Making a Transfer Print

Three examples of transfer prints 

Recently I added a few new prints (see above) to my Etsy site that were made via a transfer method. I have been recently thinking about ways to print without a press because so many of the places I taught did not have a press and, in the spring, I will be teaching such a workshop again so I wanted to get back in the swing a bit.

The properties of a transfer print are very different than most printmaking techniques. The marks made are very velvety, sort of more like a charcoal drawing. If you are looking for clean, crisp lines, this is not the method to use.

Materials for a transfer print can be as bare bones as a stamp pad, paper, and pencil. But if you want a little more space for your image I suggest using block printing ink rolled out.  Here is what you need:

  • Block printing ink (I prefer permanent ink)
  • Paper
  • An inking slab such as an old baking sheet or a piece of glass or plexiglass
  • A brayer
  • Pencil
  • Cellophane tape or drafting tape
  • A fine line marker
  • Watercolor and brush are optional

If you are using a piece of glass please make sure you tape off the edges to avoid cutting yourself. You can see in my photographs below that my glass plate is taped. A heavy tape is best such as duct tape or white artist tape.

Rolled Ink
An inked plate with guide marks

Decide how big your image will be. Will is be the size of the whole sheet of paper or do you want the image set in the center of the paper with a clean-ish margin around the image?  Keep in mind if you want the latter of the two options you will not get a pristine clean margin like you would with other printmaking techniques but it will have the same effect of setting off the image.

I have marked my plate in the photo above to show both options. Circled in the red marks (this is done via photoshop, it is not on my actual printing plate) there are tic marks made with a marker.  This mark is where the ink will go.  You do not want to cover the whole plate with ink because it is not only wasteful but will make a mess.  This patch of ink is the same size as a small piece of paper I will be using, so the image will cover the whole sheet of paper, no margins.   The second marks I made in green (again via photoshop) are for if you want to use a larger sheet of paper with a margin around the image as described above. What you would do is figure out approximately where you want your image to be in relation of the paper (usually in the center). Extend the tic marks out to the edge of your inking sheet so you have indicators as to where the ink is once you put the paper down over it.  You will also see a green line on the bottom of the plate, this is also an indicator as to where to lay the paper.  With these indicators, you should be able to get your paper pretty close to getting the image in the center of the paper.

For the purpose of this demonstration, I am using a small sheet of paper that covers the entire ink patch (see below). Place the paper down and put some tape on two of the opposite corners. I always prefer drafting tape because it does not rip the paper. However, if you are practicing, use whatever you have handy such as cellophane tape.

drawing image for transfer
Marks made with a variety of tools

Now you simply draw your design with a pencil.  Above I have made marks with a variety of tools: a pencil, a thick graphite stick, the end of an erase, and my fingers. You can also use a pencil on the side, rather than the point, to get a thicker mark. The odd looking tool in the lower right corner is something called a roulette wheel, which is a specialized tool used in intaglio printing. But perhaps you have a pie cutting wheel or some other rolling implement to experiment with; have fun!

Results from transfer
Resulting Marks

Going clockwise from top right, here are the results from the various tools: pencil, roulette wheel, dragged finger, finger print, roulette wheel used a different way, fat graphite stick, stamping with end of a plastic eraser.  Keep in mind how hard you press will effect the darkness or lightness of the mark.  The finger prints were also shown as a warning, whatever you do, do not learn on your paper when drawing because those marks will be picked up. That is why it is a good idea to anchor your paper with tape. If you are using permanent ink, when the print is dry you can go over areas with watercolor.

Paper on ink pad (left), resulting print (right)

So for the quick and easy method, above is the stamp pad set up.  Again, I like permanent ink so I use Ranger Ink Pads. With this method, you are limited to the size of the stamp pad. Simply lay your paper down on the pad and draw. Presto!


Embossing by Hand

Embossing Example dark paper
An embossing plate with image embossed on dark paper

Hand embossing, also called blind embossing, is a simple technique that yields elegant results.  I referred to this technique in my last post on McMansions where you can see another example of the medium.

I became interested in embossing 20 something years ago when I came across and ad in the back of a magazine for a pamphlet called Hand Embossing by Pat Condron.  That particular pamphlet discussed a number of techniques and had a decent amount of typeface styles to practice embossing if typeface was your thing.  I tried all the techniques, though I avoided the typeface aspect.  Being of short attention span I settled on what I considered to be the easiest technique, developing even more short cuts over the years to go with my increasingly shorter attention span.

embossing tools

So to get started, it is good to have some basic materials. Absolutely essential are paper (see list below), card stock, glue, scissors, and a scoring tool (such as the back of a paintbrush).  However, if you really get into embossing obtaining a few more items makes for a better experience:

  • Cutting mat
  • Drafting tape
  • White glue
  • Xacto style knife & blades
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Small sharp scissors
  • Pencils
  • Eraser
  • Hole punch
  • Paper scoring tool
  • Matte medium & small paint brush
  • Heavyweight card stock (such as bristol board)
  • Paper (lightweight high quality papers look the best such as Rives light sheet, Strathmore 500 series drawing papers)
  • Large spoon

After you decide on an image, when designing the template consider which areas may look good raised and which ones recessed. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I am just going to post the plate from my last post below and you can also take another look at the plate at the top of this post.

SS Template
Sample of plate showing raised and recessed areas of design

Whether you draw your design directly on the card stock or draw onto tracing paper and transfer your design is completely up to you. I go right for the card stock, figuring that is why erasers were invented, and, since the plate is not the finished piece, who cares if it isn’t pretty?

Ok so now you have drawn and cut out your design. The next step is to glue it onto another piece of card stock.  Make sure the card stock you use to back your design is large enough that your paper fits completely on the plate. You do not want any of the paper hanging off the edge of the plate because you do not want the finished embossed piece to get bent in a way that will detract from the subtle folds and bends of the actual artwork.

Do not over glue because your card stock will warp. You can also put a heavy book on top of the plate while it dries to help keep it flat. While the glue is drying, get your paper for your finished pieces ready, making them all the same size.  When the plate is dry, put a piece of your paper on top of the plate and draw guide lines so you can easily place your paper in the same spot each time you go to emboss.

This next part is optional but I highly recommend it: give the plate a coating with matte medium, making sure not to get any of the medium globbed up in the nooks and crannies of the plate details.  It not only keeps the plate longer, but I think it makes the process of scoring a little easier. You can try it both ways but it is a step I do not avoid.  Of course, this should dry for several hours.

So the plate is dry and you are ready to emboss.  This first piece will serve as a practice piece and a reference guide/map. Make sure your surface, your hands, and your tools are clean. Lay your first sheet of paper on the plate at the guidelines your drew. Attach a small piece of drafting tape so the paper doesn’t move.  Gently rub the paper with the back of a large spoon to get the basic shape of the overall design.

Take your paper scoring tool and, using the tip, run the tool slowly along any straight edges. Start with straight edges because they are the easiest. Then go to any rounded edges and slowly run the tool against those edges with the point of the tool. If it makes it easier for you to turn your plate as you work, then do so.  When you feel you have finished scoring every aspect of your design gently lift off the paper and examine your finished piece. Since this is a practice piece, if you missed anything, try to align the paper back on your plate and go over that area you missed. Afterwards, whether you missed an area or not, use this piece as a map/guide so you know what areas need scoring for the rest of the edition of prints. Having this map/guide eliminates any guesswork hereafter.

Old Embossing 1993
Embossing from 1993

Above is one of the first embossed pieces I made, from 1993. I still have this piece so you can see how long these images last. There is one difference in this piece and that is the paper color and stock.  This was done on Arches Cover Stock, that I put a wash of paint on first. I believe I did most of these as a dry embossing, as described above, but I feel I may have done some as a “damp” embossing as well.  The difference is that the paper is slightly damp when you score it. This may be useful for a thicker paper stock (such as Arches Cover) but it is not necessary and, frankly, I do not like it because the paper stretches. However, if you do choose a damp paper method, it is then absolutely essential that you treat your plate with matte medium to keep it from warping.

If you are going to sign your finished work, it is best to do so on the back with pencil because any mark detracts from the overall subtle design. So that is embossing in a nutshell.




Back to the Drawing, no, Printing Board!

So basically I am a printmaker.  At least that was how I was known where I lived for many years. Of course I did other work, but for some reason, even before I started only working in printing, I was referred to as a printmaker.

I have not pulled a print for almost 2 years.  When I moved, I sold my beloved printing press and all of my show inventory has since been liquidated.   So when I was asked by a local organization if I would donate something I had a challenge as I had nothing to give.  The challenge was to print by hand, something I have not done in many many years and did not even have the right equipment for.  Yes, there is always the old back of a large spoon, but to get a really clean print, you need something a bit more high end.

Set up for printing

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