If you are keen to experiment with etched lino, plastic tape is definitely something to try.  You can get lovely textural marks by simply painting the caustic soda mix on with a brush and this is generally the way the etched lino technique is used.

However if you mask areas of the lino before etching you can achieve a range of line and texture that will contrast well with the rough brush strokes.

etched lino plate masked with parcel tape

etched lino plate masked with parcel tape

This technique uses humble house-hold materials, (parcel tape, lino and caustic soda).

Managing the 3 way relationship between these is the challenge, and if you get the balance right your plate will be a thing of beauty!

It is helpful to think in 3 dimensions; in the horizontal plane the parcel tape creates flat smooth areas with rough patches in between.

In the vertical plane the caustic etch creates ares of varying depth that will be revealed by the ink when you come to print it.

For more general info about lino etching please see this post.


relief print and intaglio print from etched lino plate

relief print and intaglio print from etched lino plate

The process of covering up and revealing is a constant theme in printmaking and is one of the ways we can achieve sophisticated designs with very simple materials.

As you build your plate in layers you will discover new shapes when the layers interact, the ghosts of the first layer appearing through subsequent layers in different ways when you print the plate.

Make sure you remember to enjoy the process of discovery and change at all stages of making a print. Not quite knowing what is going to happen keeps the work dynamic and exciting.

Brown plastic parcel tape

This thin plastic tape is cheap to buy and a great staple for various printmaking techniques. I always have a supply of it handy.

Once you have cut the tape it is floppy and will easily stick back onto itself, getting in a right mess. To avoid this frustration stick the tape onto your lino first and press down all over to make sure it is well stuck to the surface.

There are a number of things you can do next;

Cut into it with a knife

relief print from etched lino

relief print from etched lino

If you want straight lines this works really well, you can also cut quite detailed shapes out of the tape.

Once you have scored it peel off areas you want to expose to the etch.

Wherever you leave the tape the lino will remain untouched by the caustic soda and these areas will print in a solid colour when you roll ink over.

Melt it

soldering irons with different shaped ends

soldering irons with different shaped ends

If you found cutting small shapes with a knife quite fiddly why not try using a soldering iron? This works very well to burn through the tape and makes it easy to do curving flowing lines.

You can just leave these lines as thin areas in the tape for the etch to eat away, or else outline shapes and peel the tape off to expose larger areas.

etched lino plate

etched lino plate

To make this sample plate I stuck tape onto the lino then drew into it with a soldering iron.

Areas of the image were outlined with the soldering iron so I could peel the tape off, or leave patches of tape stuck onto the lino.

The smooth (light) areas show where the tape masked the lino from the caustic soda etch.

The etched surface is rough and shows darker in this image.

Burn it

Hold your lino with tape on over a lighted candle for a few seconds until the tape starts to melt. This will produce little holes, some with lacy patterns of half melted tape. Keep moving the plate round so the candle burns different areas of tape – the patterns will be fairly random and organic.

The dark blobby patches on the right of the print below are made by burning the tape.

A quick and effective mask

intaglio print from etched lino plate

intaglio print from etched lino plate

Tear random shapes from the tape – use your teeth. Stick them down to form a series of big rough shapes. It is easy to gauge the positive and negative shapes and arrange them to get a natural balance in the design. I love the dynamic patterns this makes and the combination of random tearing with  deliberate placing of shapes.

After I had etched the lino once with the torn parcel tape shapes I removed the tape (it comes off when you rinse it anyway.) Then the process was repeated with another series of torn tape shapes for a second etch.

This created a lovely intricate pattern combined with the rough texture of the brush applying the caustic soda.

PVC tape

As well as brown parcel tape you can try pvc tape, which also makes a good strong mask against the caustic etch.

This is smooth and stretchy, and is thicker and more robust than parcel tape. It comes in different widths, I recently found 5cm wide in B&Q diy depot. PVC Whiteboard gridding tape comes in 1.5mm, 3mm and 5mm widths from Rebel Office Furniture.

As it is stretchy you can stick it on in curving lines. Don’t try melting or burning this because it gives off noxious fumes.

Printing the etched lino

combining intaglio and relief on one etched lino plate

combining intaglio and relief on one etched lino plate

I did a first print as a relief which is the normal approach with lino, etched or otherwise.

This looks great but because I just cant leave things alone I continued to ink it up as an intaglio plate. This also looked good! And just to finish off added another layer of colour with a roller…… the printmakers life is truly a happy one.

As ever, let me know how you got on with using tape in your lino etching experiments, share your comments below and your images on instagram at #thecuriousprintmaker