ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY PRINTMAKING PROCESSES,
My name is Nik Semenoff and you may have heard of the dry copier toner
process for lithography that I perfected in 1985. I demonstrated it at the
1990 Tamarind Symposium in
Since retiring from the
For those printmakers who are looking for safer and more flexible processes, I have been working on the problem for about twenty-nine years - with some success I might add. As a lithographer, I have devoted most of my efforts to that media, but the use of dry copier toner makes imaging easier and more exciting in all media. As an educator, I have looked at the cost and safety of the materials and processes involved. Some of my more important innovations are:
1/ Dry copier toner as an imaging material in all print media.
2/ Waterless lithography using caulking silicone as the ink rejection surface.
3/ A three-part roller that makes both traditional and waterless litho easier.
4/ Screen printing ink base, using a starch based paste.
5/ Intaglio mordant using copper sulfate, common salt and a weak acidifier to etch both aluminium and zinc.
6/ Etching intaglio plates by electro-etching.
7/ A better tympan lubricant and cheaper replacement for scraper bar leather.
8/ A method of using the back of aluminium plates, or thicker gauge common sheet aluminium for waterless lithography. Using these plates over many times.
9/ A process by which the above reusable plates can be made into a positive printing plate, developed with plain water.
10/ Modification to oil ink based to make them more soluble in household detergents and so improve their use in waterless lithography. The same concept can be used with intaglio ink.
11/ Developed the "Palm Press", using the suggestions of my
daughter Sasha. This simple hand unit will allow
the printmaker to produce waterless lithos and monoprints
on a hard flat surface, without the need of a press. I now have uploaded
instructions on how to make your own palm press.
13/ Instructions on how to improve on Speedball brayers and prevent their roller support pins from wearing off.
14/ Instructions on how to make a simple but effective printers chop from thin tough card stock.
15/ Producing a tacky modifier for waterless ink to reduce tinting problems.
16/ Transferring iron oxide unto many plates from a drawing on Mylar for use in registration.
17/ Professor Ozakus' baren made from bamboo toothpicks for printing.
18/ An easier method of making toner chalks using shellac as the binder.
I have started a new website with more information on my activities in art over the many years. It is at <http://www.ndiprintmaking.ca>.
Example of a lithograph using my
20 x 26 inches - Waterless litho. This print edition is a conversion of a grease tusche wash on plates that was printed in waterless to see if all the textures of the grease particles could be retained as there was no acid etch used to produce the image. Printed in the early 90's as a research project on waterless.
22 x15 inches - Waterless litho printed in 2
before reversing the plate.
As an alternative to commercial Toray plates that entirely rely on the
photographic method, I have developed a process that uses aluminium plates and
ordinary caulking silicone. This produces a very durable plate because of the
great tenacity with which the silicone sticks to aluminium. All materials and
chemicals are available from local suppliers; hardware and paint stores. This
entirely new technology only uses some concepts of lithography, but gives us
greater flexibility. While I developed it in 1990, the process has only now
started to interest printmakers who at first didn't believe there was much
merit to it. Colors are brighter, registration is better and printing is much
simpler. Anyone, who has learned it, rarely goes back to gum/etch
lithography. Traditional grease plates can even be converted to waterless
litho, making editioning much simpler. Both negative and positive plates can
be processed as waterless, or converted from gum plates. This process has
been published in LEONARDO and PRINTMAKING TODAY, as well; I have been
invited to teach a number of workshops for this process, as well as having
demonstrated the method at international printmaking conferences. This
waterless process is the foundation for the process being taught at Tamarind,
where it is being used along side with my toner technique. They and other
printers are now giving workshops in
of textures available with toner. Included in the annual workshop brochure
Being non-greasy, toner can be manipulated on a litho plate or stone with no fear of leaving a ghost image or ruining a drawing. After the artist is satisfied with the image, the toner is bonded to the substrate to produce a plastic mask that can withstand a very hot gum etch for much better desensitization. Due to the nature of the material, many more interesting textures can be realized, such as brush strokes and peau de crapaud. Because toner is made of minute opaque particles, it can also be used for photosensitive processes such as positive lithographic plates, screen printing and intaglio. I have found a way to compressed it into carbon sticks that produce images just like charcoal drawings. Since I developed this technique in 1985, it is now used by many printmakers, after being published in LEONARDO, and the numerous workshops I have given. Other printers, such as Tamarind, have given workshops on this and the waterless process, to many teaching institutions across the world.
Toner chalks can add an important imaging technique for both traditional and waterless lithography, but their availability and cost may be beyond some printmakers. I had disclosed my first method of making toner chalks, using methyl cellulose paste as the binder. Getting the right strength for the binder was problematic and it was nearly impossible to produce variable hardness’s of chalks. By using diluted shellac as the toner binder, making a batch of any hardness you desire is a simple matter. This method is much the same, using simple molds and separators; just the binder is easier to mix. All that is required is a metric volume measure and straightforward calculations.
Any simple flat container can be used as a temporary mold, but more complex systems can be developed if constant supplies of chalks are needed. For the number of chalks I had hoped to market, I built a complex hydraulic press with automatic valves to control quality. It was not a wise business venture.
Solvent-based screen inks are bad for your health, even if the studio has adequate ventilation. For teaching institutes, the work area can become hazardous when many students are required to finish assignments. In 1990, I found a commercial wallpaper paste that works perfectly as a transparent base for screen-printing. At this point, you will likely say that this cannot be permanent and not useful for serious artwork. If you consider that the Japanese have used starch based inks to print their block prints and many of those printed in the 15th Century and before, have survived; so why not use starch based materials today? It can be colored with any number of pigments and dyes that would be considered light fast for artistic purposes. It is one of the best materials to retain the very fine detail that toners give when used with screen-printing. Prints that can be mistaken for lithographs are possible because tusche wash effects can be easily produced. Clean up is very simple and much safer. One of the most practical reasons to use it would be the large saving over commercial screen inks - both solvent and water based acrylics. This is truly a water based screen printing ink made from renewable resources.
Both zinc and aluminium can be etched in this bath that uses copper sulfate, salt and a weak acidifier. All chemicals are inexpensive, locally available and can be disposed safely, considering all the copper is reduced to a fine brown powder and removed. With a pH of around 3.5, the mordant is much safer to handle than acids. Because of the availability of common sheet aluminium, the price of doing large intaglio prints can be reduced to a fraction for that of zinc or copper. For student work, it turns out to be the better metal because of price and the smaller editions usually required. An interesting observation is that this etch bites metal to expose a crystalline structure, making aquatinting unnecessary for sugar lift and other open-bite techniques. While some groups are concerned about the use of copper compounds, it is no more dangerous than many of the material in the artists studio. The etching bath can also be easily recycled for reuse in the studio. An article on this technique was submitted in April, 1994 and eventually published in LEONARDO, Vol. 31, #2, 1998.
It is possible to remove metal by means of electric current and low voltage, instead of dangerous acids. It is a simple process that is the opposite of electro-plating; a technique used by industry and many craft persons. In place of acid, a weak solution of salt, or other appropriate chemical, is used to allow the current to go though the solution and remove metal in any exposed metal. Very low voltages are required, making it completely safe to handle. Another important advantage is the very fine detail that is possible, without undercutting in dark areas. Electro-etching will attack all metals, including stainless steel. I did research in this method and published an article in LEONARDO, Vol. 24, #4, 1991.
Because there has been some increased interest in using this etching method, I have decided to do more work on my paper by disclosing an inexpensive way to build an excellent power supply. There are many high-quality high amperage transformers available in the surplus market, as well as full wave rectifiers. Anyone can build a good supply with the help of a handyman.
This alone is worth the effort to look at the papers on my innovations. There is no grease to be redistributed after pulling each print, and a common plastic replaces expensive leather on the scraper bar, creating easier passage of the press bed. You will be surprised as to what these materials are and how well they perform. Go to the lithography paper for information.
A simple and effective method of removing old images and contaminates to make the surface of the metal into waterless lithographic plates. Using common and safe chemicals, the surface is cleaned and prepared to accept, toner washes, Sumi ink drawings and many other techniques. This process can also be used for my photochemical technique, to produce positive plates. Since waterless lithography gives better results from smooth plates, the use of the back of plates makes sense. The metal is quickly abraded with an alkaline solution and grit, to clean and produce a suitable surface for many of my techniques. There seems no end to the number of editions that can be taken from one plate, saving students and printmakers one of the greater cost of practicing their art.
I have successfully developed a method of coating old plates with a modified photo emulsion, to allow production of positive plates. Instead of whirling or flowing on the emulsion, I use a specially constructed spreader to coat the surface smooth enough to get good results. I had used a more complicated process in my last editions, in which I chose to do most of the plates from positive images. Plain water is used to develop the plates and chemicals common to printmakers are used to complete the processes. Reclamation of the plates is easy, using my silicone stripper. I have used the one batch of plates for all my research and editioning, to see what is the limit in the number of editions that each plate can produce. I am still using the same batch, after using some plates over 30 times. I had decided to upload the paper on the earlier process, knowing I probably would find better materials and systems in time. After all, Orville and Wilbur didn't design a 747. In 2001, I found a better emulsion and method of coating the plates, as well as a practical vinyl lacquer for the image during one point in the processing. In 2003 I have included even more improvements to the method. Keep in touch with this site as there could be more developments in this area.
I have found an outstanding waterbased hard and soft ground that has been
invented by Gerald Fershman, professor of
printmaking at the
While I had supported the work of the Green Drop Ink Company, I had never endorsed the product as being the perfect ink for printmakers. Before their inks had become available to printmakers, I had done considerable research into finding a formula for water-soluble ink. With limited success, I decided to drop this research when I learned about the Green Drop Inks. While not totally satisfied with the printing characteristics of these inks, I felt my support would make it possible for the company to prosper and improve their product for artists. I found that the printing capability of these inks was improved by mixing them with common oil based inks such as Van Son, Hanco and Daniel Smith. The biggest problem with the Green Drop inks was the driers that they contained, which produced very unworkable ink after only a short time on the slab. When mixed with slow drying oil inks plus the addition of a retarder such as Golden Acrylic Retarder, a workable ink was produced. I have printed editions with this modification, and have received communications from printmakers who prefer this way of using the inks. Green Drop inks are no longer available.
I have returned to my research, but with renewed dedication, seeing that it can be accomplished. While my research was successful, I felt the formulation was much too complicated for the non-technically informed printer. On continuing my research, I have found a number of simple but effective methods to modify common oil based ink. There are a number of commercial products for the art and paint industry, which contain water reducible oils and resins that emulsify easily into oil ink and gives us water solubility. This produces good ink that is cleaned up with any number of commercial cleaners, but becomes completely waterproof on drying. I am constantly looking for simpler ways to get a water cleanup ink, using already manufactured oil ink.
Daniel Smith has started to manufacture their water-based relief ink in the basic colors, which should give printmakers enough variation to get the right color for the edition. Their ink works very well in modifying oil based ink in both lithography and intaglio so I am waiting for the company to start making even a greater range of colors.
To replace solvents when cleaning up the ink slab and rollers, I have found a number of commercial degreasers that work very well, leaving a thin film that can be easily removed with water. To produce an even cheaper cleaning solution, I have found that PineSol can be modified with solvent and Palmolive green detergent, so it will remove even unmodified oil ink from slabs, plates and rollers. This mixture is much less toxic than the "Green" blanket washes used by commercial offset printers.
I have come to the conclusion that at this time, oil based inks are better than any waterbased commercial one I have found. Since the ink is not toxic and they can be washed out with any one of a number of commercial degreasers, or my PineSol mixture. I wonder if it is worth to go in that direction.
In my very early research into waterless lithography, I recommended the
use of Venice Turpentine as an additive to ink to reduce tinting on the
plate. Increasing tack is the answer to reduce tinting. I had more than a
quart of this viscous sticky turpentine from my oil painting days, but price
of the material had greatly increased over time and was not practical for use
by many printmakers. I removed
This simple device can be used to print both waterless lithographs and monoprints by rolling over the back of the paper. It consists of two sets of ball bearings on two shafts so that the spaces on one set is covered by the bearings on the other. Because of the low friction of ball bearings, a great amount of pressure can be applied over a very small area, enough to transfer ink on to the paper. While not intended to replace a proper litho press, this system can still produce very good prints if smooth calendared paper is used. It gives artists and school systems a method to do lithographs without the expense of a press..
While on a trip in
Most studios use the inexpensive Speedball brayers and find that they fall apart because the pins in the roller will wear with the great pressure and contact with the thin frame provided. The pins wear to the point they simply break off. By inserting Oilite bushings into the frame, the pressure is greatly reduced and the oil within the bushing provides lubrication and long life.
For those printers who do not have a need for an expensive printers chop, here is a method of making a simple unit from hard card stock. As long as the design can be cutout of the card cleanly, the chops produces acceptable embossing on rag papers.
All these process and materials are now used in the Department of Art and
Art History's printmaking department here at the
For more information, inquires and giving me some feedback, contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org I have put all these printmaking innovations into public domain so that more artists would benefit from my research, but request publishers to contact me re publication as I may have updated information.
Visit The Gallery
Look into the gallery of works done with these processes. While I do have many more samples of work sent to me, I do not have the necessary copyright releases and cannot include them. I started the gallery with just a few samples, and will change them periodically. I would like to include works of other printmakers so you can send me a slide, a computer file or a good quality photo. Since I do have both a flatbed and separate slide scanner, the photos would be easy to digitize. A copyright release would be necessary. I am sure the art community at large will be interested to see what this new technology can do.
Visit My Prints
In this gallery are some of my waterless prints with a brief explanation on the techniques used. If you want more data, contact me by e-mail and I will try and make things clear to you as I can.