Making plates with carborundum paint is a technique beloved by many printmakers, and once you have tried it you will understand why.

It is a lovely, free painterly technique and you can work quite fast if that suits you. The marks can be very expressive, and the prints often look like a lithograph or even like a painting.

Like the other carborundum techniques (see my posts for powder and paper) the gritty paint produces rich deep colours when printed. It is possible to make an entire plate just using carborundum paint, alternatively you can use it in combination with other techniques like drypoint.

Start with a base plate

You can use anything thin and firm that will stand up to the pressure of the press for a printing plate.

As with other carborundum techniques it is best to start with a plate that prints in a light tone when you ink it up as intaglio, this means something with a smooth or shiny surface. This will print light and contrast with the darkness of the carborundum, enabling you to get a good range of tones on your plate. At the moment my favourite is acetate as it prints in a light tone, and as it is transparent t is easy to build up a series of plates to overprint.


Choose your carborundum paint

There are a range of gritty pastes that can be applied to a plate;

1. Do it yourself

Make your own by mixing carborundum powder with pva or other acrylic gels/paint. Try different consistencies to produce varying tones. To be on the safe side seal it with shellac to avoid any chance of exposed pva sticking to paper. Pva and some acrylic gels can tend to peel off smooth surfaces so test a bit before spending ages making a plate. If in doubt use wood glue which is stronger.

2. Carborundum acrylic paint.

Ara carborundum paint

Ara carborundum paint

Use it neat or dilute it to make it flow. No need to seal it and it will stick to smooth plate surfaces giving a gritty surface.

This is great stuff. It is very easy to use and dries fast.

If you are going to buy anything buy this!

3. Miscellaneous acrylic gels

There are various acrylic gels that happen to be gritty. If you browse through the acrylic section in your local art shop you may find a variety of pastes that can work well for platemaking although they are really designed for painters.

These include clear gesso, this is described as having a good ‘tooth’ which means its surface is rough and will hold ink so it prints dark. Also ‘sand gel’ an acrylic medium with fine sand mixed in. These tend to come and go, there may be others if you keep your eyes peeled. You may find you already have something similar forgotten in the back of a cupboard…..

4. Carborundum platemaking gel 

This fine gritty paste can be applied through a photo silk screen to make very detailed plates.

Create your image with carborundum paint

There are different ways of getting carborundum paint onto your plate, here are some suggestions, starting with the obvious one;

carborundum paint with ink rolled over and wiped over

carborundum paint with ink rolled over and wiped over

Paint it on with a brush. Use it quite diluted and you can make flowing calligraphic marks. Use it thick with a stiff hogs hair brush and get deeper textures and dramatic brush marks.

Ink these up as intaglio and wipe a contrasting colour over the top to highlight the texture.

‘Draw’ with paint directly from the tube, this produces strong flowing bold lines. It is a bit like icing a cake.

Carborundum paint applied with fingers

Carborundum paint applied with fingers

Apply it with your fingers, this feels good and the lines in your skin make interesting marks.

Cover the whole plate with carborundum platemaking gel, then wipe areas off to create a design. Be sure to wipe it firmly to leave the plate clean, as it is easy to leave traces of carborundum on the plate. You need to work fast as it dries quickly.

Mask areas (eg with masking tape) and paint the carborundum over and then remove the tape to reveal smooth areas of plate.

Screenprint platemaking gel onto your plate to get detailed images, particularly if you are using a photo screen. Have a look at Akua’s you tube film for more info.


plates made on two day 'printing with carborundum' course in my studio

plates made on two day ‘printing with carborundum’ course in my studio

The message here is don’t just do the obvious thing. You can extend your repertoire of mark making by playing about, especially fun if you find a friend to do it with.

This is one of the inspiring aspects of taking part in a workshop, working together printmakers encourage each other to push things a little further.

Multiple plates for multiple colours 

It is difficult to ink small adjacent areas of carborundum in different colours – they tend to blend in together. To make distinct areas of colour, or areas of overlapping colour the secret is to build your final image up by making several plates.

Here’s how:

master sketch on acetate

master sketch on acetate

1. Start with a ‘master’ sketch.
Decide on areas of colour. This example is a flower bed in summer.

2. Cut transparent acetate plates
Use one plate for each colour, (you can actually do more than one colour per plate as in this example if there is plenty of space between so the inks don’t mix)

Four plates inked up ready to print

Four plates inked up ready to print

3. Mark the colour areas
Lay the first plate over your master sketch and draw in the patches of one colour using marker pen.

Lay the second plate over this and mark the patches of the next colour. Keep going till all the colours in your image are marked on the plates.

4. Paint carborundum in colour areas
Turn the plates over and apply carborundum paint on the side without marker pen, following the marker pen as a guide. This means your image will be reversed ready for printing. If you forget to turn the plates over (easy to do!) remove the marker pen with meths otherwise it will show on the print.

The first plate, printed

The first plate, printed

5. Ink the plates with your planned colours. (make a note of colours on the back of the plate to avoid confusion)

6. Print them, one on top of each other to build up your whole image.

The second plate over printed

The second plate over printed

The single plates look uninspiring but it is very exciting to see how they all combine to produce a complete multi coloured image.

The third plate over printed

The third plate over printed

The fourth plate over printed

The fourth plate over printed

I finished this sample one off with a drypoint plate to provide fine line details.

Have a go yourself

I aim for these instructions to be pretty comprehensive but at the same time they are just a starting point. I hope the pointers here will lead you on an experimental printmaking adventure.

If you would like to join a course in my studio and discover more about working with carborundum please see the courses page for information.