Do you have white ink in your cupboard?

Do you actually use it for printing collagraphs?

No, I thought not.

It’s time to discover white ink!


a pot of white ink

White ink has an interesting effect on your collagraph prints

It is hard to say exactly what has happened, but there is a distinct and positive improvement in the print, a bit like the way someone looks when they come back from holiday. Your print has more substance, more energy, and more clarity.

I stumbled on this effect by chance, and have introduced it to students on several courses. It proved a big hit and they all left saying they were going to get some white ink!

The technique involves a combination of intaglio inking with a relief roll. It seems to work on most collagraph plates and would also be good on etched lino if you are printing that as intaglio.

Intaglio inking

a tray of printing inks

Choose your colours

This technique it works best with darker colours for your intaglio inking.

A collagraph plate printed as intaglio has colour in the grooves and any rough textures will also hold colour. Smooth shiny areas on the plate will wipe clean and print as a lighter area with little or no ink.

Straightforward intaglio inking on a collagraph plate produces beautiful prints with lots of detail and tone…. but they can be even better with a white relief layer!

hand wiping Collagraph plate with tissue paper

Wipe the collagraph plate thoroughly

Make sure you wipe the top surface of the plate well – you want ink in the textures and grooves but as little as possible oily ink left on the smooth areas or high points.

Use a piece of tissue paper under your flat hand to polish the top surfaces of the plate.

If you are planning to add chine collee to the print don’t do a white relief roll – it will cover the chine collee and hide it!

newspaper masking a collagraph plate

Choose your printing roller

Ideally your roller will cover the whole plate in one go.

If the printing plate is bigger than the roller, tear newspaper to lay on the plate, the rough torn edge of the newspaper will mask the straight lines made by the edge of the roller. Move the newspaper around as you roll the whole plate in sections.

Soft or hard rollers?

A soft roller will have a more pronounced effect as the softer rubber will mould round the contours of the plate and apply more ink to the surface.

A hard roller will leave ink on the top points but won’t reach any deeper.

How big is your roller?

Work out the surface area of your roller by measuring the circumference and width. If your plate is smaller than this – no worries.

If the plate is bigger than the surface of the roller, you will need to mask it with torn paper and roll it several times to cover the whole surface.

measuring the diameter of a printing roller
Measure the width of a printing roller

The white relief roll

rolling white ink on the slab

Bring on the white ink

Use a strong opaque white printing ink. Dot ink onto your roller with a brush, you don’t need too much.

Roll the white ink onto a flat slab, e.g. glass or perspex. Get it nice and even.


rolling white ink onto a collagraph plate

Roll a layer of white ink onto the collagraph plate

If your roller is big enough do this in one go, otherwise use the torn newspaper technique. Once you’ve started rolling don’t stop as that can show as a line in the ink. Clean the roller and ink it up again for each new print.

An offset image on the printing roller

An offset image on the roller

The white ink on the roller picks up an image from the plate; roll it onto some smooth paper and you can have a ‘free’ offset print. Sometimes these are quite interesting but more usually it is a disappointment.

You will need to clean the roller after each roll to to keep the white ink clean and avoid the offset image transferring back onto the plate.

Help! It’s all gone white!

The plate may look really white, don’t worry the intaglio ink will show through. Your collagraph plate is now inked up as intaglio with a dark colour and has white ink rolled over it, as a relief layer.

Print the plate onto damp printing paper.


The light areas now have white on rather than very little ink so appear definitely light, and more solid.

Rough textures will show more detail as the white ink picks out the high points which may not show so distinctly with intaglio inking alone.

The prints on the left are just intaglio, the ones on the right are intaglio with a white relief roll.

I havent edited the photos – this is actually the difference!

two collagraph prints one with white ink and one without
detail of intaglio print without white
detail of intaglio print with white

I have found that pretty much every intaglio collagraph plate looks better printed with a layer of white relief printing. You can of course use other colours for the relief roll and this gives a different effect, introducing more colour into the print. White doesn’t add an extra colour, but it does subtly alter the printed image, enhancing both the tone and the texture.

collagraph print detail without white ink
collagraph detail with white ink
collagraph detail without white ink relief
collagraph detail with white ink relief

If you don’t have white ink, I would really suggest you get some and give this a try. Let me know what difference it makes, and share some pictures of your collagraph prints with white ink. 

Here are some more examples of prints made by students on courses in my studio

students work; collagraph print with white ink rolled over

The first image is just inked as intaglio, the second is intaglio with a layer of white relief  ink.

Notice how the contrast and texture is clearer in the second print.

students work; collagraph print with and without white relief roll

The first image is just inked as intaglio, the second is intaglio with a layer of white relief  ink.

Notice how the contrast and texture is clearer in the second print. Particularly the leaves in the top right corner, these printed quite dark with intaglio but the white has emphasised the high points.