detail of multi coloured viscosity printing

detail of multi coloured viscosity print

Do you like surprises? Do you love colour??
and do you get frustrated registering your plate to print multiple colours? 

Once you have discovered viscosity printing a whole new printmaking perspective opens up….

What is viscosity printing?

It sounds complicated when described in words – you have to do it to get it, so feel free to skip the text and go directly to the easy demo below!

Viscosity Printing, also known as ‘simultaneous colour printing’ was developed by Stanley William Hayter who founded at Atelier 17 in Paris in the 1920s. It is a phenomenon you may have stumbled on accidentally when rolling layers of different coloured inks onto a mono print. The principle is that tacky ink on a roller will pick up a thin layer of oily ink, creating a kind of resist effect.

nine viscosity prints by students on a course

impromptu show of students viscosity printing

By using hard and soft rollers you can apply runny or tacky ink to the layers in textured plates, the colours will not mix and you will be able to ink up your plate with several different colours at once, and print it in one go through the press. This neatly avoids the need for registering and printing the same plate several times over on one print to get a rich range of colours.

Viscosity printing is a subtle technique with the potential for endless variations, it can completely change the prints you get from a plate and lead you into new and untried colour combinations, in fact you will find that combinations you would never think of using actually work very well in the viscosity method.

Hayter sometimes used up to 12 different colours, all mixed with graded amounts of oil, on 12 different rollers, but to keep things simple we are starting with two.

Try this easy viscosity demo

If you want to do a simple experiment to get the idea, put a few dabs of oil on a glass slab, charge up a roller with oil based ink and roll over the oil smudges. Amazing!

You can take this a bit further by trying a two coloured mono-print;

viscosity printing; mono print in blue, yellow and orange

viscosity mono print demonstration

Select two different colour inks, mix oil with one of them to make it runnier. Roll a patch of the runny ink on a glass slab; do the same with the tacky ink.

Roll the runny ink onto a smooth printing plate. We used acetate, but anything that will go through the press will do, sheet metal / plastic floor tile etc.

Scrape or wipe areas of ink off, leaving it clean and ink free. Use a rag or cotton bud and be quite firm, you want to remove all traces of runny ink.

Roll over it once with tacky ink in the second colour – the wiped areas will be filled with the new colour. If your roller is narrower than the plate it will only cover a section of it. Use s smaller plate or a bigger roller if you want to cover the whole area with ink.

Lay the plate on the press and cover it with a sheet of dampened paper. Run it through the press to take your first impression.

Have a little sit down if you get too excited by the results!

Keep experimenting

viscosity printing in shades of blue with orange and brown

multi coloured viscosity print

I’d suggest playing around with viscosity mono printing to start with, getting the hang of how the inks react together.

If you deliberately construct a plate with distinct layers you will be able to see the technique working in a more complex way, as the rollers only reach sections of the plate and the inks with differing viscosities either mix together or ‘resist’ each other.

This is just the beginning, you can combine viscosity with intaglio printing as well as mono prints and collagraphs.
There is a lot more to learn, you haven’t heard the end of it yet, but I hope this is enough to whet your appetite for more.

Viscosity workshops

I run viscosity workshops in my studio and can also travel to spread the magic of viscosity printing.

viscosity printing; two prints from the same plate in different colours

two prints from the same plate in different colours

The pictures here were all taken at a one day Viscosity workshop at Studio Eleven in Hull. The workshop involves designing and making plates in layers, especially for viscosity printing, and then experimenting with a range of colours, ink consistencies and harder/softer rollers.

students inking plates for viscosity printing

notice the flags to remind us which is stiff and which is runny ink

If you are interested in a workshop in my studio for a group of 3 – 4 people, or in your venue for up to 10 people please contact me to discuss the possibilities.

There is more info about viscosity printing workshops on the courses page

If you can tear yourself away from your viscosity printing to let us know how you got on, please leave a comment here!