Drypoint Without A Press

drypoint how to

Here I will document the process of drypoint printing.

Drypoint is simply the practice of creating a print by scratching an image into a metal plate, pressing ink into the scratches, and finally pressing paper onto the plate to transfer the image.

Rembrant often used drypoint to create images that he could reproduce.


C Clamp
Metal File
Etching Scribe (for scratching the plate)
• Oil Bass Ink (or paint)
• Small Illustration Board Scraps
• Cheese Cloth
• Paper (to print on)
Overhead Transparency Film
• Large Spoon (I like using a bamboo spoon)
• Copper Plate

Prep Work

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Above I have a small five inch by four inch copper plate. Copper seems to be the metal of choice for this project and for a fair price can be purchased at Artist and Craftsman.

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Before you begin drawing on the plate you will need to file the sharp edges of the raw metal. If you do not file the edges smooth they will cut your paper.

Begin by clamping the plate to your work table. Then file all four top edges of the plate at a 45 degree angle. You may want to vary the angle you file to create a rounded edge. Use a small scrap of illustration board to protect your plate from the pressure of the c clamp. When I was making this plate I wanted a lot of random visual “noise” on my final print, so I opted not to protect my plate.

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In this image you can see how smooth and round my edges are.

For an additionally smooth surface you may want to use fine grit sand paper on the edges after they have been filed.

Drawing Your Image

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You may draw or transfer an image directly onto your plate or you can just begin scratching into the plate freehand. I chose to transfer the image onto my plate. This enabled me to produce an incredibly accurate replica of the original. I was reproducing blueprints that were drawn by my father years ago, accuracy was critical.

Keep in mind that when you print the image it will be a reversed mirror image of what you see on the plate. So any text must be written backwards on your plate. In the above image I had reversed the blue prints before drawing them onto the plate.

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Scratching the plate is quite easy. Shallow scratches will produce gray lines and deep scratches will be darker. You will also have the ability to further play with contrast when you ink up the plate in the next step.

I find it easiest to pull the scribe (drypoint tool) towards me while dragging the sharp point behind. This provides the most control and creates nice even lines.

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You can clearly see here that I have used simple repetition of line (hatching) to produce solid black shapes.


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Use a small scrap of illustration board to wipe ink over the surface of the plate. You will want to take care to insure the entire plate is evenly coated with ink. Be generous with your application.

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Once the plate is evenly covered you will remove the excess ink with a pice of cheese cloth. I use two pieces, one that is dirty (saturated with ink), and one that is not so dirty. This way I can remove the ink sort of in layers. Removing most of it with the dirty cloth and then fine tuning my removal with the clean.

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You may want to really polish the plate in the areas you would like to be bright white while intentionally avoiding the areas of that you prefer to be dark. This gives you some options with the contrast of your final print.

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You will want to wet the paper you are printing on. Be sure it is just damp and not dripping wet or it will not turn out well.

Place the paper over the plate. You will then place a piece of overhead transparency on top of the damp paper to protect it. Using a spoon rub (burnish) the paper into the plate using a considerable amount of pressure. The paper may want to move on you so be careful to not let it.

You may lift the corners and edges of the paper to take a peak and see if you have missed any spots. If so, do not fret, just lay the paper back down, without moving it, and continue to rub (burnish).

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And you are done.