This post takes one of my recent experiments, gilding a laser print with toner foil and asks the question ‘what else could toner foil do?

The previous post covers the technique in more detail, but the principle is that toner foil reacts with toner ink in a laminator and turns the basic black ink to glittering gold.

As if this wasn’t exciting enough, let me take you on a magical tour of gilding with acrylic gels, which I hope will inspire you to even more brilliant experiments…..

The science behind the art

Information about the science behind the art is important – it helps to make experiments more coherent rather than random stabs in the dark. If you understand your materials you will achieve better results and be able to develop your experimental techniques more effectively.

I was following the manufacturers instructions for gilding with toner foil and laser prints; the results were very successful. However I felt certain that this technique had even more creative potential for printmaking. So taking a scientific approach, and considering the fact that toner is made from plastic polymers, I cast around for other similar materials.

Acrylic paint! And acrylic gels, and maybe gesso? Perhaps some glues like pva…..

Testing acrylic gels

Different acrylic gels

Different acrylic gels

Going into ‘lab’ mode I assembled all the acrylic mediums in the studio.

You will probably have a few of these in your kit box already if you make collagraphs, as they are great for adding different textures and tones to the plates.

Whenever I am in an art shop I check out the acrylic mediums as there are often new ones on the market, so I have quite a few to work with. Each has its own qualities, and I guessed at least some would work as a glue for the toner foil when heated up.

Testing different acrylic gels

Testing different acrylic gels

The examples here show some initial tests with different acrylic gels and toner foil on plain card. Success rates varied; acrylic paint needs to be applied in a thick layer to work, and gesso produced a very patchy result whereas levelling gel was consistently brilliant.

A variety of effects

Tar gel before and after gilding

Tar gel before and after gilding

These were swiftly followed by experiments with acrylic gels and toner foil applied as a final layer over collagraph prints. This was an exciting process, producing unique results with a very different quality to traditional metal leaf gilding.

Acrylic gel with toner foil

Acrylic gel with toner foil

Different gels produce distinct effects, some quite opaque with a brilliant shine like illuminated manuscripts, others create a translucent shimmering film over the print.

PVA gilded with toner foil

PVA gilded with toner foil

Pva gives a softer more matte finish.

Laminating toner foil on to acrylic gel

Laser printer transparencies

Laser printer transparencies

If you use a clear laser printer sheet as a carrier it is easy to see what is going on – you can position the foil very exactly and the acetate seems to hold it in place more effectively than paper.

Make sure you use laser film as this will withstand heat. Use the wrong type of plastic and it may melt in your laminator!

N.b. check the acrylics are all dry before laminating with toner foil.

Domestic iron vs laminator

I hoped the acrylic gels and toner foil would work with a domestic iron, making the technique more accessible for people with no access to a laminator. Sadly the results were not as good; the shine was quite dull compared to the laminator. However if this is your only option I would still give it a go.

Recycling used foil

If you don’t throw your used foil away, you will quickly amass a folder of foil with missing areas of colour. These leftover foil sheets have a negative impression of your previous work, which can be very interesting when overlaid on a new print.

Re-used toner foil showing gaps

Re-used toner foil showing gaps

In this example I covered the whole print with acrylic gel and then laid the patchy foil over it. The gaps in the foil reveal the print underneath, and the reflective surface emphasises the embossed texture of the intaglio print.

Highlighting embossed texture

embossed collagraph print with added toner foil

Embossed collagraph print with added toner foil

When collagraphs are printed as intaglio, the surface can be heavily embossed.

If you lightly brush acrylic gel over the embossed print, it will hit the high points and miss out the indentations. This results in extra gilded highlights emphasising the texture of the print.

Block printing

As well as brushing gels on directly, you can apply them by printing. The gloopy texture means the detail is a bit rough, but I think this adds to the hand pulled appearance of the print.

a block print gilded with toner foil

a block print gilded with toner foil

In this example the image was made with a wooden block, it would be interesting to try a lino print too.

I stopped after this as my mind raced with thoughts of stencilling, taking mono prints from leaves, impressions of crumpled foil etc. There was a danger that this post would never get written so I am leaving further experimentation to you……

A glittering future with arylic gels and toner foil!

Maybe it is the dark wintry days that have propelled me to experiment with gilding now – the possibility of including glimmering flames and candlelight in a print is cheering when it gets dark by 3.30 and we are longing for the sun.

Brighter than metallic inks and more varied (and cheaper) than metal leaf, gilding with acrylic gel and toner foil produces a brilliant effects, ranging from dense mirrored areas, and raised textural gilding to a fine sheen of gold revealing the image below or a curtain of tiny golden dots and lines over a print.

The painterly quality of gels produces exciting textures and dynamic brush strokes that combine well with many different printmaking techniques.

If you’d like to find out about using mica powder to bring some subtle light into your prints have a look at this post for more information.

I hope you will feel inspired to have a go, and if you get interesting results do share them with others on Instagram at #thecuriousprintmaker