Collagraphs are fascinating due to the wonderful textures in the plates and prints. This is one of the main elements that captivates people when they discover collagraph printing and keeps them coming back for more.

There are various ways of inking textures, and in this post I am taking you through an experiment I did to ink the plates and make the textures look even more 3d.

Inking collagraphs

The great thing about collagraph plates is that you can ink them as intaglio and relief at the same time, and get a complex layered image with just one pass through the press. No fiddling around with lining lates up, it all happens in one go. This is what I usually do, as it seems simpler and quicker, with less room for mistakes in registration. However…..

Recently I was experimenting with a new print, trying various different ways of inking.  I had produced some fairly duff intaglio prints from it, and I decided to ink the plate up again in relief and print it over the top of the intaglio in an effort to salvage it. I rolled over the collagraph plate with a dark colour, roughly aligned this on top of the intaglio print, and ran it through the press.

I noticed that the textured areas were jumping out, the texture appearing even more 3d than usual.

The difference may be subtle but it is an exciting effect so I decided to investigate further. My aim was to find out if this effect could be managed, rather than occurring as an occasional interesting phenomenon.

Constructing test plates

For the experiment I wanted collagraph plates with  all-over textures; I like using big brush strokes as they produce dynamic movement with plenty of energy.

The test plates are all on mountboard offcuts. A selection of various acrylic pastes like gesso, structure gel and acrylic paint spread on thickly, (think chocolate spread) and then swept over in different directions with a big stiff brush.

collagraph plate with brush textures in gesso

This is the sort of brush you’d use with a small dustpan – long stiff nylon bristles make great sweeping strokes overlapping in different directions. Any stiff brush will do, but big ones encourage you to move more freely.

It’s really speedy, but also fun and meditative and it is easy to get lost in the process of brushing and over brushing marks until you end up with something that feels right.

stiff sweeping brush used to make textures in gesso on collagraph plate


Once the textured pastes are thoroughly dry they need sanding.

This is an important part of collagraph plate making; sanding prepares the rougher areas of the surface to take ink by making any sharp ridges slightly flat so there is a space for the ink to sit on the plate. Surprisingly it also reveals more of the texture, as long as you don’t overdo it and remove too much of the surface.

textured plate made with structure gel shown before sanding

Textured plate before sanding

This is ‘heavy structure gel’ and you can see it is quite blobby with some extra lumps here and there.

Collagraph plate from structure gel shown after sanding

Textured plate after sanding

Notice how the texture now has flat areas on the high points.

Adjusting the tone

I suspected that an important element of the 3d effect was the mis-match between the darker relief roll and the corresponding light areas in the intaglio print.

To make sure this happened I needed to make the top surface of the collagraph plate smooth and shiny so the intaglio ink would wipe off and produce light areas. This can also be helped by adding a good blob of transparent ink, or extender to your printmaking inks.

To lighten the tone I gave all the test plates a coat of runny pva. This smooths the rough surface without obliterating the textures made with the brush.

Sealing plates

On courses I find there is quite a bit of confusion among students about sealing plates. My advice is always seal any areas of the plate which have pva on. This is because pva tends to re-wet and stick to the damp printing paper when it goes through the press. The paper sticks to the plate and rips when you lift it off. You just can’t pass this of as an experimental print I’m afraid – the print ends up in the bin and the printing plate needs emergency first aid to seal the pva!

I use shellac to seal pva areas. You can seal other areas of the plate as well, but avoid coating aluminium tape or other shiny surfaces as shellac makes it go dull.

This plate is made with gesso which is more fluid than structure gel. The surface has been sanded and varnished with pva, then sealed with shellac.

textured plate sealed with shellac
a relief print of the textured collagraph plate

Relief print

Just roll over the plate once covering the top surface of the texture with ink.settings.

intaglio print from the textured collagraph plate

Intaglio print

Rub ink into the texture, then wipe it off the top surface. Because the plate was made smooth with pva the top areas can be wiped  much lighter.

intaglio and relief printed together

Intaglio and relief printed together

Ink the plate as intaglio, then roll a layer of contrasting ink over it as relief. Run the plate through the press once to print it.

Sometimes screens do odd things to photos, but I hope you can spot the difference between this image and the next one.

print made by printing intaglio adn relief separately

Intaglio and relief printed separately

Ink the plate up as relief and print it on paper.

Ink the plate up as intaglio and print it over the relief print, making sure it is not exactly aligned. Notice this mis-alignment at the edges of the print.

A visual hiccup

When you ink the plate up as intaglio and then roll over as relief, the intaglio ink fills the lower layers of the plate, and the relief ink sits on the top level. This means the whole surface of the plate is covered in ink, and the relief inking fits seamlessly with the intaglio inking.

Printing the intaglio layer and the relief layer separately, deliberately mis-aligning them, creates a hiccup. The two images don’t line up and some of the lighter areas on the intaglio print show alongside the darker relief  print.

This method of inking collagraphs enhances the effect of 3d textures

roller and plate on the bench showing relief roll

A textured plate inked as relief

The plate only has ink on the top of the textured surface.

intaglio inked plate with relief roll over it

The same plate inked as intglio with a relief layer rolled over it

The plate has coloured ink in the grooves and low areas of texture, and dark ink on the top of the textured surface.

textured Collagraph plate with intaglio and relief printed at the same time

Intaglio and relief printed together at the same time

The relief layer lines up exactly with the intaglio layer.

textured collagraph plate with intaglio and relief printed separately

Intaglio and relief layers printed seperately

The intaglio print is mis-aligned with the relief print, enhancing the textures.

The ‘once through the press’ inking method shows all the details of the textured surface beautifully. When compared to the ‘twice through the press’ printing I think it has a quality of stillness in contrast to the more dynamic 3 dimensional effect of the print with intaglio and relief layers  printed separately.

I realise this may be a slightly nerdy printmakers thing, in fact I tested it out on a non printmaker and he couldn’t see the difference! I’d be interested to know what you think, and what results you get if you try this with some of your own collagraph prints.