When I first discovered aluminium tape I thought it would be useful, I soon realised that it is indispensable! This post is for all tape fanatics  – if you haven’t used aluminium tape yet, you are in for a treat. Aluminium tape has a lot of potential, so to start with this post describes a variety of ways of making plates with a raised texture; I will be moving on to cover indented plates in the next post……

Introducing Aluminium Tape

1. What is it?

rolls of aluminium tape

rolls of aluminium tape

Aluminium tape is thin aluminium foil with a self-adhesive backing. It is used in the construction industry, mostly by heating engineers to seal ducting, you may also find it covering the joins between insulation panels.

It is made in a range of thicknesses, the common one is 0.03mm, which is fine for our purposes, but thicker grades are available. The tape comes in differing widths; generally, 4.5cm 7.5cm and 10cm. DIY tip: You can try making your own by sticking double-sided tape onto ordinary kitchen foil, this produces lovely wrinkles but the builders tape is better for smooth textures.

2. Why is Aluminium Tape so great for printmaking?

  • It sticks to anything (as long as the surface is not wet or dusty)
  • As it is self-adhesive it’s quick and clean to use
  • Aluminium is flexible – it moulds round fine shapes, or wrinkles up beautifully
  • It is soft and can easily be scratched or embossed (see the next post)
  • The surface is very shiny so produces bright white tones with intaglio inking
  • For crisp graphic shapes use scissors or a knife to cut, alternatively simply tear it for more organic lines.
  • No sealing is necessary – as soon as it is stuck down you can print it.By now you are probably thinking ‘I must get this wonderful stuff right now!”…..

3. Where can I get Aluminium Tape?

You will find it in Diy shops or builders merchants. Occasionally Poundland have it in – if you spot it here stock up on it. As usual B&Q is my main source, they sell rolls 7.5mm wide, (a big roll is about £10).  For the wider 10cm tape I went to Idenden on line 

Lets make printing plates!

Start with a base plate, this can be a piece of card, thin wood, plastic, acetate etc. Anything strong enough to withstand the pressure of the press will do. The plate making technique is so quick I would suggest making a series of little test plates to try out different textures. Here are some ideas to help get you started:

Wrinkle it

wrinkled aluminium tape

wrinkled aluminium tape

Peel the backing paper off one corner of the tape. If you remove all the backing paper the tape can quickly roll up and stick to itself!

A handy tip is to poke a pin or needle at an angle along the edge to separate the backing paper from the sticky tape.

Press the sticky edge down onto your plate. As you gradually remove the backing twist and wrinkle the tape while pressing it down.

Try to avoid big flappy wrinkles because the ink will get trapped under these – if this happens cut the excess foil off with a knife. Before you ink it up, run the plate through the press to squash the foil down well.

Encapsulate things under it

ginkgo leaves and aluminium tape plate

ginkgo leaves and aluminium tape plate

Simply arrange your textures on the plate, there’s no need to glue them down as the aluminium tape will fix them in place.

Leaves work particularly well; the examples below also include textured wallpaper and fabric.

Let your curiosity off the leash and try using whatever is lying around.
Constructing a plate from birch seeds

Constructing a plate from birch seeds and aluminium tape

Wallpaper scraps, aluminium tape plate, and print

Wallpaper scraps, aluminium tape plate, and print

fabric plate with aluminium tape

fabric plate with aluminium tape

No printing press?

If you haven’t got a printing press you can still use this technique; make your printing plates using textures and aluminium tape and press it down well to ensure the textures are showing clearly. Lay a sheet of thin paper over the plate, then take a rubbing using wax crayons or an inky roller – no press needed! This is also a great activity for children or community groups.


Naked sandpaper is hard to ink up (see the post on carborundum) but if you cover it with aluminium tape you will find lots of interesting things become possible……
Sandpaper under aluminium tape

Sandpaper under aluminium tape

The rough texture of the sand paper will hold ink, but the smooth surface of the aluminium tape means you can easily wipe ink off producing highlights.

This is your chance to play with mono printing techniques, rubbing ink on and removing it to create 3d effects with light and shadows.

This plate is made from a circle of sandpaper laid onto unsealed mount board, with a square of aluminium tape stuck over it. If you treat it like a relief plate and roll over the intaglio inked image, the little grains in the sandpaper will pick up the relief ink and show as a sprinkling of dots in a contrasting colour. They appear to float in front of the background texture. In this example the relief layer is orange.

Intaglio with Relief printing

'Conference Pears' detail of printing plate

‘Conference Pears’ detail of printing plate

I used this technique in my ‘conference pears’ print as I thought the effect was very like pear skin. The pear shapes are cut from coarse carborundum paper with aluminium foil stuck on top.
Conference pears print detail

‘Conference Pears’ print detail

The plate is inked as intaglio with green ink, which is wiped off to create highlights. Rolling over with light brown ink reveals the fine dotty texture of the carborundum surface.

Layer it

Extra layers of tape will gradually smooth the texture out producing different amounts of detail. The edges of the tape will catch ink and show as fine lines; cut or tear the tape to get different types of line. You can spot this on the pears where the tape wasn’t wide enough to cover the whole shape.

Experiment with inking

ginkgo leaves printed as viscosity and intaglio

ginkgo leaves printed as viscosity and intaglio

Viscosity, relief, intaglio and mono printing all work well with these aluminium plates.

As the surface is smooth with raised areas viscosity printing is a particularly good method to use.

Inked plate and print on paper

Inked plate and print on paper

Irritatingly the plates often look better than the prints! The shiny foil reflects light through the ink so the plates have a beautiful glow. Allow plenty of time for the inks to dry if you want to preserve this effect.

Add highlights to your plates

Sometimes your collagraph plates may be full of lovely texture but lacking in tone. If you have a finished plate and you want more light areas (ie smooth textures) in the design, then aluminium tape is the answer. Stick it on the plate and run through the press before you print it. The tape will add smooth texture while still revealing the contours of your collagraph plate underneath. This is a handy remedial technique you can use mid printing; if the plate is already inky, clean off as much of the greasy ink as possible and the tape will stick to it.
Jute fibres, plate and print

Jute fibres, plate and print

I hope this will be the beginning of your beautiful relationship with aluminium tape.

I always have it by me, a bit like adding salt to your soup, aluminium tape  makes a printmakers life even more interesting!