Art East Gallery, where I exhibited screen prints from my Les Valaisans series.

I am also in the process of updating my website, and I continue to use Instagram to document my latest work: @natashahowieillustration

Mono Screen Printing

ink painted on a screen

Missing the screen print workshop? I know I am! But don’t worry, there are still ways of working with screen print even without our amazing facilities.

The first method I’m going to show you is mono screenprint.

Mono screenprint is a fun, versatile and spontaneous method of working, leading to some unique creative possibilities by allowing you to work in a playful and gestural way.

Working directly on to the mesh of the screen, it’s possible to paint, sponge, flick, drip and splatter ink, draw with pencils, charcoal and other water-soluble materials, to create unique prints.

overhead image of all equipment and materials required.


  • screen
  • squeegee
  • paper
  • acrylic ink
  • parcel tape or similar
  • ink pots
  • spatulas / spoons
  • brushes
  • sponge
  • water source

Optional, but helpful:

Please see the list of suppliers in the screenprint menu, or get in touch for advice before investing in more expensive items such as screens / squeegees / hinge clamps.

screen with taped border , clamped into place.
screen with taped border, using hinge clamps and board.
  1. Tape a border to create an aperture slightly smaller than your paper size. I have used this white tape but some parcel tapes can be used, such as Scotch 3M and Wilko own brand. I have hinge clamps to keep my screen in position while I print. You could ask a willing housemate to hold it still for you!
using washi tape to mark edges of printing paper
Registration marks using washi tape

2. Position your paper under the screen and mark one corner and one edge, as registration marks. I have used washi tape as the colour makes it easy to see, but you could use masking tape and colour it with a sharpie or similar.

pencil drawing on paper to be used as a guide
rough outline as a guide

3. You could draw a rough outline of the image you want to produce, or even use a photocopy/printout if you need more detail, and place this under the screen.

4. Get your inks ready. Any brand of acrylic will work, but remember you must mix it with at least 50% medium, you can’t use it straight from the tube. There are also ready mixed options available.

Here I have used some empty cake packaging (Thank you Mr.Kipling) as a kind of palette to mix small quantities in. I’ve got a selection of old brushes, sponge, bubble wrap and various other materials to use. Anything that can give you marks and textures is good, but don’t use anything sharp that could damage the screen mesh.

screen propped up
screen propped up away from the paper, using roll of washi tape

5. Prop your screen up slightly so it is not resting directly on the paper or board. I have used my roll of washi tape, but you could use something else.

6. You are ready to start painting!

painted image on the screen with tools
Image painted on the mesh

As acrylic inks dry quite fast so you will need to work fairly quickly. Don’t let the ink dry on the screen! Fill in as much of the mesh as you can. Any empty areas will allow the marks to smudge and drag as you pull the squeegee across. If you want blank areas, just use plain medium to fill in the gaps.

the squeegee positioned ready to print
Medium at the top of the image, ready to print

7. Once you have finished applying the ink, pour some printing medium at the top of the image. Remove the prop (my washi tape) from under the screen to lower it onto the paper. Without flooding the screen, just press down and pull the squeegee towards you to print. Once is enough.

the print on paper being revealed
the print is revealed

8. Lift your screen to reveal the print!

detail of print showing marks and textures
detail of marks and texture

There will now be residue of ink in the mesh, which allows you to print again to create one or two “ghost” prints. These are definitely worth printing as they can be used as a base layer to continue working on top of, with more printed layers, or drawing, or cutting up for collage.

Squeegee positioned to print again
printing the residue with tinted medium

Without flooding the screen, you can either add fresh medium to the top, or as I have done here, scoop up the now tinted medium from the screen and print again.

Scoop up as much ink as you can, and save into a new pot. Don’t throw it away!! It can be used again as a tinted medium, or you could add more acrylic to it to make a new colour.

Now you can choose to wash and dry your screen before starting again, or continue to add more ink.

Here I have carried straight on, using the ghost on the mesh as a rough guide, to create a similar image.

This technique can be used in combination with paper stencils or photo stencils too, or as a base layer for another process. Try drawing with charcoal or graphite sticks on the mesh for more linear work (carefully, don’t press too hard or the mesh might tear!)

For further inspiration, have a look at Katy Binks, Augustine and Bridgland, Charlotte Cornish and Alice Hartley

If you prefer live action, there’s a nice little video by American artist David Manje here .

mixed ink in a pot
Save your ink!

Featured Graduate: Miriam Brüggen with a step-by-step guide on how to make your own Punching Cradle

Image showing Miriam Brüggen at the printing press at the letterpress studio Letterpress Letters in Tokyo
Miriam Brüggen printing at the letterpress studio Letterpress Letters in Tokyo

Miriam Brüggen is a graphic designer and visual artist based in Berlin. She graduated from London College of Communication in 2017 with a Postgraduate Diploma in Design for Visual Communication – during this time she focused on book and letterpress projects. After graduation she pursued a career in the field of spatial and communication design, and, in collaboration with architects, interior / product & motion designers creates analog and digital touch points for brand spaces. In her free-time, she follows her passion for book and print projects, since she values the work with physical materials.

She just returned from a 6 month trip to Japan, where she explored traditional bookbinding and printing techniques and worked for the letterpress studio Letterpress Letters in Tokyo. During that time she learnt to value the benefits of a sewing punching cradle, which allows to bind books very precisely.

Miriam created a step by step guide for you on how to create your own punching cradle below.

Showing Miriam's desk with a  punching cradle
Miriam’s desk with a punching cradle

Step-by-step Punching Cradle

You will need:

• Sharp Blade
• Ruler, Pencil
• PVA Glue
• Glue Brush
• Bone Folder
• Waste Paper

• 2 x large pieces of grey board (2.0mm–2.5mm), W 120 x L 330 mm
• 4 x small pieces of grey board (same weight), W 120 x L 105 mm
• 2 x strips of book cloth: W 80 x L 330 mm

Showing book cloth and grey board
Materials: book cloth and grey board

Start with the four small rectangles that support the cradle body.

Draw a triangle on two of them. Take the long edge (120 mm) for the bottom side of the triangle. It should start about 15 mm from each corner and the tip should be 45 mm away from the top edge.

Image showing cutting instructions on grey board
Cutting instructions

Cut the triangles out

Image of triangles cut out
Triangles cut out

Glue each of the remaining pieces on one of the untrimmed rectangles. The support legs are done and you can place both under a weight for a short while (some heavy books will be fine!).

Showing the support legs glued together
Support legs

In the meantime, make the cradle body. Take one strip of book cloth and mark the centre of the short edge. Repeat same step with the other piece of book cloth.

Image is showing two pieces of book cloths
Mark the centre of the book cloth

Add two marks, the first, one board thickness to the left from the middle, the second, one board thickness to the right (use the two cut out triangles as a gauge).

Image showing how to use the triangles as gauge
Use the triangles as gauge

Brush the book cloth with glue and attach the long grey boards to the lines.

Take your bone folder, flatten the cloth and score down the middle, this will neaten the joint.

Image of the usage of a bone folder
Use a bone folder to define the joint

Repeat with the other side: Brush the cloth with glue and put it on the grey boards, try to align it with the cloth underneath.

Image showing how to attach the book cloth
Attach book cloth from the other side

Neaten the joint from this side, too.

Image of the usage of a bone folder

Eventually, it should look like this. When you are ready, put it under a weight for a couple of minutes.

Image showing both joints together
Both boards joined together

Measure and mark up 10mm from the edge of both short sides. Create a slit by cutting the thickness of one grey board. The slit’s width should be 128 mm in total to fit the support legs. Take 64 mm from the centre of the cradle body to the left and right.

Images shows how to measure
Measure 10mm from both the sides

The depth of the slit should should equal the thickness of one grey board (use one of the rectangles as gauge. It should be the exact thickness, if its too wide the cradle body will sit lose).
The slit’s width should be 128 mm in total to fit the support legs. Measure 64 mm from the centre of the cradle body to the left and right.

Almost done, now you can slide each side over the support legs. If necessary, enlarge the slit to fit the cradle body.

Image on how to construct the punching cradle
Constructing the punching cradle

Et voilà. Below a printable version of the whole process. Miriam also prepared a short hand out with her notes and some step-by-step illustrations.

Image of punching cradle
Finished punching cradle


POD (Print on Demand)

Print on demand was developed after the beginning of digital printing because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing. Therefore, POD is a printing process that allows for the production of single copies of a book, as and when an order has been received, allowing for short print runs, low production costs and immediate responses to an audience.

During this uncertain time, POD is an ideal medium to get your work printed and out there. I will show two projects, which explored and challenged the possibilities of POD, both have been produced in the timeframe between 2008 and 2012, which feels like a long time ago but given the circumstances the work still feels relevant and up to date.

You might argue that a POD publication is poor in its physical quality, but if you allow it to be like Johanna Drucker states in her The Century of Artists’ Books, a “self-conscious record of its own production” you are giving it the freedom of being what it is. A book printed without you having influence in its production.

Image of books: Variable Format
Variable Format, 2012

Variable Format is a sample book, a model, a serial system that explores the technological margins of print on demand and how reading is informed by the materiality of the book object. Examining the quality of print reproduction, paper, binding, cover and size, the book has been produced in twelve formats using different options of print on demand. Conceived by Lynn Harris, published by AND and designed by Åbäke with Pierre Pautler. Materials collected from the now closed library of the Byam Shaw School of Art form the content of a publication that is spread through twelve POD platforms. Instead of being resized to fit the various formats, a single layout is cut, so each printed artefact acts as a unique “framing” of the same source

Open spread of the book: Dear Lulu and it's cover
Dear Lulu, 2008

Dear Lulu is a test book which was researched and produced by graphic design students at Hochschule Darmstadt, Germany, during an intensive two-day workshop with London-based designer James Goggin (Practise). The book’s intention is to act as a calibration document for testing colour, pattern, format, texture and typography. Exercises in colour profiling, halftoning, point size, line, geometry, skin tone, colour texture, cropping and print finishing provide useful data for other designers and self-publishers to judge the possibilities and quality of online print-on-demand — specifically, with this edition. The project was afterwards extended to other platforms, such as Blurb and MagCloud.

A book can also be presented as a video trailer, as a single line of text, a performance documented, an essay, a series of stills, or as a downloadable pdf file. The book exists in physical form and in conceptual form. It travels further and quicker as an idea than as an object. Source: ABC

Ultra Lo-Fi Debossing and Embossing

Embossing from a negative shape
Embossing from a negative shape

Everyone likes a bit of blind embossing and debossing. Not everyone has die cut metal plates and hot foil machinery at home. Luckily, there is a way to do it yourself with cardboard and a bone folder. Basically. This guide will take you through step by step, and at the end you will find two downloadable files with illustrated instructions for you to save or print.

1. Tools and Materials*

  • Paper
  • Cardboard or loo roll
  • Pencil
  • Bone folder
  • Clips
  • Scissors
  • Scalpel

Optional but useful:

  • Carbon Paper
  • Paper masking tape
  • Small paint brush
  • Embossing tool

* Not all of these are essential. You can use loo roll tubes if you don’t have cardboard at hand. Use a bone folder or the tail end of a paint brush to replace embossing tools. Carbon paper, clips and paper masking tape all help with improving the process and end result, but if you do not have access to them, you can still try it.

Tools needed and suggested for debossing
Paper, carbon paper, cardboard, loo roll, pencil, bone folder, small brush, embossing tool, clips, tape, scissors, scalpel.

Prepare your paper by dampening it. For instructions, check out Make at Home: three hacks for better working here. For good results, it is essential that your paper is damp, as it needs to be able to mould easily around your shapes! Printmaking paper with a high cotton content and a maximum weight of about 170gsm will give you the best results. My personal favourite is Zerkall, but you can use Somerset, Fabriano, Japanese paper – try whatever you have lying around. You can find a list of suppliers in the Useful Links sections on the website.

2. Trace your design onto cardboard

The cardboard should be thin enough to cut easily with scissors or a scalpel, but thick enough to give you a visible relief. Bear in mind that your design cannot be too small, or you will not be able to cut it out. Thin lines can be problematic as you will lose detail in the process. Draw your design freehand or use carbon paper to transfer your sketch or print precisely.

Preparing cardboard cut outs

3. Make your relief

First, cut your sketch out of cardboard. If using a scalpel, make sure you use a non-slip cutting mat and a safe cutting ruler. Never cut toward your fingers. I find it easier to cut cardboard with several light cuts rather than force – it is much safer and easier to be precise. Be careful to keep all elements together. The cardboard you cut them out from can be helpful as a guide for positioning them in the right place later.

Do you need to reverse your design?

If you use it right-reading, it will emboss right-reading on the side you are working on, and deboss wrong-reading on the reverse of your paper. The debossed side typically looks nicer because the tools don’t mark it. If you would like the debossed side to be right-reading, flip your cardboard cut outs.

Create your base

On a large sheet of card or paper, mark where your shapes and your paper need to go. If you are planning to for example make a book cover, plan and mark your registration marks now.

Stick your shapes onto this base. If your design is made up of several pieces of card, glue them into the right place first using a bit of PVA or Pritt stick. Then use a large strip of paper masking tape to cover the entire surface. Using a bone folder, carefully press the tape down, tracing your cut out. Make sure there are no creases or overlaps of tape on the surface of your shapes. The tape creates a smoother surface and edges.

4. Deboss/Emboss

Take one sheet of paper out of your stack. Lining it up with your registration marks, if you made any (unlike me), lay it on top of your base. Use clips to secure the paper to the base to ensure it does not move while you are working on it. I started out with one clip and very, very quickly realised that a second clip on the other side was an important thing to have. Small bits of card or paper sandwiched between your printmaking paper and the clips will protect the surface from marking.

First, use your fingers to find the cardboard cut outs underneath the paper and gently start pressing down the paper to make the edges of your design visible. Now switch to a bone folder or other tool with a smooth, round tip. Being very careful, press around the edges of your design. Be gentle, as the paper gets damaged very easily! Use smaller tools for corners and tight spaces, for example the tail end of a small paint brush. Make sure that the tools are smooth and rounded, anything sharp will likely just damage your paper.

This side usually does not look very neat because the tools will mark and change the surface of the paper. The other, debossed side will be the nice one, which is why I flipped my design and stuck it down wrong-reading.

And that’s it! When you are finished, release the clips and flip the paper to reveal the debossed side on the reverse. Flatten and weigh down your paper until it has dried completely.

finished debossing
Finished debossed graphic of Korean syllable blocks

Tips, alternatives and a guide to download

  • Test with small cut offs from paper samples.
  • Take some time to get used to the process and to choose your tools before wasting paper.
  • You can trace the surface of objects instead of cardboard cut outs.
  • Try a negative shape
  • Damp paper is not optional!