Intaglio Printing!

A few days ago, I saw the amazing ruler project by @reliablepants which included some really great block printing. I really wanted to try some printmaking myself, but also I’m impatient and didn’t want to wait for a relief printing block to etch in the laser machine. Then I had the idea, intaglio printing!

Intaglio is a style of printmaking where lines are etched into a plate, ink is buffed into the plate and remains only in the lines, then paper is put on top of the plate, a thick wool pad on top of that, and the whole thing is run through a special high pressure press. During pressing, the paper is squeezed into the etched lines and picks up the ink. Because material only needs to be removed where you want a line, if I did intaglio printing on acrylic, I wouldn’t have to wait for the entire plate to etch, just vector-score where my design was!

So I made this little linear design:

And then I etched it out of acrylic. In this photograph you can see my printing plate, as well as a test plate I did to try out various settings:

This is where things went completely haywire. Have you ever read a recipe review online, and it goes something like this: “This Hummus recipe came out awful! Well, I didn’t have any chickpeas, so I substituted peanuts; and I didn’t have any olive oil, so I used bacon fat; and I didn’t have any tahini so I substituted ranch dressing. Also I used Mountain Dew instead of lemon juice. It tasted horrible! 1 star worst hummus ever!!” That’s pretty much my printmaking approach.

You see I don’t have an etching press. Or the special felt blanket. Or printmaking ink. Or the special ink buffing cloth. Or the right paper. Or basically anything else you’d need to do this.

So first I tried black acrylic hobby paint. Didn’t work at all, as it dried before I could pull a print. Sadly I surrendered and ran out to the art store and bought some oil based printing ink for $5.

I don’t have the special wool blanket, so I used a piece of fleece underneath a piece of neoprene from an old wetsuit I had.

I applied the ink with a business card like a squeegee to smush it down into the grooves. I didn’t have the special ink buffing cloth, so I used an old pair of undies. Really. I’ll spare you a picture.

I also don’t have an etching printing press. But an etching press is really just two pieces of wood, and a wheel that rolls over your print while applying a bunch of downward pressure. I’ve got something basically like that:

So there ya have it. Smear your acrylic plate with ink, buff most of it off with your underwears, dampen your paper with water, slap it between two boards layered with some old clothes and sports equipment, and run it over with your car. Congratulations you have made an art!

For settings I found the proofgrade draft score worked pretty good but was maybe a bit too deep. I eventually settled on s300/p25 but I do think there is room for improvement. This photo also shows the water-based printmaking ink I also purchased, which beaded up on the acrylic in a weird way… oil-based was better.

If any glowforger out there has actual printmaking equipment and/or actual printmaking skills, I’d love to see what you can come up with!


With some real Akua intaglio ink, good quality stonehenge paper, and using a vacuum bag as a press, the prints are coming out really well.


$30,000 or so in equipment instead of a $200 press - love it. :wink:

Nice experiment. I’ve played with cyanotypes over inkjet prints. Maybe I need to add an ink block and my Jeep. :grin:


So wetsuit, underwear, and car = art. Sounds legit.

Nice art, by the way. :wink:


Chuckle! I love the Maker spirit there! :smile:
(If you want to do it with something just a little bit smaller, I believe you can achieve similar results with something like a Cuttlebug or a BigShot.)


There, I fixed it.

I love your solution. I call this a success.



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Thank you for your detailed explanation! I tried this a long time ago but was unhappy with the results so never posted them. I used a Big Shot Pro instead of a Jeep. I wonder if that’s the reason I couldn’t get the ink to transfer well—not enough pressure.

I wonder if a Camry would work as well? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


There will be no stopping you!!!

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Loved your adventure! Thank you for the vivid write up.

The timing of your story is remarkable. Allow me to explain:

As luck would have it, I am married to an art teacher who servers 400 kids in our local public elementary school. Recently, a private school in town was given a gift of an etching press and all the fixings by a parent. That school has about 24 students. My wife is passionate about public education and was on fire about the idea that 24 students are able to experience print making and her students are smashing styrofoam plates with a spoon. So, she made a miracle happen. She contacted that parent who actually has a foundation for the arts (he is a very well known artist), made her case, and secured a very generous grant to buy the same amazing press. It got us about 80% of the funds. We raised the rest of the money and are now sitting on $7000 and are about to order the press!

So now 400 students will be able to experience this art. Just really in awe of my wife the art teacher.

Also, she is going to let me use it! So I got that going for me, which is nice.

We are ordering it this weekend.


Cool! Let us know if you manage to laser any etching plates!

Many years ago, a friend of mine had one in her apartment that she offered me. I went over there with some friends, attempted to lift it, and immediately decided I didn’t need an etching press after all. :grin:


Bwahaha…now THAT’s my kind of DIY!!


I took two semesters of printmaking in college for just no possible reason. We used to just cover copper plates in floor polish (and then lightly scratch the design through, exposing the copper, and then throwing it in a ferric chloride bath to bite it). I bet the glowforge could do the “scratching”, even of it wouldn’t actually engrave the copper plate. I think traditionally the plates were coated in wax, which might be even easier to use.

Theres something sort of funny about using modern technology that can really already make prints, in the sense of a perfectly reproduced design, to make prints in a really round about traditional way. I mean, I think its funny. My print making teacher’s head would probably explode.


Ran it over. With a car. I can NOT get over that you ran over it with a car. That’s amazing.

I love this forum.


I have been thinking along those same lines and looking at the wheel puller with its grab and press point that goes against the axle and thinking that two things of quarter inch steel such as I have used as a make do anvil would easily provide the pressures needed.

I had not been considering the softer deformation felt material but various hardnesses of rubber could provide a variable local pressure that could be really useful.

I have a good bit of 4oz (per sq ft is how it is sold) soft copper sheet and pressing into a deep sculpted engrave sounds like just the ticket to make multiple presses of a design.

As for having your laser around copper it is good to realize that even covered with a material transparent to infrared copper apparently reflects infrared very much like a very shiny mirror sending the laser light where you might not want it to go!

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One really valid use is that lasers are slow and prints scale really well. There was a post here recently about a comic book artist that needed a bunch of copies of a design but engraving them all would have been dog slow. Lasered up some rubber stamps, and voila tons of copies quickly.

And come on, first project I’ve seen that was designed to be crushed by a car. That’s awesome :slight_smile:


I think this is hilarious and inspiring. If i were writing a book on the maker ethos, this story would be in it. Great work!


Yes! Fantastic! I am totally on board with not having proper equipment and doing it anyway. (Yes to proper ink, though, the wrong stuff is just a time waster and not in a fun way.) The car is efficient and genius – I am working on designing a GF-built proofing press and the stumbling block is finding something heavy enough to do a reasonable job as roller. My SUV would work for sure. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Did you get texture? Can I see a pic across the surface? Also, tell me more about the acrylic – did it show any signs of strain after being run over by a car? I have acrylic and delrin but haven’t even messed around with them for plates, just went straight to experimenting with the various wood/mdf options.

Engraving a relief plate can take forever but it’s not too bad if you’re working small. I’ve found that the Proofgrade settings are too deep, and the need for a shallower engrave speeds things up some.


Love a good autopreambulating printing press.


I think it depends on what your goal is – sometimes I love a perfectly clean and mechanically reproduced print of super-precise vector art, but sometimes I love the unexpected organic variations that happen when you bring hands-on old-fashioned equipment into the mix. The intersection of the two can be really exciting, imo.


As for improvising ink, I did some wood block prints with watered down acrylic modeling paint, it turned out pretty nicely… Ended up looking a bit like watercolor. Move fast make stuff break things repeat :wink: