Category Archives: Material Tips

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!

Make-at-Home: three hacks for better printmaking

Text written by hand on paper
Text on paper

Making-at-home can present lots of challenges when you are used to a well-stocked workshop. In fact, this period of lockdown has been the longest I have ever been away from a printmaking space, in 20 years. It means working differently, working creatively, and for many of us, working in spaces that were not designed for printmaking.

Four weeks later, here are my three hacks for better printmaking-at-home. These are especially good if you share spaces with others, as I do, and are useful when thinking how you can continue your practice after university.

1. Your window is your lightbox.

Clockwise from top left: photograph, text written by hand on paper, blank paper, ballpoint pen, roll of masking tape

You will need: a window, paper and drawing tool
You could also have: any kind of tape, an image or piece of text you have found, or drawn

Tracing an image onto a piece of paper.  Image and paper are both taped to a window.
Good for tracing a found image, or drawing to make a stencil for screenprinting or monoprinting.
Reverse tracing text on paper.  Paper is taped to a window.
Also good for reversing text for printing.

2. Your drying rack… is your drying rack.

Left: scissors, thread, an assortment of small clips

Right: two clothes drying racks

You will need: a clothes drying rack, clips, string/floss, scissors (careful of the sharp!)
You could also have: lots of clips, lots of string/floss

Photograph of a small bulldog clip tied with string, to a rail on a drying rack.
Clips tied loosely to a rail.
Left: an example of clipping two prints, back-to-back, to the drying rack

Right: a clothes drying rack full of prints
Tip: double your capacity by clipping two prints together, back-to-back

3. Your shopping bags are your paper soaking tray.

Clockwise from left: stack of paper to soak, two clear plastic bags, coloured paper tabs, a clean sponge in a bowl of water

You will need: paper to soak, a water sponge or spray, water, two plastic bags
You could also have: small paper tabs, large and heavy books

Image of paper being sponged with water.
Sponge the bag first, lay a sheet of paper on top, and then gently sponge the top of the paper.
A stack of soaked paper, with coloured paper tabs separating each layer.
Optional: stagger tabs between each sheet of paper. This will help you peel off each sheet as you need them.
A soaked stack of paper, between two plastic bags, underneath a large book.
Place the second bag on top, and then add a big book, or two. This will help with even absorption, and keep your paper from drying out.

Practice, not perfect. (having a go at making some boxes)

Last February I took part in a box making workshop with our fantastic Book Arts team, and have not found the time since then to put those skills into practice. 

Until now. 

I had a plan in my head to make some boxes to hold teaching samples for our conductive & reactive ink workshops, and thought I would do this during the Easter break, with the help of Tilly and Rahel.

It was not to be. 

A hurried Plan B came into being as we were told we’d be working from home, and that plan was, quickly grab some materials and worry about the rest later.

What could go wrong?

My first task was to take over the kitchen table, and set everything up nice and neatly to try and emulate the serene environment of the @book.arts.workshop. I felt very pleased with myself at this point. I even Instagrammed.

Ariel view of table with tools laid out

I had tools, some materials, the box I’d made a year ago as a reference, and I’d also managed to find my scribbled notes from that workshop. Ready.

First obstacle. No board chopper.

I set to work with a sturdy craft knife and ruler. (carefully and making sure to keep my fingers out of the way of course)

Slow progress but not impossible and soon I was ready to start gluing.


Washable PVA does not dry quickly.

I swapped to a multi purpose PVA, still water based, but thicker and stronger and happy to dry quickly. 

If you only have washable, don’t worry it will work, just much slower.

Image of two types of glue, washable and multi purpose PVA.

Time for covering.

I had brought some book cloth from the workshop, and had some at home already.

Following my notes, and I cut some shapes and made some folds.

I tested the folds, and then had to cut some slightly different shapes.

Glue time again and then, ta-da!!

It’s a bit uneven and the corners look best from a distance, but it worked!

(I’d like to point out that it is meant to be 3 sided, I didn’t just make a ridiculous mistake)

3 sided crate style box, covered with book cloth

And repeat.

3 boxes, covered in book cloth

Time for the case, and I followed the hardcover guide from the book arts workshop.

I found some left over Christmas wrapping paper to line the boxes and the cases.

Old prints or any scrap paper big enough would work well too.

moving image of box being opened

And repeat.

Three boxes ready for filling with examples!

 3 finished boxes, with an example of contents

So, I had a go, I made mistakes, I swore a bit (a lot) and ended up with 3 functional boxes.

They’re not perfect, but they do what they’re supposed to do and more importantly I learnt from the process, with my skills improving with each one.

One last, and well-known tip worth remembering:

Measure twice, cut once.

Or in my case measure twice, and measure again, just to make sure.

box showing wrong measurements by mistake

Keep practicing…..

Alternative Bookbinding Tools

Want to do some bookbinding but don’t have any tools to hand. Here are some alternatives: Instead of a bonefolder you can use the handle of a blunt butter knife or any wooden/plastic cooking spoons. Instead of a pricker use a regular needle and a wine cork as a handle. Instead of bookbinding thread use tooth floss (it’s already waxed) and instead of a bookbinding needle just use a regular sewing needle.

Bookbinding tools, bonefolder, pricker, thread and needles

Try it out with a simple Three-hole Pamphlet Binding:

Paper and alternative bookbinding tools

1. Use between 4 to 8 sheets of A4 paper for your section and a heavier paper/card (roughly 250-300gsm) for your cover.

2. Start by folding each sheet of paper in half, keep the corners aligned and use the handle of the butter knife/wooden/plastic spoon to create a sharp fold.

3. Stack the sheets of paper inside each other and put the cover sheet onto the outside.

Folded sheets of paper and alternative bonefolder

4. Use the needle and the cork as pricker to pierce 3 holes, with equal distance, from the inside to the outside of your book.

Alternative pricker in use

5. Cut a length of the tooth floss roughly twice as long as your spine and feed it through the needle. Start sewing through the center hole to your right or left.

Alternative thread, tooth floss

6. Skip the centre hole and continue to the hole on the other side.

7. Now finish sewing by coming through the centre hole again.

8. To tie a knot, make sure that both ends of the thread are on opposite sides of the central thread. Tighten the thread taut and make a knot on top of the central thread. Trim your book once it is sewn.

Follow step-by-step guide here.

Or watch Simon Goode’s three-hole pamphlet binding. He explains how to properly cut the book afterwards

Bookbinding: Three Hole Pamphlet binding explained by Simon Goode

Ling’s Top Tip – Save all your paper

Photograph of origami cubes, made with found paper.

There is paper everywhere, waiting for you to use it. From junk mail and pizza leaflets, to catalogues, bank statements and old magazines, to newspapers and delivery inserts, there is plenty of paper, everywhere.

Photograph of junk mail, newspaper and magazine.

At many printmaking studios, members bring in their paper to use and share. It’s free, and it gives you something to read when you’re waiting for your screen or plate to dry.

Photograph of newspaper cut into paper stencils for monoprinting.

I use it to make stencils for monoprinting. Magazines and newspapers use thin paper stock, perfect for cutting with a scalpel or scissors. Stack several sheets together to make multiple stencils, rather than cutting one at a time. I use masking tape to hold my stack together.

Photograph showing how to clean a lino block with an old magazine.

Free paper is also great for cleaning up after printing. This lino block is taped to a cutting mat, and cannot be moved. I slide it between sheets of a magazine and press down, to take off as much ink as I can, before wiping the block clean with a cloth.

Photograph of twelve sonobe origami units.

My favourite thing to do with free paper, however, is to fold it. Mock up a book, test a design for packaging, or do what I do: cut it into squares and make some origami! This unit origami pattern is simple, but you can create complex shapes just by making more of the same unit, and slotting it together.

I learn a lot about paper when I do this. Bank statements come on a thicker, rigid stock, which is harder to fold, but provides better structure. Magazines are easy to fold, but the results are a bit floppy – technical term! The inexpensive paper stock is very sensitive to moisture, and damages quickly.

Photograph of a twelve-unit origami fold.
12-unit fold, with found paper.

To make a cube, you will need six squares of paper.
To make the 12-unit fold, you will need twelve squares of paper. Good luck!