One plate: many prints

One plate can produce so many totally different prints, and this is particularly true of carborundum.

I was struck by this on the carborundum printing course I ran last week, because we deliberately separated, and then combined different inking techniques and this emphasised the amazing variety of images you can achieve from one easy simple plate.

In this blog post I want to share this process of discovery with you, and I am grateful to my students for letting me use some of their many fantastic prints as examples.

students working in the studio with carborundum

Back to basics

Sometimes it is good to go back to basics to unpick just how different platemaking materials interact and behave when you ink them. So whether you are an old hand with carborundum printing, or it is a new area for you I hope this will give you food for thought and something to experiment with.

collagraph plate made from carborundum paint and aluminium foil

Make a quick carborundum plate

My two sample plates are made with mountboard, carborundum paint and shiny card or aluminium tape.

Starting with a piece of mountboard I roughly spread some carborundum paint on using a palette knife – just as you would do with chocolate spread. Nice and thick!

I left an area of plain card round the edge to make a contrasting texture.

Carborundum printing plate with added shiny card for contrast

Once the carborundum paint had dried, I made a recessed circle on one plate by cutting out and removing the shape, and then sticking a piece of aluminium tape in to create a smooth shiny surface.

The other plate had a circle of shiny coated card stuck on top of the carborundum paint.

There is no need to seal the plates – once everything is stuck down you are ready to print.

Different textures

These quick and simple plates each contain three different textures;

  • smooth and shiny; the circles
  • medium rough; the bare mountboard at the edge
  • very rough; the carborundum paint

Different levels

The larger shiny circles is raised up above the painted surface and the smaller one is low, sitting beneath the painted surface.

The roughly applied carborundum paint also has different levels to its surface.

a relief print in yellow  next to the carborundum plate
relief print in yellow next to the carborundum plate

Print your carborundum plate in relief 

Ink up a roller – not too much ink – and just roll With relief inking the rough areas print light and the smooth areas print dark.
I printed the plates on damp paper in an etching press.

relief print from carborundum and aluminium foil plate showing the different textures
relief print from carborundum and card plate showing different textures and tones

Print your carborundum plate as intaglio 

Don’t worry about cleaning the plates – just go right on and ink them up as intaglio in a different colour. This is cobalt, and it will change a bit as there is still some yellow left from the relief inking.

(For general info on intaglio inking process see this post.)

Carborundum is gritty so it will hold a lot of ink – it can take a few goes before you get the hang of inking and wiping it. Add some oil to the ink to make it fairly runny, paint it on with a brush, working it into the texture, then wipe the excess off with a rag, finishing with newspaper wipes. You will not be able to remove the ink so don’t try too hard – it is fine to leave a good amount in the carborundum so it prints nice and strong.

You will need to give the medium rough and smooth shiny areas a bit more attention – they can be wiped clean of ink to give a good contrast with the dark carborundum.

These prints are the tonal reverse of the relief prints. The rough areas are dark and the smooth areas are light.

intaglio print from carborundum plate
intaglio print in cobalt from a carborundum plate

Print the carborundum plates in relief and intaglio at one go

You are no doubt ahead of me here… re-ink the plate as intaglio to get a good colour on it and wipe the ink from the top surfaces. Then, in a contrasting colour, roll a layer of relief ink over it as before.

If you want to have some white areas (a good idea I think) don’t press too hard with the roller.

It can be hard to explain this effect in words – much easier to look at a print and work out what happened!

carborundum print from a plate inked in both intaglio and relief
carborundum print from a plate inked up as both intaglio and relief

Ghost prints

After a few times inking up the carborundum will be saturated with ink and you can take ghost prints from the plate. This means just running it through the press a second time without re-inking it, for a paler print. You can always give it a relief roll to brighten up the top colour before doing this.

The next image shows a ghost print (paler blue) with a new yellow relief layer added.

A ghost print from the previously printed carborundum plate, showing a paler image

The plate improves

As you make more prints, changing the colours and allowing them to mix a bit, you will get more and more interesting images and subtle colours from your simple carborundum plates.


Here are some more prints from the carborundum course, exploring combinations of relief and intaglio inking by Chloe and Jane Thompson and Maggie Edwards.

The plates for these were made with PVA glue and carborundum powder, wet and dry sandpaper as well as carborundum paint, for the rough textures and aluminium foil and acrylic gels for the light areas.

three different prints from the same carborundum plate
three different prints from one carborundum plate
a carborundum plate printed as relief and then as intaglio

Be confident with carborundum

I hope this has prompted you to feel more confident with carborundum, and consider it as one of your friends when constructing your collagraph plates. Along with aluminium foil, it will help you create a good range of textured surfaces to produce interesting areas of light and dark, whichever way you decide to print them.

Surprise yourself

Because smooth and rough produce opposite effects depending on the inking method planning can be tricky, so I’d suggest you make life easy and don’t plan in too much detail. Allow yourself to be surprised as you get to know your plates and enjoy the way the colours evolve and change.